IF there is one company that has transformed the gold jewellery retail industry in Malaysia, it is Poh Kong Jewellers. Set up in 1976 as a 5-sq m, one-counter shop in Petaling Jaya and with a total stock value of RM200,000, it is now a public listed company (Bursa Malaysia main board) with 60 outlets throughout the peninsula and is considered the largest retailer of gold and gem-set jewellery in this country.
The story of how the business grew from that small shop that Datuk Eddie Choon opened 28 years ago is now part of the Poh Kong legend, and the company's executive director Ermin Siow seemed a bit reluctant to go over it again. “That's an old story already,” he said.
One can't blame him, though: who wants to dwell in the past when there's so much to look forward to in the future?
But pressed to talk about what he considered important milestones in the company's development, he said: “Poh Kong started a new concept in retailing of gold jewellery when it began to open showrooms in shopping complexes. It just caught on the trend of shopping in malls.”
It can be said that Poh Kong really came to the fore when it went on an advertising blitz in 2001 with the launch of its Tranz collection of trendy and elegant jewellery in the form of necklaces, bracelets, rings, earrings and even anklets.
The advertisements featured gold jewellery that was described as “unique with fun shapes, minimalist and even quirky to reflect the demands of women who wanted to keep abreast with the latest styles and fashion”.
Advertising jargon aside, the Tranz designs were not only eye-catching but were also affordable.
“The range was designed to appeal to the young, and the young at heart,” said Siow
“The objective was to target fashionable and trendy customers with unique designs.”
Tranz, which was adapted from the word “transformation”, also marked the beginning of branding for the company's products.
Looking at the number of gold jewellery stores that seemed to have mushroomed in shopping complexes in the last few years, competition must be steep in the industry.
It is, Siow admitted. But Poh Kong, he said, has adopted a few strategies to keep up with and even get ahead of competitors. One of these is the branding of jewellery products, such as Tranz, and making them exclusive to the company. “You cannot buy Tranz designs in any other jewellery store,” Siow said.
Another strategy is to manufacture gold products based on branded merchandise and to retail the products exclusively.
This was started in 1994 after Poh Kong reached an agreement with Walt Disney Co for Malaysia to create favourite Disney characters including Mickey Mouse, Disney Babies and Winnie the Pooh. These Disney characters are now part and parcel of the merchandise featured in every Poh Kong shop and are popular with children and the younger generation.
The most recent collection – “one that has been in the stores just over the last few weeks,” said Siow – which also holds much promise because of its uniqueness and affordability is feng shui jewellery. The collection features rings, pendants and earrings in various designs set with gemstones symbolic of the five elements of feng shui - water, wood, fire, earth, and metal. The gemstones are amethyst (fire), peridot (wood), white quartz (metal), citrine (earth), and blue topaz (water).
It is at its main showroom in Jalan 52/4, Petaling Jaya that one can view the entire range of Poh Kong products. These range from small items costing from around the RM100 mark to chunky, gem-set pieces in the style of the Bvlgari high jewellery collection. There are also other products besides jewellery, and these include premium items such as a gemstone collection of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac.
This showroom that stands out with its flamboyant orange, yellow and black facade is actually where it all began for Poh Kong.
That little shop has grown to incorporate the Poh Kong headquarters complete with a 930sq m main showroom, of which 465sq m is dedicated to the Poh Kong Gallery, a stylish VIP lounge designed to create a classic Italian ambience.
Poh Kong, which won a gold medal in the “Golden Design Awards” held in Italy in 1996 by the World Gold Council, embraced the style of Italy, where the goldsmith tradition dates back to the pre-Roman age.
Poh Kong also offers personalised services for customers who want to make their own jewellery, or for companies looking for premium goods.
For individual customers, Siow said: “You can go to any of our stores and tell the staff there what you want. They will attend to your needs, and we have designers who can advise customers who are not really sure of what they want. For those who want to use their old gold, we would tell them to sell those pieces to us as it is not practical to transform old gold into new designs.”
With 60 outlets to service, Poh Kong need to be able to produce enough merchandise to maintain stocks. This led to the construction of a RM12million manufacturing plant in Shah Alam, which is equipped, Siow said, with the latest technology in manufacturing and staffed by designers and other skilled craftsmen.
Strangely enough, it isn’t competition with the other jewellery stores that Siow finds challenging.
“It’s all those other things that are popular with people these days,” he said.
“There are the mobile phones, notebooks, PDAs, Ipods, computers, even slimming courses and going for holidays. We are worried that people may go for all these things rather than buying gold jewellery.”
Despite this, Siow is confident that Poh Kong will prevail. And looking at how far the company has gone, one wonders if Choon saw this happening when he quit his job with a gold jeweller to set up his own shop all those years ago.