Made in S'pore...and proud of it
SMH FOOD - From baos to selling dim sum in Middle East
Their halal dim sum is now enjoyed in 17 countries.
Visit a five-star hotel in Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Egypt and you'll likely be eating SMH Food's - or Sin Mui Heng's - products.
The home-grown family business started out in a factory in Yio Chu Kang when patriarch Tay Yeong Kwee, now 74, a butcher, started making baos in the 60s.
The reason they were able to spread their wings?
Some luck, Singapore's reputation for food hygiene and help from International Enterprise (IE) Singapore, which spearheads the overseas growth of Singapore-based companies.
When the organisers of the Doha Asian Games in 2006 went looking globally for a food supplier, SMH Food stood out.
Operations director Johnson Tay, 44, one of the senior Mr Tay's sons, said: "Back then, there was bird flu, swine flu, this and that epidemic."
So Singapore was an obvious choice. After the organisers tasted some of their offerings, 11 containers filled with halal dim sum went across to feed athletes, journalists and officials. The items were a hit, and orders and enquiries started pouring in from the Middle East.
One distributor in Egypt even purpose-built a cold room so he could stock SMH Food's nibbles.
The company now exports about 10 per cent of its production overseas. Monthly, it can produce 3 million pieces of dim sum.
Despite their success, the Tays are no strangers to rolling up their sleeves and helping out.
Mr Johnson Tay says his mother, one of the directors in the company, still goes to the factory every day.
He adds: "We have very colourful titles, but we are still very hands-on."
When orders for their newly-launched chili-crab bao and charcoal custard salted egg bao went through the roof, the chief financial officer, eldest sister Nelly Tay, had to go to the factory at 2am to start the production lines and operate machinery.
The Tays say they want to send Singapore-made dim sum to more people in more countries.
With a conspiratorial smile, Mr Tay says they do get a kick when they recognise their product while eating overseas.
STRIP, BROWHAUS - She tackles 'overgrown bushes' problem
WAX FIGURE: Strip and Browhaus founder Cynthia Chua. PICTURE: SPA ESPRIT GROUP
Mention Strip and Browhaus, and chances are you will think they originated in the West.
But these two brands are 100 per cent Singaporean.
Founder Cynthia Chua, 43, took the trend of bikini waxes from New York, refined it, and successfully exported it back to the American city.
She then started a chain that specialises in grooming eyebrows and eyelashes.
Their 68 salons worldwide include ones in London, Hong Kong and Bangkok. Last year, the two brands raked in a total of $47 million for Spa Esprit Group's local and overseas businesses, which is about half of its annual takings.
There are 16 brands under the group, including food and beverage brands like Skinny Pizza, Tippling Club, Tiong Bahru Bakery and Bochinche.
Strip was born in 2002 following a conversation about the "unkempt, overgrown bushes" of Asian women, which Ms Chua's Western friends found hilarious.
She saw there weren't many salons offering waxing services, and decided that it could be something that ladies here would want.
She says: "When we started Strip in Singapore, waxing as a grooming regime was still uncommon and Brazilian waxing was hardly practised or openly discussed."
Thanks to quirky marketing campaigns - think hairy orang utans - demand grew and the wax culture took off.
Following this success, brow and lash grooming salon Browhaus was born in 2004.
This time, Ms Chua took a very Asian practice - threading - and popularised it in the West, reversing what she did with Strip.
There are now 14 Browhaus salons in Singapore and 15 in seven other cities across the globe.
While it has been challenging expanding overseas, such as having to understand the local culture, dealing with taxation issues and manpower matters, she has managed to overcome these by getting the right partners in each city.
She plans to open another 30 to 40 Strip and Browhaus chains here and internationally in the next two years and is aiming for Russia and Australia.
She says: "With Strip and Browhaus, we have helped put Singapore on the global beauty map.
"I wish for people around the world to look at local brands for inspiration and realise that Singapore is brimming with creativity."
CROCODILE - Proud to be 'made in S'pore'
TOUGH: Mr Tan Hian Tsin founded Crocodile International in 1947. TNP PICTURE: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Live crocodiles were part of their marketing arsenal back in the 50s.
It drew attention and the crowds, confesses its founder and chairman Tan Hian Tsin.
Now 88, the business-savvy Mr Tan says that it was this, along with other marketing gimmicks in the 50s, that allowed Crocodile International to become what it is today: It has sales outlets in 20 countries, including Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan.
His family in Shantou (then Swatow), China, have always been in the garment trade, once making knitting machines.
He and his oldest brother expanded into trading when World War II dried up the supply of materials, importing clothes from Hong Kong to Singapore.
He says: "I knew I could not compete in price, so I had to compete on quality. People are once bitten twice shy, so quality must be there.
"I had 12 sifu (master) working from morning till night. All of them produced clothes with different cuts and shapes. All 100 shirts would look different."
With his business in a crisis, he then hired workers who could sew straight lines. Using his system, they were able to produce clothes with a standard look.
He chose the unlikely reptile because "the crocodile is a very tough animal and lives a long life, which represents the long life of the company".
Unfortunately, the crocodile is also the source of its legal troubles with Lacoste.
Lacoste, established in 1933, has a right-facing crocodile while Crocodile, established in 1947, has a left-facing one, but both logos otherwise look very similar.
The man is sanguine about it and maintains that there was no copying involved.
Ultimately, it means that Crocodile brand is stymied from growing outside of Asia for the moment as the legal battles are still pending.
But Mr Tan is still happy with its achievements and is proud of the fact that it's made in Singapore.
He says: "I'm extremely proud that Crocodile was created in Singapore 67 years ago when trademark, franchising and licensing were not something familiar then."
Other home-grown global brands
Chop Wah On (1916)
The medicated oils and balms concocted by founder Tong Chee Leong are so popular they are now sold at a pharmacy in Changi Airport’s departure lounge in Terminal 1 and 2.
Axe Brand Medicated Oil (1928)
Founder Leung Yun Chee got the formula for medicated oil from German physician Dr Schmeidler and set up Leung Kai Fook to manufacture it commercially. It is now sold in 40 countries including the Middle East, Panama, South Africa and Turkey.
Jumain Sataysfaction (1994)
If you dine at Burj Al Arab Hotel or Atlantis Hotel in Dubai or Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Hotel in Oman, chances are the satay served there are made in Singapore by Jumain Sataysfaction.
Tiger Brand Soya Sauce (1930s)
Chuen Cheong Food Industries was founded by Mr Chia Hou and is managed by the fourth generation of the Chia family. It employs traditional Chinese methods to produce soya sauce, derived from a recipe that has been handed down through the generations.
Three Legs Cooling Water (1937)
The traditional Chinese health drink offers an affordable remedy to those feeling ill as a result of the “heatiness” of Singapore’s tropical climate and long hours of labour in the early days. The drink is popular in Singapore, China and India.
Khong Guan Biscuits (1947)
Mr Chew Choo Keng (above) established Khong Guan Biscuit Company and set up its first factory in Singapore with $60,000. He roped in his brother, Choo Han, who had a talent for machinery. In 1974, Khong Guan signed an agreement with Australian biscuit manufacturer Arnott’s, which gave Khong Guan access to Arnott’s recipes, formulae, production methods and processes. With this agreement, Khong Guan doubled its production in South-east Asia and also distributes Arnott’s biscuits in the region.
Kwanpen was launched as a fashion label with its own handbag boutique in Orchard Road. In 1980, it released its logo inspired by the family’s surname written in simplified Chinese characters.
Dr Lee Kum Tatt (former chairman of the Singapore Institute of Standards and Industrial Research) unveiled the gold-plated Risis orchid that became a hit with both locals and foreigners, and the brand soon gained recognition as a national product of Singapore.
Trek 2000 (1995)
It is the inventor of the ubiquitous Thumb-Drive – the company’s first patent was filed in February 2000 in 36 countries. By 2008, the ThumbDrive replaced the floppy disk. It has since been granted more than 380 patents around the world. Today, among its new technology is the Flucard – a Secure Digital (SD) memory card that allows videos and photos to be wirelessly transmitted between devices.
Avid musician Ravichandran Chithambaram began experimenting with constructing his own guitar pedals as “the pedals I bought off the shelf were not giving me the kind of sounds I wanted”. In 2008, he put his pedals up for sale on the Internet and he is now distributing them in countries such as Japan, Australia and the US.
See more local brands that made it big at the Made In Singapore Preview Exhibition
August 20 – September 30, 2014
National Library Building, Level 8