Golf equipment company homes in on 30 years of swinging business
WHAT started out as a long shot business venture, borne of a friendship that stretched back to their school days in Sekinchan, Selangor, Ng Yap and KP Low have gone on to create a company dominant in sportswear retail.
MST Golf, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year, was founded by the two in 1989 and known then as Masinthai Sdn Bhd.
Along the way they began and finalised negotiations with leading UK retailer SportsDirect for a partnership that would take their combined turnover to more RM300mil a year.
When the company started out it was a “general goods and marketing business,” Ng says, as he recalls the early beginnings of their partnership – an entity of which the two founders remain directors to this day.
“The name was changed a year later and came about after I saw an advert in the New York Times and followed it up.
“I’d been living and working in the New York area for five years after college, while KP returned home.
“The advert was for used golf equipment and curios about a near-full shop of second-hand stuff that cost US$5,000 I called KP and asked if we shouldn’t take the plunge and see what we might be able to make of it.
“I should admit that we knew very little or nothing about golf at the time.
“Anyway, this led to a shipment back to Kuala Lumpur and in 1991 we opened our first golfing outlet in Taman Tun (Dr Ismail), leading also to the eventual change of our name to MST Golf Sdn Bhd in 1992,” adds Ng.
MST Golf grew thereafter and integrated and extended their services to include retail, wholesale, driving ranges, golf academies, corporate solutions and event management, and golf course construction.
Essentially, this has established MST as the biggest golf retail and service provider in South-East Asia.
“Presently, we have a physical presence in Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam.
“However, we still wholesale to Thailand where did have about 10 outlets before we relinquished these to our partners there,” says Ng, who serves as the company’s chief executive officer. “We still sell wholesale to them and also Indonesia.”
Turning to Malaysia itself, Ng says they had about 50 stores countrywide, but most of these were “small stores.”
“Today we have 29 outlets in Malaysia and most of them are superstores.
“In reality, this would be a case of one (store today) being equal to about 10 of the earlier, smaller ones.
“The concept has changed. We now provide a destination shopping experience and also have four stores in Singapore and one in Vietnam.”
Ng notes that while not all their outlets are superstores, they still operated a few pro shops at golf clubs with a view to “being close to the golfers themselves and providing on-site services.”
“We’ve found that the golfing community in the region has matured over the past few years and this means the customer has become more particular about what he or she wants.
‘With this mind, we now also provide technical services and assistance at most of our outlets. It is here, that before a customer buys equipment they can get advice from a pro and test out the equipment.
“All our club fitters are professional custom fitters, using the latest technology in the industry, like GC Quad or TrackMan launch monitors and indoor golf simulators.”
Ng adds that several of global brands have their own equipment fitting centres within the MST network.
“The likes of Mizuno, Ping, TaylorMade and Titleist have a presence within some of the superstores,” he says.
“We also have Hugo Boss – of which Boss Green is their golf and apparel segment. We are often in discussion with Hong Kong, where Hugo Boss’ Asia head offices is located. As you know, Hugo Boss are rather particular with whom and where they do business. And to date we have four outlets – at TPC Kuala Lumpur, Subang Superstore, Intermark and one in Singapore.”
Ng touches on the coming together of MST Golf and SportsDirect and says that in 2006 they were looking at growing the company outside of golf but wanted to remain within the sport itself.
“We were planning on going to China to evaluate the possibilities there before we came across SportsDirect.”
“As things turned out, we signed a licensing agreement with SportsDirect a couple of years or so later after they liked what they saw when they visited here.
“And with this, our mission is to become the number one sports retailer in Malaysia within the next two or three years,” he adds. Our primary aim is make it more affordable and more accessible for our customers, and provide for them with numerous brands to choose from” says Ng.
With RM300mil revenue generated last year, Ng says they are tracking slightly less than 20% growth in golf for the first six months of this year, and similarly were tracking “high growth” in sport.
“In part, this is because we are continuing to open new SportsDirect stores and just the other day opened our PJ outlet for business.
“This store is located next to our MST Golf PJ outlet that has an area of some 15,000 square feet.
“When combined with SportsDirect, the PJ entity is over 35,000 sq ft,” he adds.
Ng says they are aiming to retain similar growth figures in the second half of 2018.
He also adds that last year they “entered the digital age” with the launch of their first e-commerce platform.
“Initially it was dedicated to the Malaysian market, but we have a vision of rapid growth to gain worldwide penetration,” says Ng.
With Independence upon us, he added:
“As a Malaysian company in golf for so long we’ve also invested a lot in academies that were set-up to help grow the game in the country – to make the industry bigger and stronger.
“And looking at these as we celebrate our independence, it is heartening to note that progress is being made.
“These training facilities are not commercially driven but rather established to help improve the well being of golf in the country.
“We have invested in a lot of junior programmes with TPC Kuala Lumpur, the Professional Golf of Malaysia (PGM), we did work with the Sime Darby LPGA and IMG for the duration of the tournament in Malaysia and engaged in other developmental programmes.
“These have benefitted many young golfers, some of whom have made their way into colleges in the United States.”
Low, the company’s managing director, speaking of independence, says their best wishes go out to all golfers and especially the members of their ilovegolf loyalty card programme.
“We have more than 60,000 ilovegolf members, many of whom have been loyal to the MST Golf brand, and for this we are truly grateful,” says Low. “And we wish them, and all Malaysians, a joyful and peaceful independence.”
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