The Risks & Rewards Of Taking A Leap of Faith

KUALA LUMPUR: Two engineers left the corporate world to venture into the duty-free travel retail tourism industry at the tail end of 2019. The duty-free travel retail sector, like other businesses throughout the globe, encountered turbulence when Covid-19 started to spread in 2020.

In spite of the uncertainties, roadblocks and limitations Nick Leong and Alex Te remain unperturbed by the fact that their plans will have to take a detour.

Leong was formerly with a Fortune 500 FMCG company while Te was from a Fortune 500 Property conglomerate. Both co-founded the business in a time of great uncertainty when most would be happy with just a stable employment.

“Because we have experience in retail distribution, merchandising and import/export of goods, thanks to having worked in international corporations before, we were keen to become entrepreneurs in the duty-free travel retail industry which we believe hold great promise as Malaysia is still lacking compared to regional countries like Singapore and Thailand,” said Nick Leong, who is the co-founder and general manager of Leaflex Sdn Bhd.

“But due to the unexpected emergence of the coronavirus and the lockdown, we pivoted very quickly to e-commerce to ride out the near term  economic uncertainties.  That is how Modern Essentials (ME), an e-commerce lifestyle store that features brands like exclusive foreign brands like Georganic, Orinbe, Nineware, JVR, Nemoro, among others, came about. This crisis in turn opened up a new frontier for us as the reach is far and wide for e-commerce instead of being constrained to a specific demography or location,” he said.

“Small is beautiful as we are nimble and agile.  Start-ups like us can manoeuvre better than the major corporations which have huge overheads and fixed cost requiring them to re-structure and downsize to survive,” Leong added.

Alex Te (left) and Nick Leong (right) at Leaflex, the company which showcase Modern Essentials (ME) products.

Meanwhile, the company’s other co-founder and business development manager Alex Te said ME noticed that many young undergraduates and diploma students are facing hardship finding job placement and internship opportunities due to this pandemic caused by the economic downturn. Hence, the company decided to initiate collaboration programmes with education institutions.

In fact, ME had just completed a 5-week long work placement session with Year 2 degree students of Raffles College of Higher Education to develop social media and branding initiatives for the company. 

“Due to our earlier success, currently there is an ongoing 14-week project collaboration with diploma students of the same college, to come up with online advertising and marketing for other brands in our portfolio. As exclusive and sole distributors of these foreign brands in Malaysia, we were granted the autonomy by our principals in South Korea and Germany to build the brands in Malaysia.”

“We believe such collaborations will help solve the problem of local youths acquiring work experience and also having a platform to showcase their creativity and innovative ideas. It enables undergraduates to build up a taste of working life prior to graduating.  After all, fresh graduates with work experience are more marketable and sought-after by future employers in this competitive employment market. And such placement programmes can translate to official job offers with us upon their graduations.”

“As our tech company is young, we believe in giving back and will continuously harness the potential of youths. This is especially important at this juncture where the economy is experiencing a downturn and youth unemployment is rising significantly. We are thankful to have co-founded our own business and as business owners, we play a role in giving back to society. In the pipeline are plans to work with student associations both in local and private university to identify potential student brand ambassadors who can help build our brands in their campus or on social media. As times are tough, we know many students need part time income. Collaborations like these create a “win-win situation” for both parties and we are glad to play a small part in helping the youth community weather the difficult and challenging economic environment,” Te said.

Raffles College of Higher Education diploma students attending a brief given by Leong and Te at Leaflex.
Raffles College of Higher Education diploma students learning more about Nemoro blocks at Leaflex.
Raffles College of Higher Education Year 2 degree students giving a presentation of their deliverables upon completion of their 5-week workplacement session with ME.

In Brief

Modern Essentials (ME) is e-commerce lifestyle store which was launched on 15 June, 2020. There are 4 categories — kitchenware, skincare, home & living and tech. ME is a lifestyle curator and the exclusive distributors for Nemoro, Georganic, Orinbe, Nineware and JVR in Malaysia.

Besides selling on https://www.modern.my  ME products are also found on Shopee and Lazada

Related link:

Covid-19: Small business reinvents itself to survive pandemic in TheMole.

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