In pursuit of purity

One of the test and research labs at Coway’s R&D centre in Seoul National University.

One of the test and research labs at Coway’s R&D centre in Seoul National University.

THE AIR and water we take in are among the most important things for a healthy life and this has a major concern in many Malaysian households.

Evidence of this concern can be seen in how quickly South Korean air and water purifier company Coway Co Ltd (M) Sdn Bhd has grown since it set up its Malaysian arm Coway (M) Sdn Bhd in 2006.

In that time, enough Coway products have made their way into local households that the company recently diversified its product lineup by introducing a range of juicers.

“In Malaysia, we are one of the most successful Korean companies and we rose quickly to become the top brand for water and air purifiers here,” said Coway Co Ltd overseas business executive director Kim Yong Seong.

Kim added that Coway Malaysia once again recorded monthly sales of 10,000 units in April this year and exceeded its own expectations by reaching 230,000 customers to date.

“It was our best sales performance this year, even though April was the month Malaysia started implementing the goods and services tax (GST),” he said.

Based on this progress, Coway Malaysia will now be expanding into smaller towns in Malaysia, throughout the second half of 2015.

This is to help Coway Malaysia reach its target of more than 500,000 customers and yearly revenue of RM800mil by 2020.

“Our ultimate goal is to have at least one Coway product present in every household in Malaysia,” he said.

Kim believes this is possible because in South Korea, they are able to sell one product every 30 seconds.

In most restaurants and companies in South Korea, there is at least one Coway product present, be it a water purifier, air purifier or both.

To help hit its targets, Coway Malaysia will continuously bring in new products built in with the latest technologies developed by their technicians in Seoul.

Among the new products that will be launched in Malaysia this year are two new water purifiers, a new juicer and an air purifier.

The juicer, which is the newest addition to the Coway family, is meant to promote a healthy lifestyle by encouraging customers to make healthy drinks.

The company says the juicer boasts a extraction rate of over 48%.

Park says the company tries to innovate in other ways beyond R&D.
Park says the company tries to innovate in other ways beyond R&D.

In addition, the new juicer’s “frozen” function can make smoothies with frozen fruit and vegetables.

“We are also introducing a new filtration system we developed here in our research centre in our air purifiers,” he said.

Currently, Coway Malaysia is most well known for its reverse osmosis (RO) water filtration system.

All the technologies used in its appliances are developed in the company’s research and development centre in Seoul National University’s research park.

In South Korea, Coway has been dedicated to researching and developing environmental solutions since 1989.

What started with only 90 researchers in 1993 has now expanded to over 250 researchers working at the R&D centre, which was set up in 2007.

“It is so much better working at this research centre as it is bigger and fully equipped.

“We are also the only recognised water lab in South Korea, with eight water ‘sommeliers’ working here in our R&D centre,” said Coway’s technology team’s senior manager Oh Chae Yoon.

At the centre, there is also a section where water from different parts of the world is collected and analysed to help with developing suitable filtration systems.

Choi Byung Hua, a Cody, cleaning and servicing an air purifier in a customer’s home.
Choi Byung Hua, a Cody, cleaning and servicing an air purifier in a customer’s home.

Special filters were developed to ensure the company’s products work well in India, where the quality of water is very different from water in South Korea.

“We learned form experience where our filters lasted less than three months in India, compared to six months in South Korea.

“So we had to re-test the water and develop a new filter system just for India which will last six months,” she said.

The company is so focused on quality, it encourages customers to send water every year to the company’s water lab to be tested to ensure the quality of water produced from its water purifier is up to par and safe to be consumed.

In a similar vein, the R&D centre also has an air purifier testing room, where different types of air is tested to help develop the best filter for each country.

All these products are then sent for testing in an environmental testing room, where temperatures are set anywhere from between -55ºC to 200ºC.

This is done to test how the products will perform in the different environments and temperatures in various countries, along with how tough the products are.

“We actually have over 20 years worth of water and air mapping, which we collected from all over the world to help with out testing and product development,” said Coway’s environmental research and analysis centre quality manager Han Doo Won.

He explained that the data was compiled by their own staff during overseas work trips and also with the help of their partner companies overseas which send them samples.

This data is updated accordingly, to ensure they always have the latest samples on hand to help improve their new products.

To run the R&D centre, Coway invests over RM100mil annually.

In an effort increase sales in Malaysia, Coway took on the challenge of obtaining halal certification for its products.

“We are the first company in this product category in Malaysia to get the certification and it was not easy.

“In 2010, when we first tried, we got rejected but we persevered and finally we received the approval,” said Coway’s R&D centre division research director Kang Sang Hyeon.

To get the certification, Coway went to the extent of taking the Malaysia Islamic Development Department (Jakim) on a tour to their factory and R&D centre in South Korea to check their products and processes.

With the halal certification in hand, Coway introduced an innovative rental scheme to make their products more affordable to all Malaysians.

Introduced for the first time in South Korea in 1997, scheme came at a time of economic crisis, where many customers could no longer afford Coway products.

“This scheme was welcomed by our customers quickly and it also brought us new customers,” said Coway’s environmental home appliances department managing director James Park Jae-Young.

Park, who is the former managing director of Coway Malaysia, said the rental scheme is the first of its kind in the world.

Customers who choose the rental scheme will be tied down for about five years, before either upgrading to a newer model or keeping the old one. As an added benefit for those who choose the rental scheme, Coway provides free servicing and maintenance for the products.

“From this we actually created a new job for ladies which we call Cody (Coway Lady), comprising of mostly single mothers,” he said.

Cody is also now a recognised job market in South Korea and here in Malaysia, it is slowly getting there.

The ladies will first be taught about Coway products and taught how to service them before being allowed to meet customers.

“This is not a part-time or freelance job, our Cody actually gets to move up the ranks as in a regular career.

“The only difference is that they are not really required to enter the office and so time is more flexible and suitable for single mothers who need to look after their children,” he said.