6/2017 Opportunity to build your own brand, why not grab it?
by Tan Thiam Hock
Saturday, 18 March 2017
LAST week, Adrian from one of my various chat groups, posted a photograph of both of us taken in 2004. It was a reminder of the two-week HBS course that we attended in Awana Hotel, Genting Highlands that was organized by Harvard Business School Alumni of Malaysia.
While Adrian still look good and not looking a day older, I must admit that I have aged badly in comparison. I am at the stage of my life where no amount of photoshop skills can improve my passport photo. You know what I mean.
Adding salt to my badly wounded pride, my wife insisted that I should show my wedding pictures to my friends and help clear the mystery of why she married me in the first place. It was definitely for the looks and not for money as I graduated penniless and asset light. Well to be truthful, zero assets. Why she persevered staying married to me is the other mystery which will remain unsolved but I am thankful that she has grown accustomed to my craggy and bloated face.
After almost 20 years of running businesses, I was running out of ideas from a stale brain and I thought going back to school and learning from four HBS Professors over two weeks would be refreshing and enlightening. It was.
It was an intensive two weeks, going through multiple case studies on strategy, finance, marketing and government economics. Every case study was based on a real situation and we were presented with the background story and facts, then the dilemma in decision-making which we have to discuss and propose a solution.
There were no right or wrong answers as there are always multiple and probable solutions to solve a problem. As you defend your stance, you learn to argue with conviction and take bold positions. You learnt that taking a position is better than not having one.
No leaders make the right decisions all the time. The leader who will survive is the one who makes more right decisions than wrong ones.
It gave me the confidence to make bold decisions and strangely enough, six months later I was faced with a problem that will change the destiny of my company. Just before Christmas 2014, I had an argument with my Wet and Wild Cosmetic principal on how we should run the business in Malaysia. After saying goodbye to him, I went to see my marketing manager and told her that we will create our own brand of cosmetics and we will launch it within six months.
So in June 2005, we launch Silkygirl with Paula Malai Ali, Sharifah Aleya and Jaime as our brand ambassadors. We replaced 400 Wet and Wild Cosmetic counters in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei with Silkygirl in three months. After that strenuous replacement exercise, I sent a termination letter to Wet and Wild withdrawing as a distributor as per the terms of the agreement. No outstanding payments. No legal disputes.
Fast track to 2014, Revlon sent us a termination letter as per distribution agreement. No reasons were given as it decided not to renew our rolling three-year agreements. The termination was carried out despite our arguments that we have grown the brand every year continuously in both Malaysia and Singapore and we proudly did that for 14 years! We looked after the Revlon brand like our own brand as most of my staff were former Revlon employees who stayed with us from the takeover days.
With a heavy heart, we pass all the counters and stocks to Revlon in December 2014 and both sides settled all outstanding payments. No legal disputes. Smooth handover.
To the young entrepreneurs who are involved in distribution or franchise business, I would like to share a few learnings after 30 years of distributing other people’s brands.
Always do your best and treat it like your own brand. Make sure you make money for your efforts put in. But do remember that it is not a permanent marriage. Do not fall in love with the brand or it will break your heart. Enjoy the relationship as long as it is mutually beneficial to both parties. Whenever one side is aggrieved or at a disadvantage, it is the beginning of the end of the relationship.
Like a marriage, both parties will have petty fights and disagreements during the relationship. The judge is only concerned with the performance of both parties as per the terms of the agreement. He will not be interested in lovers’ quarrels.
Always observe the terms of the agreement that you have signed. The terms are clearly spelt out and if you breach any terms of the agreement, having the smartest lawyer on your side will not make any difference. You will still lose in court.
If you have the opportunity to build your own brand, just do it. Take the bold step when you are ready. Hopefully you would have learn the tricks of the trade from managing other people’s brands. With your own brand, the destiny of your company lies in your hands not others.
It is a marriage till death do you part. No legal agreements to worry about.
Whenever you feel worn out or burnt out, I would strongly recommend that you take some time off to re-educate yourself. The business world is changing at such a fast pace that you should get out of your familiar surroundings and open your mind to new ideas and newer technologies that are changing the world. Learn about other businesses and different industries. The knowledge acquired will help you make bolder and better decisions.
In the meantime, if you are in a mutually beneficial relationship with your principals or franchisors, cherish the profitable moments while it lasts. Who knows, it might last longer than your marriage.
Luckily for me, despite my aged and worn out look, my wife has not served a termination letter on me. So I am looking forward to celebrating our 30 years of marriage this Nov 21. Guess I deserve this reward for not breaching any terms of the marriage agreement.