Mary has over 20 years experience as the editor of our Malaysian sister magazine, The Tyreman. Based in Kuala Lumpur, she writes articles for us on the Malaysian and other South East Asian markets.
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Kit Loong Group is turning 90 this year. CEO Jacob Chen shares their story of growth with The Tyreman.
2021 marks the 90th anniversary of Kit Loong Group, a company known for being one of the pioneers of the tyre distribution and retreading industry in Malaysia. However, with the outbreak of Covid-19, commemoration has taken precedent over any celebration. Therefore, instead of shying away from being 90, the Group is embracing its anniversary by sharing its story with The Tyreman on how they come so far, as well as the power of persistence they have demonstrated over the years to propel the company towards its centennial year.
Jacob Chen took the helm as Kit Loong Group Chief Executive Officer at Kit Loong’s 70th Anniversary gala in 2001. He received the baton from his father, Chen Jet How and officially ushered in a new era for the third generation to take over that has led to the development and growth of the Group to what it is today.
“In 2002, Kit Loong plunged into a crisis when Michelin restructured and ended our sole Michelin truck tyre distributorship partnership. Subsequently, in 2007, after 40 years of successful cooperation, our Michelin passenger car tyre distributorship also came to an end. This was a great challenge for me as a new CEO as I had been in the position for a year at that point. It was also a challenge for Kit Loong as it had to tide over this noticeable business gap in the tyre business,” explained Jacob.
‘In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity’ is the famous adage of Albert Einstein. Of course, turning a crisis into an opportunity often requires thinking out of the box.
“We viewed it as an important turning point for us. It led to the splitting off of our passenger car tyres and commercial tyres businesses into two different groups, including in our retreading operations. With the change in direction, the commercial tyres and retreading division became its own entity with a new name – Kit Loong Tyre Commercial Group, which is now owned and managed by Managing Director Kenneth Teh. The two separate entities allowed us to be more focused on putting more emphasis on our specific market segments, creating value not only for our stakeholders but also serving our customers better,” Jacob added.
The Covid-19 impact is unprecedented. Loss of life, business closures, trade disruption, reduced demand and productivity have resulted in weak financial results. “We have had to streamline our organisation by maintaining the section of business that is profitable, fortifying our company structure and optimising existing staff performance as well as looking for young and talented personnel to join us. Companies that are resilient and adaptable succeed more often than those rigid and unwilling to change. Therefore, we have demonstrated our strength in resilience and adaptability amidst the pandemic. For instance, we adopted a more flexible rebate system to align our interests with our dealers to weather the impact of the current pandemic.”
For Jacob, these challenging times are also a period of intense preparation for the Group. “As we are paving our ways toward our dream of becoming a century-old enterprise, it is important that we keep up the fighting spirit to stay relevant during the pandemic.”
Digitalisation is reshaping many businesses across all industries. Like it or not, E-commerce will be an important part of the marketing strategy for tyre manufactures and suppliers. The pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation, and Kit Loong certainly cannot afford to be left behind.
Jacob revealed that Kit Loong has introduced a mobile app called Tayaria TOP (Tayaria Tyre Ordering Programme), which is designed to help dealers access the most recent product information, stock availability, and prices of the tyre range that the Group carries.
Commenting on the app, he said, “It allows our dealers to order conveniently from any place at any time, instead of through phone orders or have to wait for our sales personnel to attend to them. It saves time by streamlining the action of ordering – processing and delivery, as well as increasing transparency in pricing.”
Apart from that, Jacob said they will continue to invest in equipment and physical facilities to improve productivity. “We have acquired a piece of land and have also applied for the license to build a logistic centre, which is expected to begin construction in 2022. The new warehousing and logistics facility will not only enhance our efficiency in logistics planning and management but also enable us to provide a seamless online-to-offline (O2O) system for the convenience of our dealers.”
Equally important, he stressed is the management team and employees. “By upholding the principle of the ‘right hiring practice policy, cultivating talent and retaining those staff’, we can hold on to highly qualified talents who are our most valuable asset. We need a balance of experienced old hands and newcomers with fresh perspectives to move forward. Bringing in new creative blood into our organisation is not mainly for succession planning, but to introduce fresh minds and perspectives to our team. As we advance toward our 100th anniversary and beyond, besides goals and targets, persistence and responsibility, it requires not only inheritance but also innovation.”
Over the years, Jacob said, Kit Loong Group has gone through its ups and downs. He noted that the Group cannot rest on its laurels and rely on its previous advantages in the ever-changing market conditions.
In 2016, Autobac Seven (AB7) acquired a 20 per cent stake in Kit Loong Tayaria (KLT). This was an important milestone for Kit Loong Group as it showed that KLT’s potential has been recognised by one of Japan’s largest suppliers of aftermarket automotive parts and services, including tyre related services and car accessories, Jacob added.
Currently, KLT has more than 100 Tayaria alliance outlets. Jacob explained that partnering with AB7 allowed for KLT to leverage AB7 experience and its range of products. KLT can also successfully replicate their success model in Japan for the local market. Therefore, he is confident of achieving their target of 120 outlets.
“With much appreciation and gratitude, we would like to take this opportunity to thank our international brand vendors for their unwavering support, our valued customers for their loyalty, our employees for their hard work and dedication, as well as their understanding during this difficult period. My grandfather Teh Kim Hye, the founder of Kit Loong, has passed down Kit Loong to us with a brand legacy of trustworthiness and honesty, while my dad Chen Jet How has taught me the art of staying focused in our expertise, doing what we specialise in and have the willingness to work hard. All these factors have contributed to what we are today, and will continue to inspire us, leading up to our centenary celebration in 10 years.”
除此之外，郑家国表示，他们将继续投资于提高生产力的设备和设施。 “我们购买了一块土地，并申请了兴建造物流中心的许可证，预计可在 2022 年动工。新的仓储和物流设施不仅可提高我们在物流规划和管理方面的效率，也让我们得以为客户提供无缝的在线到离线 (O2O) 系统的便利。”
他强调，管理团队和员工也同样重要。 “通过‘求才、育才、用才、留才’的原则，我们可以留住高素质的人才，因为他们就是我们最宝贵的资产。集团要继续前进，我们需要在经验丰富的老员工和具有全新视角的新人之间取得平衡。然而，为我们的组织注入新创意不仅仅为了接班与传承，也是为了将新思想和观点引入我们的团队。除了明确的目标，锲而不舍的坚持和责任，更要有传承和创新，才能稳步迈向100 周年和更远的未来。”
2016 年，Autobac Seven (AB7) 收购了吉隆胎雅乐（Kit Loong Tayaria）20% 的股份。 郑家国补充说，这对吉隆集团来说是一个重要的里程碑，因为这证明了吉隆胎雅乐的潜力已获得日本最大售后汽车零部件和服务，包括轮胎相关服务和汽车配件供应商之一的AB7 的认可。
目前，吉隆胎雅乐拥有100多家胎雅乐联盟门店。 郑家国解释说，与 AB7的合作使吉隆胎雅乐能够运用AB7的经验和销售其产品系列，吉隆胎雅乐还可以将AB7在日本的成功运营模式复制到本地市场，进一步拓展事业版图。因此，他对实现120家胎雅乐的门店目标充满信心。
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