How to ride out the tough times
Motorcycle distributor is counting on its brands to gain bigger share in 'price-sensitive' market
It is known for selling scooters and continental street missiles on two wheels.
Today, Mah Pte Ltd is in a unique position as it holds the Singapore distributorship for nine motorcycle brands, including Aprilia, Triumph, Piaggio and Adiva.
But few people know that this family business evolved from trading generators.
At managing director Eugene Mah's second-storey office in Serangoon Road, where a weathered Dainese leather racing suit hangs on a wall, he shared his family's entry into the motorcycle business. It was started in the 1970s by his father.
Mr Mah, 32, told The New Paper: "My dad, who saw an opportunity in importing and selling motorcycles here, was influenced by my grandfather. Back then, nobody supplied motorcycles to the market."
Mr Mah's grandfather had sold generators to hospitals and the military in post-war Singapore.
Demand for generators declined in the 1980s, but Mr Mah's father was poised to enjoy the profits of selling parallel imported motorcycles here.
"Business was booming back then, as there was no COE (certificates of entitlement)," said Mr Mah.
"We made a lot in the 80s, as (motorcycle) legislation was still in its infancy."
Mr Mah now helms the company with his father mentoring and overseeing the family's other business interests overseas.
With a small supply of COE and premiums soaring to record highs of over $6,000, businesses, including Mah Pte Ltd, have taken a hit in what can be described as a "price-sensitive" market.
Profit margins are not what they used to be, said Mr Mah. He expects a rise in the price of small-capacity motorcycles when the tougher Euro 4 emission standard for smaller bikes is enforced by 2020.
But the father of three young children said he is in the business for the long run, having "started" early in motorcycling himself.
I used to fiddle with engines, jump on bikes and drop a few bikes when I was only sixMr Eugene Mah, 32, managing director of Mah Pte Ltd
Mr Mah said rather sheepishly: "I used to fiddle with engines, jump on bikes and drop a few bikes when I was only six."
The second of three boys, Mr Mah was the only child in his family who got his fingernails dirty with motorcycle grease.
In 2007, he officially entered the trade - by starting at the bottom as a salesman and mechanic. His duties included washing and selling motorcycles.
"My sales pitch was horrible. I sold just one bike in two months - nobody trusted a salesman in his early 20s," Mr Mah said.
Things are vastly different now. Despite the gloomy business outlook, Mah Pte Ltd has sold 160 Adiva scooters by the end of October this year.
By "not putting all the eggs in one basket" - in this case, not selling just one motorcycle brand - Mah Pte Ltd has been able to weather the slow business period, said Mr Mah.
Sym scooters saw a sales figure of 175 units, while Piaggio's sales figure stood at 277 units in the same period.
Mr Mah's passion for motorcycling solidified when he was in his late teens. He secretly had motorcycle lessons, earning his licence at age 19.
He said: "My parents found out only when the school sent a letter informing that I had passed my theory test. My mum told me not to continue."
Mr Mah defied his mum. After getting his Class 2 licence, he tested his luck by buying a Triumph Street Triple R from - who else? - Mah Pte Ltd.
He said: "The guys in charge of registration asked my dad, 'How boss, want to register?' My dad's reply was, 'I don't have a choice. If he doesn't buy here, he will find another way to ride.'"
Now a father himself, Mr Mag understands his parents' concerns. He knows the dangers better than anybody else, having had some of his customers suffer road accidents.
"A customer ends up being a friend a couple months down the road because we ride together," said Mr Mah.
"If something happens to him, it becomes a loss of a friend, not just a loss of a customer."