Humble start for a millionaire


BY YAP LIH HUEY

CHOO Koo Oan, a successful retailer of electrical home appliances, has come a long way. Born in Junjong, Kedah, Choo was sent to Penang as a youngster in the early 1950s to be educated and was expected to be a success. Thirty years later, this humble man became a self-made millionaire by selling electrical home appliances.  

Although his was not an extraordinary business, he went on to prove to others that pure resilience, prudence, determination with a bit of luck and intelligence – a combination which is sadly lacking today – are the answers to a fulfilling business entity. 

Choo encouraging his workers with the motto of "the more we share, the more we get".

It all started in 1968. “Things were not going well at the beginning because it was difficult to find a job during those days due to high unemployment. In the end, I managed to find a job selling Esso gas,” he said.  

A month later, he decided to branch out on his own after seeing the high profit margin of selling gas to households. In addition, he also started to sell electrical home appliances on a small scale.  

Thanks to contributions from his brothers and sisters, he managed to raise capital of RM10,000 to start his gas and home electrical appliances business.  

“Back in those days (1960s), one can buy a terrace house or 10 television sets with that kind of money. If you take the same equation, which is RM1,000 for a TV and compare it with today's living standard, one need 200 televisions to exchange for a house,” he added with a smile.  

Together with his sister-in-law, he rented a centre shop lot on the ground floor at a row of shop lot in SS3, Petaling Jaya.  

At the beginning, he plied his products routinely around the SS3 housing area on a motorbike. When orders started to pick up, he hired more workers to help him.  

“The margin for profits was high. I made around 25% profits from each gas cylinder sold. About 300 cylinders were sold every month and a year later, we were selling about 1,000 cylinders per month,” he reminisced.  

So, what made him more successful than the rest?  

His success formula is not a secret recipe, he said. He stressed that without service, honesty, and loyal customers, he wouldn't be where he is today.  

From a gas retail shop in 1968 to a multi-million ringgit money spinning entity.

“I always make sure my customers are happy with the products and services. I would give them a helping hand when it's called for and would try to satisfy as many customers as possible.” 

Then, in the early 1970s, two major incidents happened.  

One, he was forced to move out of his rented shop lot by his landlord.  

Two, Esso decided to change certain business terms with its vendors. He felt the new terms were difficult for him to expand his business.  

“Besides, not many people want to be in this business anymore because it's not 'sexy' to carry heavy gas cylinders,” he explained.  

He said it was a natural progression for him to go into the electrical home appliances business as he was already in the business at the beginning. 

Perhaps this was a blessing in disguise. Since then, he had never turned back and was in fact, grateful for the changes.  

“I was lucky to find a corner shop lot at the same housing area. Surprisingly, the rent was cheaper than centre lots.  

“Plus, being in the same housing area made things easier for me to serve the customers that I know. Besides, the corner lot was more prominently located compared to a centre lot. Since then, my customer base has increased,” he said. 

It was certainly a clever strategy as loyal customers from his gas business migrated to support him in his new business venture. 

Taking the same concept and applied it when dealing with his employees, one might be surprised to learn only four employees left him in the past 20 years.  

He has a total staff of 15 now and two of them had remained with him since 1969. Almost 80% of his employees are from his “kampung”.  

Today, he is still vacating the same spot and had since expanded to the next corner lot and had acquired two shop lots as branches in different locations around the Klang Valley area. The adjoining corner lot was made into a warehouse.  

Those who are familiar with the SS3 area would agree that his home appliances shop stands out with its bright pink and blue painted walls with the occasional attractive banner advertisements.  

Later, he went on to apply for and was awarded a Sharp dealership in 1971.  

After that, he moved on to obtain a dealership with National Panasonic and till today, still maintains good relationship with the Japanese firm after 20 long years.  

Despite the changing times, his sharp and shrewd business sense kept him going strong in the business for a long time.  

He was quick to realise computers would be a norm someday and had signed up for computer classes. This was in 1984.  

“I ended up learning useless applications that were not applicable for my business. You see, when I signed up for the lessons I didn't know what I went into,” he said with a laugh.  

Despite that, he now manages his own sales and stock management systems and has a local area network connection at his outlet in SS3.  

While his next mission is to install a wide area network to connect all three branches, his dream is to control his businesses via mobile phones.  

Although he is no longer in the gas cylinder business, he has remained loyal to his long-time customers by delivering gas to their homes till today.  

“Success did not come easy. I worked hard and save on every sen,” he said, adding that although this formula worked for him, he reckoned it would no longer work today.  

“Instead, the key to success is knowledge,” he said.  

These days, the 56-year old Choo spends more time pursuing personal interests and happily, thrust some of his responsibilities to his trusted staff.  

When he is not working, he relishes in the pleasure of driving in his four-wheel-drive vehicle. Amazingly, he is an active marathon runner and has participated in the Penang and Kuala Lumpur International marathons.  

He loves travelling and maintains China is still the best country to visit to satisfy his historical and cultural cravings. Because of his sentimental values to hold strong to his roots, he gave the name Tong Kong to his outlets, which was the name of his hometown in southern China. 

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