Selling the magic of crystal


  • Business
  • Saturday, 08 Mar 2003

BY THEAN LEE CHENG

 

Judy Ham

DATIN Judy Ham is a marketer and promoter of crystals. But unlike one who just buys and sells for margin sake, Ham sells her products with an enthusiasm and a brand of service quite difficult to match. And her guiding principle as she helps her client make the selection is enveloped in one simple question to herself : “Would I like to receive this? 

“Only the budget is limited, not the ideas,” Ham says as she potters around her shop which has a selection of about 2,500 items.  

Although she has a variety of brands under one roof, England's Royal Brierley, France's Royales de Champagne, Poland's Polonia, Czech Republic's Bohemia, Orrefors from Sweden and some natural quartz crystal balls from China, Ham's bread and butter come from the corporate sector. 

“This is a very niche market,” she says. 

While it is true that some of these high-end items would make lovely personal gifts for occasions like birthdays and anniversaries, the bulk of her revenue is from the corporate and premium gift sector (45 per cent), 35 per cent from all functions gifts like launches, trophies and awards and 20 per cent from collectors. 

“Whether it is a corporate or a personal gift depends on the relationship between the giver and the receiver. How the gift is packaged and presented is also important. The crystal table lamp, for example, is popular as a wedding present while the decorative item in the shape of a shapely woman seems to be popular among architects,” says Ham. 

There are some brandy and wine glasses that go for a few hundred ringgit for the yuppie crowd and even items as low as RM50 but these are limited to souvenir-like corporate premium items like key chain and letter openers. 

In a couple of months, Ham says she will be offering crystal jewellery, which will cater to the datins and rich tai-tais around the Klang Valley. 

A decanter dor port or brandy.

But for the time being, she is happy to help clients make that corporate selection. 

“It is this which excites me, choosing the gift according to the client's budget and how it should be presented. This is what makes this business interesting, instead of just selling something that is 24 per cent and above lead. 

Ham says: “One can always buy crystals from a departmental store but will they customise the gift? Will they engrave names and special messages? Can they sandblast a logo or picture on this panel of the trophy? Or give ideas about its presentation? 

“Look at this, “ she invites, taking a trophy with a sandblasted horse with rider. “And this.” It was a photograph of a crystal ball with a portrait of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir in a blue baju Melayu. 

“A factory in China did this. It took a couple of months but the end product was fabulous. When it comes to portraits, the picture we sent over is important. What you send over is what you get,” she continues. 

Ham's crystals are presented to politicians, corporate heads and athletes. “We are talking about a very niche market with gifts going into thousands of ringgit. So details and service matter. A vase is not a vase. This slender one is for orchids. This rose bowl is for ? roses.  

“You can have a short vase like this, or a tall one like that, or one with a waist for all sorts of arrangement. So we sell ideas and wrap up these ideas with suggestions.” 

Mind you there have been times when her questions have been thought a wee bit nosey. 

But Ham says: “I want to know so I can give suggestions, particularly when it comes to corporate gifts.”  

A customer once requested for a piece of crystal in the shape of an eagle. She flew down to Singapore to source for it. The bird arrived, and was collected. A short while later, the man called from the airport, desperation in his voice. 

The bird was broken. 

“I discovered the gift was to seal the merging of two companies. I suggested a crystal ball to signify the smooth running of the new entity. Everyone was happy. He should have told me the circumstances under which the gift was given, “ she laments. 

Whether it is a merger, or a personal event, like an anniversary, Ham says the receiver is the most important factor, other than the budget, when considering a gift. 

“What does she or he like? What is the nationality of the receiver? The Japanese, for example, like elaborate cuts. Likewise, our Muslims and Indian friends. The Chinese go for simple designs. Always be open to ideas, only the budget is limited,” Ham says. 

“The other tip when choosing a gift is: be versatile. Choose something the receiver uses for multiple purposes. Some vases may be turned into a trophy and vice versa. The multi-purpose container can be used in a floral arrangement for a low table, or a sweet container or to serve nuts. Do not limit the gift or its uses,” Ham advises. 

The housewife-turned-businesswoman set up her first crystal outlet in Kuala Lumpur in 1989. She subsequently closed that outlet and opened one in Amcorp Mall, Petaling Jaya. 

Last September, she branched out into corporate premium items. Her son is in charge of that section, which contributes about half of her revenue today. She is also acting as a channel where “retired” branded crystals like Swarovski – special editions that are no longer in production – can be bought and sold depending on the willing seller-willing buyer basis. 

“The price will be higher than the initial purchase price. So crystals are an investment,” says Ham, who is a collector herself. 

“My husband is an antique collector but since he got me excited about crystals – he bought me three items for our 15th anniversary – I have slowly thrown away his stuff and replaced them with crystals,” says the 50-something who invested in the business after those three initial gifts.  

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