22/2018 – An exciting but challenging journey
by Tan Thiam Hock
THE most difficult part of writing an article is the beginning. The first paragraph is the toughest. My mind is blank. Is this a good idea? Uncertainty sets in. I would light a cigar and let my mind wonder for the next 30 minutes. Brought back to reality by time constraint.
If you have ever started a business of your own, you would be able to identify the following symptoms. Uncertainty and excitement. Uncertain if the idea would work. Rush of adrenaline when you start the business. Full of optimism as the idea has been well thought through. You are ready to take on the world.
When things go well, it is smooth driving. Most times, the journey is littered with pot holes, road diversions and occasional dead ends. Such is the journey for an entrepreneur.
Some entrepreneurs have short journeys. Some have long journeys. For serial entrepreneurs, they take on multiple journeys. Sooner or later, all journeys come to an end.
My journey with Alliance Cosmetics is finally coming to an end as it has been sold to a new owner, Mandom Corporation, Japan. It has been a journey of 22 years. Looking back, the early years were challenging especially the 1998/9 Asian Financial Crisis. Excitement turned into despair. But we recovered.
Then the excitement of taking over Revlon Malaysia and Singapore in 2000. The joy and pride of rescuing Revlon brand from being kicked out of the market by Guardian and Watsons in both countries. And then the despair of losing the agency in 2014 despite the year on year growth performance for 14 continuous years.
Not many people are aware that Alliance Cosmetics have been instrumental in building the dermo cosmetic category in Malaysia via the 20 year old journey of marketing Avene skin care in Malaysia. Nor the fact that the Alliance Cosmetics team is 100% local, born and bred in Malaysia.
And how the local team gain experience and confidence to take on the biggest cosmetic company in the world.
The birth of our own home grown brand Silkygirl was due to a strategic dispute with Wet ‘n Wild Cosmetics on how the brand should go forward. From the despair of a dispute came an opportunity. Again there were great anxieties and uncertainty as we journey into the unknown. I was lucky as I had the full support of my partner as the capex investment in brand, inventory and merchandising was enormous compared to our turnover.
The Alliance Cosmetics story is more than the story about Silkygirl and Tan Thiam Hock. It is the story of the support of partners that an entrepreneur should have. It is about a supporting spouse in business and at home that an entrepreneur like me can appreciate. It is about the customers and suppliers that have supported us and eventually becoming good friends throughout the journey. These friendships have helped my journey less stressful and more enjoyable.
Most of all, this is the story about the people that makes the company for what it is. I will be forever grateful of having the opportunity to work with so many nice and genuine people. It is a story about simple people working for a living, performing to the best of their abilities in whatever role that they have been given.
It is about Wendy who was our 18-year-old sales promoter back in 1996 and now a trade manager and a mother of two. It is about the Revlon admin and finance team headed by Bin Shu that came with the company that forms the backbone of our operations team till today. Shout out to Chin Lay for helping me take on Revlon.
I will never forget the sales team and Sarah, my late secretary that hop over from Wella, engineered by Georgie, my first sales manager. I will always remember Ang, who travelled with me throughout Malaysia setting up our general trade distribution network amidst the many cigarettes smoked in between.
All our packaging designs, merchandising and advertising creatives were done in house. Our in house Studio Manager Heng has been doing graphic work for me since 1985 when she was working for other studios. Our honest and diligent purchasing team headed by Joanna built a network of trust and integrity with our world wide suppliers.
To compete with L’Oréal and Maybelline, we developed a similar world class brand management structure for Silkygirl headed by Theng Theng. We are proud of the fact that many of our former brand team members have now spread out to other companies to be in charge of competitor brands.
Alliance Cosmetics have been managed by a professional team headed by our CEO Chee Eng since 2012. I am glad that the new owners have decided to keep the whole team intact as they move forward.
When she got news of the sale, Suridah texted me, ‘Are you feeling relieved or finally sad?’ Having sold her company before, she knew what I was going through.
It is like giving away your daughter in marriage to a new family. You can only hope that this new family will look after her well.
To the young entrepreneurs, your journey will take you through many roads. Enrich your life with the many new friendships that you will develop over the years. It is much easier to face the challenges in business life with the support of your partners, family, colleagues, suppliers and customers.
Just remember that friendships remain long after your business journey has ended.
While heaving a sigh of relief that my journey has ended well, I am grateful for the many friends that I have had the privilege to know and meet.
I never knew that the ending would be as difficult as the beginning. It is finally sinking in. I am feeling… finally sad.