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Saturday October 29, 2005

Klang Valley’s homegrown brands

StarMetro catches up with three gutsy, innovative and resourceful entrepreneurs who have found their niche in the expansive Klang Valley market to grow their own brand in retail franchises.  

1901 hotdog  

TENGKU Rozidar T.Z. Abidin and Ahmad Zaki Jaafar, the husband-and-wife team behind the conceptualisation, development and marketing of hotdog company Nineteen O One Sdn Bhd, show that nothing is impossible if you put your heart, soul and mind to it. 

They started their business in the midst of the economic crisis in 1997 with RM100,000, lessons from a failed foreign-owned franchise and six months of toying around with various recipe books. Today this homegrown brand boasts 68 outlets, 17 of which are owned by the parent company. 

According to Tengku Rozidar, there are no less than 30 enquiries per day and four applications per week to become 1901 franchisees.  

A 1901 outlet at the Giant Hypermarket in Shah Alam.
1901 has been awarded Super Brand status two years in a row.  

“Things were not always that rosy,” said Tengku Rozidar when met at her outlet in the new wing of 1 Utama shopping centre, Petaling Jaya. 

“To start with, we had to think of how to sell a Malaysian hotdog for RM3.90 from a push cart! We finally decided to position it as an imported product – hence the name 1901, the year the name ‘hotdog’ was supposedly coined in the New York Polo Grounds,” she explained.  

Tengku Rozidar was quick to add that chicken breast meat and prime beef cuts, not mechanically deboned meat, was used in making 1901 hotdogs.  

“We make sure that our customers are buying a quality product. In fact, the vinegar that is used in our relish is not artificial vinegar but Heinz distilled vinegar, which is very expensive,” she added.  

The soft-spoken but confident lady is a firm believer in hard work. She puts in more than 12 hours a day and strongly agrees that an entrepreneur must be creative, resourceful and have the ability to strategise.  

For Tengku Rozidar and her husband, the real measure of their success is when 10 out of 10 hotdog lovers know the 1901 brand and what it has to offer. 

“A lot of money has been ploughed back into research and development, and the franchise support department meets four hours per week to come up with strategies to make the 1901 hotdog more nutritious and convenient to the public,” she said.  

“Our hotdog is steamed as consumers are more health-conscious nowadays.”  

Their continual efforts at im-provement and sensitivity towards customers’ needs saw 1901 introducing meat-free hotdog in their menu in September.  

Potential franchisees are put through the mill before being accepted. First, they take a test to see if they have what it takes to be an entrepreneur and then they have to go through two interviews.  

One of the many challenges, said Tengku Rozidar, was getting franchisees to see the importance of working as a single entity rather than just an agent. 

“Although we visit them regularly, they have to be pro-active and come up with localised marketing plans,” she explained. Keeping regular checks to ensure that the product remains consistent in all the outlets is another gruelling task.  

“I want 1901 to have a wholesome image, to be associated with the right universal values and to be a halal brand wherever it goes,” she emphasised.  

The cost of starting the business, which includes franchise fees, equipment and rental deposits, varies from RM75,000 to RM200,000. The couple's final dream is to start a 1901 Leadership Academy to produce outstanding young entrepreneurs.  

OTAI burger  

SELLING just two bags of burger bread from his first burger stall in Taman Sri Gombak, Kuala Lumpur, 11 years ago did not deter Suhaimi Abas from his dream of owning a business empire.  

Whatever money he made then was used to grow the business into 87 stalls, 13 of which belong to him. He introduced the Otai (Organisasi Tempat Ambil Ilmu) brand of burger and associated products in April 2003. 

Suhaimi says the lower starch content in Otai burger’s bread makes a difference to a burger’s overall taste.
The self-made, street-wise Suhaimi put together the education he received from the “university of life” and developed a module to train young bumiputras, aged 20 and above, in starting a business.  

Suhaimi's prudent fiscal management is obvious in the way he runs his business.  

Two rented shoplots double up as his warehouse and distribution centre.  

His office is a rented apartment, where he holds classes, and the trainees are given accommodation in an adjoining apartment during the one-month course. Practical training is done in the evenings at one of his stalls. 

“It is important to control costs when your funds are limited and you don’t want to incur further costs by borrowing from the bank,” he reasoned. 

The personalised training allows him to spot potential staff, who will be offered jobs as instructors or run Suhaimi’s stalls. The initial start-up capital is RM5,500. An alternative package is offered to interested parties who cannot come up with this initial sum.  

“I really want to help as many business-minded youths as possible to own a business early in their lives. When they have something meaningful to look forward to, they will not be involved in undesirable activities. Even the boys who work at the stalls have this golden opportunity to become their own boss,” he added in a mix of Malay and English. 

He is negotiating a deal with Permodalan Usahawan Nasional Bhd to allow him to run a programme for unemployed graduates.  

Suhaimi takes his task of grooming young entrepreneurs seriously. Anyone who signs up with him is monitored closely for two years. During this time, they are discouraged from investing in a house or car or even getting married! 

“These commitments should not be their top priority. Profits should be used to start another stall. After that, they can plan the wedding of the century if they want to,” he laughed heartily. 

Suhaimi's immediate target is to set up 150 stalls in the Federal Territory and Selangor. When that target is achieved, he will venture into food manufacturing.  

He also has plans to bring Otai burgers into shopping malls.  

SisterS Crispy Popiah 

WHO would have thought that a piece of pandan-flavoured popiah skin with turnip, cucumber, carrot, egg, biscuit and peanut filling, spiced with sweet or chilli sauce can sell in shopping malls and draw a huge following!  

Christopher Foo and Theresa Lim, another husband-and-wife team, took a gamble of a lifetime by doing just that and the gamble paid off handsomely.  

They got back their capital of RM20,000 and more in just over two-and-a-half months from their first SisterS Crispy Popiah outlet at Mid Valley Megamall, Kuala Lumpur. Three sisters, two brothers and their spouses contribute their individual expertise to run the business. 

Christopher Foo invites you to savour SisterS Crispy Popiah at his Mid-Valley Megamall outlet
Having been in the marketing line, Foo looked around for a part-time business during the recession and decided to tap into his father-in-law’s 17-year expertise in making popiah.  

“We have our own secret recipe to make the popiah skin,” he said. 

“With the increase in demand, we will soon start production from our factory but there will be strict quality control,” added Lim, who handles the production. 

There are now 17 outlets. The family owns six of the outlets.  

“As the business grew, we faced manpower problems. We also did not want to over-commit ourselves. Friends who saw the potential in the business wanted to be a part of it. That was how our first ‘franchise’ started in Johor in 2004. Since then, we have extended business opportunity to anyone interested in a low-capital, small business enterprise,” said Foo. 

“We prefer to call our business partners ‘operators’ because we are still working on the finer details of our would-be franchise,” Lim added. The training period is approximately three weeks and a monthly management fee of RM500 is charged for the follow-up and localised marketing strategies. 

“We don’t want to take too much of our operators’ profits because we don’t want them to cut costs. We want their earnings to justify their giving up a cushy job. Many of our operators are professionals. If the operator is committed and diligent and the outlet is well-positioned, with a little bit of luck, he should see positive results after two months,” Foo said optimistically. 

“Customers don’t mind paying a bit more for the convenience. They can shop and enjoy their favourite hawker food in a pleasant and cool environment.”  

Foo goes through great lengths to train his operators on service, food handling and product sampling.  

SisterS Crispy Popiah’s popularity grew strictly through word of mouth, even with tourists from as far as Europe.  

The family's success at repackaging a low-end product has encouraged them to keep a look out for other similar but good family recipes. 

”I’m from Penang. It saddens me that each time that when I’m back in my hometown, some of the food I enjoyed as a child is no longer available. I don’t want to see these recipes lost when the old folks retire and the younger ones are not interested in carrying on the tradition,” said Foo.  


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