Juiced by tech [New Straits Time (Malaysia)]
(New Straits Time (Malaysia) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) ADNAN Lee adds more byte to his family's business legacy through technology, writes Siti Syameen Md Khalili.
AS I step into the lobby of the massive three-storey headquarters and warehouse of MBG Fruits in Kota Damansara, I can't help but wonder where the employees are.
However, as I enter the main office I see a group of people standing next to a tall, young man wearing the red corporate shirt. He is Adnan Lee, founder of MBG Fruits.
"The pomegranates from India have just arrived. We're opening the first box," says the 38-year-old entrepreneur in fluent Malay. After passing around slices to everyone in the room and having some himself, Lee invites me into his office. A fruit tray is brought in shortly after.
"We make it a point to sample the fruits we bring in before selling them. Most customers will ask if they are tasty or sweet. I can only give a guarantee if we've sampled them," he says.
MBG stands for Money Back Guarantee, a brand promise that Lee came up with in 1997. The first signboard that carried the logo was put up at the Bukit Bintang wet market where Lee opened his first fixed fruit stall. Prior to that, Lee used to sell fruits on bicycles and motorcyle carts, as did his parents and grandparents before him.
FRUIT OF GENERATIONS
Lee's grandfather, who emigrated from China, sold fruits in Petaling Street in the 1950s while his parents operated their business at the Bukit Bintang wet market, also known as the Imbi market.
Starting with one main stall, they managed to expand the business into an eight branch operation - eight mobile setups in temporary locations. Lee recalls helping his parents and sleeping under one of the fruit carts when he was tired.
Before taking over the family business, Lee was an aspiring artist. With a friend, he completed a 150m mural at Sekolah Menengah St Gabriel, Kuala Lumpur which attracted the attention of the media. "It was through the media that a design company hired me to produce drawings of what would later be Sunway City, but my stint in this line did not last long. I was not able to get enough contracts to sustain my career so my father persuaded me to sell fruits instead," he says.
Lee recalls operating one of the mobile carts and selling fruits bought from the wholesale market. "Customers usually ask about the quality of the fruits and I always assure them we sell good stuff. Some of the regulars would joke that they would throw the fruits back at me if they weren't sweet. I would tell them I'd give their money back if the fruits weren't good," Lee says, adding that this became became the starting point of the MBG concept.
"When I hung my first signboard at the Bukit Bintang wet market, people who saw it used to jokingly ask me 'Wow, a signboard! When will your company be public-listed?'"
Today MBG has more than 20 branches in the country. Besides fruits, each shop also carries items such as rojak sauce, asam boi powder, dried fruits, roasted nuts, honey, fruit extract sweeteners and juices. MBG has also expanded its operations to China.
DOWN BEFORE UP
Despite his success, Lee's venture did not start with flying colours.
"In the late 1990's, business was quite profitable so I hired more employees. I dreamt of having one MBG stall in every wet market. My employees welcomed the idea but one said 'Boss, you're quite a dreamer.'
"I believe there is a big difference between someone who dreams and someone who dreams and works hard at achieving it," he says.
"I kickstarted the first branch at the wet market in Lorong Merlimau, KL. After a year, I failed to compete with the existing vendors and started another in Taman Midah. This branch also failed. I started yet another one in Setapak and, again, I failed.
"By this time most people would've quit but I was brought up by my parents to never give up and keep working hard. So I charged on. I realised that the NSK Supermarket in Selayang did not offer fruits, so I approached them. I was given a slot to rent and started my fourth attempt there. Today, MBG is still there and NSK continues to be one of our long-time business partners."
In 2004, a customer approached Lee with the idea of opening a stall at a shopping complex. "He had been frequenting my stall for years and he said to me 'Hey Adnan, how about opening a stall in my shopping complex?'
"The place he was talking about was actually Avenue K in Jalan Ampang, KL. It occurred to me that instead of having one MBG stall in one wet market, it would be better to have one MBG stall in every shopping complex," says Lee.
It was to be the start of MBG's golden era. Lee recalls: "After the recession in the late 1990s, the economy bounced back and many developers came up with new residential areas. Many of these areas did not have wet markets, but retail opportunities were snapped up by hypermarkets such as Carrefour, Tesco and Giant.
"New shopping complexes also began mushrooming in the Klang Valley. We managed to find opportunities with these establishments and we are now planning to launch our latest outlets in The School in Jaya One, Petaling Jaya and KL Festival City."
TECH IS ONLY TOOL
Lee believes his inner drive can be attributed to the core values which his family has practised for generations.
Here in MBG, we believe in honesty, respect and hard work. I also believe in leadership by example so all these core values have to start with me before I can expect them from my employees. Each of us also has the Buku Kejayaan Saya (The Book Of My Success) where we document our achievements.
"When someone does his or her work well or has the right attitude, that person will be rewarded immediately and it goes into his success book. This practice helps contribute to the success of the company," says Lee.
Lee's success book begins with a page featuring photos of his childhood, some taken at the fruit cart his parents used to operate. The thick book also includes a photo of his family, the first fruit stall that carried the MBG logo and also the news article on the mural he painted.
"When my parents were running their business, they did it on mobile carts. Now we have technology to help us expand quickly as well as help us manage our operations, communications and promotions well.
"In the old days, I had to call each branch when the new stock arrived, after that it was via email. Now I only have to take a picture of the fruit on my phone and send a message through Whatsapp and each branch will be updated instantly. This is especially useful when our products have a short shelf-life.
"In those days, we used to buy our fruits from the wholesaler. We still do but we also source from outside the country so we can offer more choices and even premium fruits," says Lee, who uses Google to keep abreast of developments in the industry.
Apart from using technology to improve info gathering and internal communications, MBG also hosts a website (www.mbg.com.my) and Facebook Page (www.facebook.com/mbgfruit).
"We've just started our IT department and we also have a small team dedicated to customers online.
"Our online presence helps us interact with customers. But the advent of technology also brings new challenges. For example, if a customer posts his complaints on his Facebook account, it is a threat to us as social media is a very powerful tool and we can't control it. I believe that as long as we keep true to our core values and are honest, we can manage the situation better. To me, technology is a tool but our core values will guide us on how to best use it."
GIVING BACK TO INDUSTRY
Lee is also an active participant in industry events. At last year's Asia Fruit Logistica in Hong Kong he shared his knowledge on how the fruit industry could make use of social media to garner customer loyalty. Speaking at the event's congress, Lee said that while the new media could be intimidating and had risks, businesses could not ignore its capability in reaching out to the masses.
"MBG is among the first in the industry to embrace social media and our platform of choice is Facebook. Now whatever promotions we run and feature on our website will also be featured on our Facebook Page and will be displayed at each of our shop. This uniformed presence that we have online and offline makes it easy for customers to take advantage of promotions." To date MBG Fruit Shop has over 120,000 Likes on its Facebook Page.
Lee has won numerous awards including the MRCA-8TV Entrepreneur Award 2010 and the 2013 Junior Chamber International Creative Young Entrepreneur Award.
He has shared his experience with participants of Teh Tarik Talk, a motivational series organised by Yayasan Inovasi Malaysia and The Malaysian Association of Creativity and Innovation which has featured bestselling author Imran Ahmad, entertainer and chief executive officer of Tune Talk Jason Lo and Datuk Chef Wan.
(c) 2013 ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved.
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