|Tuesday, 18-Dec-2007 09:20
Two Men & A Plan
By Shamsul Yunos
They did not have pile of cash to impress the principal and they had to apparent political connection to convince the foreign partner to come into an agreement but what they did have was a plan on how to develop the brand.
The brand in question is Kleeman, a well known aftermarket tuner for Mercedes-Benz and the men are Khairul Anuar Abdul Rahman and Mohd. Azad Jasmi.
Passionate about cars and eager to make their mark in the world, they initiated contact with Kleeman in 2003 with the intention of becoming the brand’s distributor in Malaysia and Asia Pacific.
The first attempt did not result in anything as they were total unknown but several developments and a few years later, they received an e-mail from Kleeman asking if they were still interested in becoming a distributor.
That’s when they got into gear and came up with a convincing business plan but on top of that they also came up with some ideas on how they think the Kleeman should be developed.
“I think it was our plan on how to develop the brand that caught their eye,” said Khairul Anwar.
“They liked the idea that we were not just keen on selling their products but had a clear idea as to where the brand should be in the future and how it should be represented.
“That was how we convinced Kleeman to give us the distributorship for the entire Asia Pacific region including Australia, Hong Kong, China, Korea and Japan.
They may look like an unlikely duo to head a company dealing with a top automotive brand but Khairul and Azad share more than 30 years of automotive industry experience. Khairul was a Proton vendor in a previous business life, he also owned a Chevrolet franchise and dabbled in other areas of the automotive industry while Azad has had experience working with Proton, Naza and DRB-Hicom through Hicomobil, which was the Chevrolet distributor for Malaysia.
“We have been friends for a long time and since both of us had the love of cars in our heart, we thought it would be good to turn it into a business opportunity so when Kleeman agreed to work with us, it was a very exciting moment.
Before courting Kleeman they have also entered into an Agreement with Bajaj of India and the deal then involved re designing Bajaj products for sale in Malaysia.
However due to the high start-up cost, they needed to get financial support from bankers.
“Sadly we are new and no one would extend us financial assistance so the project was put on hold until we can find the money.
“Setting up Kleeman Asia Pacific is not too capital intensive and we feel it is an important step for us to understand how a top brand develops and markets itself.
Khairul and Azad saw the potential of Kleeman as a brand and had proposed to the principal how they think the name can flourish in the region and their idea was so refreshing that they decided to come in as a partner.
“We were pleasantly surprised when we learnt that they liked the idea so much that they not only want us to distribute their products but also become a joint venture partner.
Their company, Kleeman Asia Pacific Sdn Bhd a joint venture between Kleeman of Denmark and three local partners.
Kleeman holds a significant holding in the company but the combined equity of the local partners form the majority shareholding in the entity.
Azad said that their plan for Kleeman was extensive and it involved increasing their market and brand presence by offering world-class aftermarket enhancement for Mercedes Benz owners.
“There are other aftermarket tuners in the country but I think we are the only one that can offer such a wide range of services locally.
“Our offering includes cosmetic upgrades for the car and performance improvement packages that range from simple replacement of the engine management chip to installing kompressors to existing engines.
Azad and Khairul saw the potential in offering quality aftermarket upgrades that comes with a warranty, the first of its kind in Malaysia.
“What we want to do is unique in the sense that we are not concentrating on selling cars, instead we are offering our expert skills for quality installation of upgrades and also skilled craftsmanship in customisation,” Khairul says.
With so much emphasis on skills development, they are really working on the transfer of technology from the principal in Denmark to the local workforce.
“We are now training five technicians and installers and our Danish principal will continually send technical teams to help us upgrade out skills and by the time we launch our brand in Malaysia sometime in October, we will be able to do all the upgrading works in the brochure locally.
So far they have invested RM5 million in the company and this includesa considerable budget for training.
Azad says the ability to offer local performance upgrades for a high-end brand is a unique proposition in Malaysia but they are also a regional centre for Kleeman which means that others will come and learn from Malaysians, of they want to become Kleeman installers or agents.
“No other top end brand has used Malaysia as their regional launch pad and we are proud to be the first,” says Azad.
As work on their showroom in Ampang progresses, the two men are busy making all the necessary arrangement to launch Kleeman in Malaysia.
“There are many things that we still have to work out including the very unique warranty package for any performance upgrades. Customers can choose to install the components without any warranty or they can opt for the package which includes warranty coverage,” says Khairul.
“We want to focus on offering existing Mercedes-Benz owners a chance to upgrade their cars without worry about quality and in this sense we are unique and are not competing with anyone.
“You can buy performance upgrades or performance models from other tuners and we can still find ways to complement your vehicle with our range of upgrades,” Azad says.
Kleeman Asia Pacific offers performance upgrades that start around RM20,000 that consist of engine re-chip and new compressor pulley set. Those with a thicker wallet can spend upwards of RM100,000 for a more extensive tuning that includes everything from the exhaust system to a new engine management computer.
At the moment Kleeman holds not approved permits to import cars so they will focus on the performance upgrades but if customers want the complete Kleeman treatment they can comply by working ground-up on a locally available model.
“A buyer can tell us that they want a MC200 Kompresor with the full Kleeman treatment and we will find the car for them and propose the package, if the model they want is only available as a reconditioned car, we will offer them the same service.
“If you buy a reconditioned car, you get no warranty but if it has gone through the full Kleeman treatment and you have opted for the package that includes warranty coverage then even the reconditioned car will be delivered to the customer with our own warranty.
Their faith in the Kleeman brand is not unfounded, even before they have launched the business, enquiries from Indonesia, Hong Kong and Korea had begun to flow in.
“Some of them called Denmark directly but were told to contact us at Kleeman Asia Pacific and work out the details.
“This would not have happened if we are merely a distributor but as equal partners in the venture they also wanted to help us develop Malaysia as their regional hub.
This is the first time that Kleeman has become a joint venture partner with a distributor, in the past distributors worked on their own.
“Kleeman has given us three years to set up the regional network so right now we are focusing on Indonesia, China and Hong Kong.
“During the first year of operations we will focus on developing the Malaysian network of installers and dealers, once the home market is table we will quickly pursue business opportunities in the countries mentioned earlier,” says Azad.
With a good long term plan and dedication, Khairul and Azad is confident that they will enjoy strong support from the market.
Both share Enzo Ferrari as their idol, not because the name is a glamorous brand but because the founder was determined to make something of himself and become a force in the automotive industry.
“When people ask me what brand of car is my dream car, I tell them I want to build my own brand and most of them would laugh because it is such a monumental task and it is a huge undertaking but with a plan and willingness to work out the problems one by one, we believe that nothing is impossible.
“Enzo Ferrari used to work for Alfa Romeo when he told people his dream brand was Ferrari. Alfa Romeo used the be a very famous brand but now Ferrari is more famous and more prestigious due to his vision and persistence. Why can’t we share that dream,” saks Khairul.