LOCATED in shopping malls, its stalls are easily identifiable; attractive pyramids of local and important fruits sit next to counters displaying cut fruits and other goodies. But little is known about MBG Fruit Shop. Therein lies an inspirational story of how managing director Adnan Lee Chong Fatt effectively transformed his family's tiny fruit stall into a large international operation. "Hard work is why this business has flourished," he says.
Upon emigrating from China in the 1950s, Lee's grandfather sold fruits in Kuala Lumpur's Petaling Street. His father took over in the 1990s and like many children of entrepreneurs, Lee, the oldest of four boys, assisted his parents during his primary-school days. At 18, he took over the business.
"I worked briefly in arts and design before taking the [family] business seriously. Besides the encouragement of my parents, [making] money sparked my interest. I was earning RM600 a month in the design industry but in the first month of working at the fruit stall, I managed to make a profit of RM2,000," says Lee, now 36. Lee's parents provided him with contacts in the fresh fruit industry and offered advice and support.
The turning point in his business came unexpectedly. In the mid-1990s, Bukit Bintang's wet market was redeveloped and Lee had to relocate his fruit stall to a wet market in Jalan Imbi. With the relocation, he had to build a new customer base and realised the advantages of building a brand for his business.
"I told myself that I could do it. So, I named the business MBG, which stands for 'money back guarantee'. We promise our customers that we would replace purchases or give refunds if they were not satisfied with our products. I designed our company logo and used it to differentiate my business from others in the wet market."
Lee's big break came in 2005. He was asked by a regular customer to set up a stall in an upmarket shopping mall known as Avenue K, located next to the Petronas Twin Towers. "Operators of shopping malls are always looking for new concepts. This is good for small retailers with new concepts and brands. There was also a change in trend as [more and more] city dwellers preferred to shop in malls [as opposed to wet markets] because of their working hours and their preference for a cleaner environment."
Today, there are 20 MBG outlets in the Klang Valley and two in China. Lee owns 14 local outlets while the rest are joint ventures. "The joint ventures are important for me to learn managerial skills. I am better in the operational and branding part of the business."
MBG closed its outlet in Melaka last year. "Logistics was difficult, and the business wasn't sustainable. So, when the tenancy agreement ended, I did not renew it. I tell myself that if I lose money because of the business, no one will blame me. But, if I gamble and lose money, no one will pity me."
Like many other businesses, his biggest challenge is in hiring. "There are many job applications but not many are capable of handling the job scope and have the correct work attitude." In recent years, Lee has involved his two of his brothers in the business. His Indonesian wife runs the stall in the wet market in Jalan Imbi.
Here, Lee shares his thoughts on success, money, investment, insurance and retirement:
Success is a journey. You are successful only if you know what your next goals are. The start of failure is when you achieve something but you do not know what else to do. I don't consider myself successful but lucky. I was raised in a good family and brought into a good industry. Opportunities to expand the business came at the right time. I have many good suppliers who have worked closely with me throughout these years. I have also got a very supportive wife and four wonderful daughters.
Philosophy of money
It is unlikely to achieve your objective if money is your top priority. Money is just a number. I don't really know how much I have in my pocket or the bank. If you know too much, you will worry more.
Worst money mistake
Hiring the wrong person. After I had transferred my knowledge to him, he stole money from the company and ran away. Hiring someone is already a commitment. If you hire the wrong person, the company will eventually suffer. However, I think this normal for any business.
My first investment is my business. This is my sole focus. If you don't concentrate on what you are doing, you will not know what to do.
I invest with the intention of using it and not with the objective of selling it [at a higher price]. For example, I invested in properties to house my staff.
I consider building a brand name for my company my best investment. It enables my company to be positioned in shopping malls. The brand makes us stand out in the crowd and gives recognition to my company's principles of freshness, hygiene and quality.
I am not a high-risk taker. I prefer to be safe. For instance, I only open another outlet when I know I have sufficient cash. I do not like to take out loans, although they permit a business to grow quickly. I prefer to take the slow and easy route.
I started buying life insurance policies at age 19. I bought them because I was persuaded to do so and I am someone who cannot save. If I have money, I will think of expanding the business. Insurance is my savings tool. It proved to be useful when I needed cash to fund my wedding. Insurance is even more important now that I am married and have children. Your family may end up being angry with you if you don't provide for them financially when you are not around.
I have hardworking genes. My parents, who are in their early 80s, are still working. My mother helps out at the stall in the wet market and my father visits the pasar borong [wholesale market]. To me, retiring is about doing the things that I have not had the opportunity to do. Now, I am building a team to manage my company. If this team is established, I can see myself retiring.
If you have a mission or vision, stick to it. Don't look around. Be clear about your priorities. Many people do not achieve anything in 10 years because they are not focused.