Innovative body-building

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  • Saturday, 20 Feb 2016

1 One of the food trucks manufactured by the company.2 The business involves machinery that is used to shape the metal before being fabricated as part of the body of a truck.3 & 4 Sheer hard work is reflected here as a worker is seen cutting necessary metal to shape the requirements of the truck’s body.5 Automotive designers going through the design plans of the customised body before sending them to the manufacturing department.6 One of the workers working on the installation of the stretcher in an ambulance.7 Some of the vehicles that have been fitted with the customised body and are ready for delivery.

Despite the emphasis on working smart today, there is no real formula for success. The best one can do is work hard.

Remembering the early days of running his business, Continental Top Products and Engineering Sdn Bhd co-founder and chairman Datuk Yen Yuen Choy, 68, said he continued taking on orders after office hours.

“You must understand human behaviour – once your customers are not able to count on you, they will not come to you anymore,” he told Metrobiz.

His company, a commercial vehicle body-builder which specialises in the design, fabrication and assembly of light and heavy transport vehicle body work, was the gold winner in the Best Innovation category of the Star Outstanding Business Awards 2015 (SOBA).

Starting the company in 1980 with his six siblings and RM100,000 capital pooled from their savings, Yen ventured into the business as one of his brothers had experience in the sale of passenger and commercial vehicles.

“Being prudent people, we wanted a steady business.

“It may not be glamorous, but other businesses need these vehicles for their operations,” said the former Education Ministry chief clerk, adding that at that point, he believed that if they worked hard in getting customers, there would always be demand for it.

They started by renting a 0.4ha-factory in Sungai Besi, Kuala Lumpur, with 20 workers.

The company began by fabricating and constructing light pick-up lorry bodies, he said.

Although he only focused on the sales process, the whole manufacturing process was not that simple.

It involved sourcing for the specific accessories and parts, as well as designing and then fabricating both frame and body, which included welding, riveting and installation.

All this could only be done if you understood the purpose of the vehicle as specified by a customer, and subsequently, how the chassis should be done, he emphasised.

“It is more complicated compared to the popular wooden body, which we didn’t want to do as we wanted a durable product that would continue to give us returning customers,” Yen said.

By 1988, the company was already doing quite well, producing more than 800 customised body for light trucks, but Yen was not satisfied and started looking for other products that the company could branch into.

As the saying goes, where there is a will, there is a way.

It so happened that Yen was acquainted with an emergency services provider official who told him that all the ambulances were imported. He remarked that this would be good a niche market for him to venture into.

That was when Yen started to attend various international healthcare exhibitions, especially in Britain, to learn how to build ambulances.

Finally, in 1988, after having conducted his own research and making connections with experts who were willing to share their know-how with him, Yen pushed Continetal Top into fabricating the body of ambulances.

It also did the interior installation of ambulance accessories such as lightbar warning systems and stretchers for clients, beginning with the Malaysia Red Crescent Society, and eventually, for the Health Ministry and local hospitals.

“My friends have asked me: Why build ambulances which are not used in large quantities? I’d like to think that apart from making a living through the business, we are also providing a service to the people,” Yen said enthusiastically.

Today, the company has diversified into building ambulances, food trucks, box vans, mobile eye and dental clinics. And it has built more than 8,000 ambulances over the years.

Occupying a 1.2ha-factory lot in Seri Kembangan, Selangor since 2009 with 65 workers, Continental Top serves a wide range of clientele — from walk-in customers who own food and beverage businesses and want to buy a food truck, to government or international organisations that want to buy ambulances.

The jobs they undertake range in value from RM100,000 for a food truck to over RM100mil for 500 ambulances.

They also partner with major truck and van manufacturers who become their original equipment manufacturers (OEM), making various light body truck designs.

Shifting his attention to one of the more low-key successes in the company’s business, Yen said Continental Top also built hearses.

“I first got the job from a public university in 1983. I was directed to a pakcik who helped us build it according to the requirements of Malay customs,” he said.

He observed that the pakcik would work one hour in doing the fabrication and rest for three hours.

Curious, he asked why, and the pakcik told him that he wanted to prolong his life as such a vehicle was meant for the dead and there were pantang (superstitions) involved.

Getting philosophical, Yen told the man this: “The vehicle is for the grieving who needs the vehicle to transport their loved ones, and a channel for them to grieve is through these relevant ceremonies. If the vehicle is not ready and not available, they would curse you. Would you like to be praised or cursed?”

The pakcik was so amused by Yen’s reply that he decided to teach him his craft. Yen improvised on what he learned, and continues to build hearses to this day.

Such is his spirit to continue building the company that for Yen, no vehicle is too hard to manufacture.

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