NINE years ago, Justin Teow started a home-based business offering services to budding local entrepreneurs looking to go online.
The e-commerce industry was still in its infancy and there were already many who were eager to tap into this market despite the insufficient infrastructure and ecosystem then.
But little did he and his partners, Paul Tan and Shawn Wong, know that the many issues they encountered while devising solutions for online businesses then would prove to be a valuable experience when the trio decided to venture into a dedicated Internet-based business of their own.
Having observed how China managed to create an impressive digital business ecosystem in a relatively short time inspired Teow to venture into e-commerce and start a digital marketing platform.
“They are so advanced in terms of digital adoption. We are still trying to keep up with the changes and what are the latest digital marketing trends besides looking at areas that can be improved within the entire online sales and marketing business ecosystem that we operate in.
“One of our biggest successes is in building up a strong ecosystem that enables us to create a digitally savvy marketing and sales team, ” shares Teow, who is a co-founder of SVO Group Bhd, an online marketing platform company.
SVO, which is short for Synergy Via Online, has a dedicated online business which utilises digital marketing strategies to push products out. It handles everything from logistics to marketing solutions.
Teow says the company is still recruiting new talents in different fields to help keep up with the fast changing requirements and trends of its business. This includes new manpower in areas such as R&D, training and supply chain management.
With the encouraging development online due to the pandemic, the company is now looking at regional expansion for its next phase of growth. Teow also hopes to improve its workforce skills for a larger share of the local market.
The company started its overseas venture in 2018 and SVO currently has operations in Taiwan and Indonesia, with a small foothold in China. “Being able to expand overseas is one of our advantages. We are lucky in a way, as we are able to find the right partners to help us in expanding our operations into foreign markets. Having the ability to build personal relationships is crucial especially in this region, which highly values trust and good connections to successfully form a partnership, ” says Teow.
While competition is expected to get more intense in the digital marketing space given the increasing number of businesses going online, Teow says SVO has an early mover advantage.
It has spent years building an extensive ecosystem encompassing marketing and in-house skills training for sales staff and agents, product sourcing, logistic and back-end operations support.
There is also very little direct competition from China’s internet giants, he adds, as South-East Asia is not seen as a priority market for many of them given their sizeable domestic market.
“South-East Asia is often viewed as being too fragmented and culturally distinct for most of the Chinese digital marketing companies. Individual markets in this region such as Malaysia are too small for them to seriously consider, ” he says.
SVO today has more than to 2,500 agents and support staff. Its main office and training centre is located in Sungai Besi, Kuala Lumpur, with smaller offices in Penang and Johor.
The company’s business model, Teow explains, is a cross between multi-level marketing and e-commerce, with staff members and agents selling products using the digital platforms provided by SVO. It mainly sells health supplements and beauty products from third party manufacturers.On average, SVO’s sales networks sell more than 150,000 items per month in Malaysia alone, and has a turnover of about US$50mil (RM207.4mil) annually.
Moving forward, the group has started to build up its in-house training capabilities and is focused on upskilling its team members. It is looking into revamping its module to help their staff utilise innovative ways of communication and provide them with new necessary tools.
Being a digitally savvy company, it is ironic that SVO still requires large operating spaces and for its sizeable staff to turn up at the office for work. Teow attributes this to the need to create a conducive and productive working environment to beat the conundrum of working from home.
“We tried remote working, which, of course, we implemented during the movement control order period earlier this year. But over a longer term, we believe that having physical presence in the office is still necessary to ensure a more systematic workflow and for quality monitoring purposes, ” says Teow.
Its group of agents also run smaller independent marketing and sales offices in secondary markets such as Melaka and the East Coast states.
While the coronavirus outbreak has caused disruptions to the company’s overseas expansion due to the restriction on travels, the lockdown in Malaysia has actually helped SVO to accelerate the growth of its social media penetration. The lockdown also helped boost demand and interest in its health supplements as consumers shift their focus to healthcare related products, he adds.
Looking forward, Teow is open to collaboration opportunities that can provide strategic assets to support its regional expansion. This includes digital marketing firms or companies specialising in Content Management System services with access to consumer markets in Asean and Taiwan, which are the focus of the group’s overseas expansions for now.
“This is something to be considered if there is a proposal that provides synergistic value to the group’s current business, ” says Teow.
As the company looks at organic growth for now, Teow says this is an indication of the founders’ commitment and confidence in the group’s potential to chart its own growth path. “We are in the right industry that is just at the beginning of a long term growth trajectory, ” he says.
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