The driving force behind any entrepreneurship, like any entrepreneur will tell you, is passion. Jaap Snoeck Henkemans and Cilia van Woensel, a Dutch couple who took a risk by moving their entire lives to Malaysia, were driven by a passion for a product: Kewlox cabinets.
Jaap and Cilia had always wanted to go to Asia, even before they discovered Kewlox. They had travelled in the region in the early 2000’s, and they decided that this is where they wanted to live. After their children left the nest to start their own lives, Jaap and Cilia came to Malaysia, where they spent the first few months of 2011 getting a real feel of what drives the local people today and began to explore business opportunities here.
One of their discoveries – which was perfect for the Belgium-made Kewlox – was that there was a niche market for high-quality storage furniture.
“We spent two whole Sundays to see what people would buy at Ikea. We also went to several home décor fairs and many furniture stores. We came to the conclusion that there was nothing remotely similar to our product,” said Jaap. Upon returning to their homeland, they wrote out a comprehensive business plan and headed to the Dutch Kewlox outlet.
The General Manager was from the French-speaking part of Belgium and Jaap said he was fortunate to know a bit of French. The outcome of this discussion was that Jaap and Cilia would be marketing and selling Kewlox products throughout Asia.
The couple has been longtime fans of Kewlox, having become the proud owner of a Kewlox cabinet 15 years ago. Kewlox cabinets have been around for some time, since 1959 to be exact. They are madeto-order products crafted exclusively in a Belgium factory and come with a lifetime guarantee. Kewlox has a strong presence in Europe: there are two huge Kewlox showrooms in the Netherlands and the name Kewlox is well known throughout Europe. Kewlox is aimed not just for home owners looking to upgrade their interiors but for schools, hospitals and offices.
Jaap and Cilia are looking to work with interior designers who will use their products in their designs, as well as project developers. This is a couple who are clearly dedicated to what they described as a “versatile product that was truly made to order, enabling customers to choose colours, height, depth, width and even print a favourite piece of art or a family portrait.”
They plan to expand to other countries like Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong. Cilia points out the fact that the cabinets have sliding doors make them easier and practical for small apartments or homes.
Jaap and Cilia both agree that Malaysia is a country where it is easy to establish a new business. This is a refreshing change for this Dutch couple, coming from a business climate that was negative in their home country.
“Everyone is very negative, keeping their savings and losing their jobs. The timing was great for us as we are now in a great environment. In the Netherlands, everyone is complaining,” said Jaap.
Although their products have been well received by Malaysian and expat consumers here, one of the challenges faced by this enthusiastic Dutch couple is the extreme diversity in their customer base. In a country like Malaysia, there is no homogeneous audience. Jaap took some time to experiment with 30 different Facebook ads, each targeted at a different type of demographic.
“My advice is to have some patience and use all resources you have as a platform for your product,” said Jaap. For them, it was a challenge entering a market they didn’t know with a product that wasn’t known to the market. Advertising in different channels would encourage potential customers to come into the showroom and see the products. The showroom opened last December and the couple reports hesitant but positive response. Expats make up a core 50% of their customer base.
What seems like an easy idea – going from recommending a product to your friends, to selling it as a business – is definitely a lot of hard work but both Jaap and Cilia are results driven and entrepreneurial managers, who get the job done with a clear focus on output.
Jaap and Cilia met at work 14 years ago, where they discovered they had great work chemistry while working on the same management team. For Cilia, it was her first week at the job, and she took a liking to Jaap. They said they enjoy being together and have a lot of fun together. If Kewlox doesn’t work out?
“Maybe we can rob Tiffany’s,” said Jaap jovially and Cilia laughed along with him.
For more information go to www.kewloxcabinets.com
Source: The Expat March 2012
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This article has been edited for ExpatGomalaysia.com