One of the most valuable lessons young businessman Tony Tan learnt from his parents was the need to be financially independent - and it is one he has taken to heart.

A desire to be self-sufficient has led him to start his own business while taking a left-field approach to property.

The Singaporean dream of home ownership has gone out the window for now and in came a 4,000 sq ft industrial space.

Mr Tan, 27, snapped up the ground-floor unit off Upper Paya Lebar Road in April last year - with some help from his father - and now uses it as the storefront of his mattress manufacturing and retailing business Tilam King.

"Tilam" is the Malay word for mattress.

"I was thinking of an investment with a five to eight-year horizon and saw the potential of an industrial and commercial space, rather than a private residential unit," he says.

"When I walked into this unit, I had that 'feel-good' intuition and knew that I wanted to set up shop here."

The one-man business is in its infancy but Mr Tan aims to hire staff next year.

His unit at 8, New Industrial Road has another attraction as well - it is in the block with the fewest storeys in the street.

"If there's a chance for a collective sale, this block is likely to get it, as the new owner has the opportunity to increase the plot per ratio, and existing unit owners would be rewarded for it," adds Mr Tan.

The youngest of three sons put in a five-figure sum as part of the 10 per cent down payment when he and his father bought the unit.

The cash flow generated by Tilam King services the loan payments for the unit, which cost in excess of $2 million.

Mr Tan aims to be as financially independent as his dad, 62, and mum, 58, by the time he is 45.

"That's about 20 years away, and hopefully Tilam King's business would have grown and I'd have spare cash flow for other investments," he said.

"Both of them were involved in running the family business, The Mattress Centre, but made it a point to save up enough for their retirement and potential health-care costs," he adds.

"They didn't want to burden my brothers and me with their bills, and that really inspired me to be as responsible as them."

The Mattress Centre is now run by one of Mr Tan's brothers.

Mr Tan admits that he does not like to lose sleep over his investments and prefers safer products such as bonds.

"This stems from my 'kiasu' (afraid to lose) and 'kiasi' (afraid to die) nature," he says with a laugh.

Q: Are you a spender or a saver?

I'm definitely more of a saver. I don't have much interest in fashion so I don't spend much on clothes.

My soft spot would probably be food, which I'm prepared to splurge on.


Q: How much do you charge to your credit cards every month?I charge about $2,000 to two credit cards, of which a bulk is for entertaining clients and business partners of Tilam King.

The rest is spent on petrol and food.

I'm not the sort who's big on redeeming points, and would prefer cards which allow me to get instant cash rebates upon making a purchase.


Q: What financial planning have you done for yourself?

I invest in tenure bonds as they will give me a guaranteed return on the principal sum.

I also put some money into real estate investment trusts (reits). Compared with investing in a property developer's stock, the quality assets in a reit's portfolio are usually already built and operational.

However, I have no control over what the developer may choose to build or venture into in future if I buy its stock.

About three weeks ago, I also started investing via OCBC's blue-chip investment plan which allows me to have a stake in multiple, less volatile stocks.

I intend to put up to $1,000 a month into it depending on my financial commitment.


Q: Moneywise, what were your growing-up years like?

My father had a large influence on my spending habits and principles about money.

He set up The Mattress Centre in the 1980s with $500 in his pocket and taught me how to run a business as I was growing up.

At 17, I started helping out in the business more actively and would accompany him during viewings for possible shopfronts and commercial spaces.

Having grown up in a frugal family, I learnt that every dollar saved is a dollar earned.


Q: How did you get interested in investing?

I saw how my dad took care of himself financially so that he didn't have to trouble my two brothers and me with his expenses post-retirement.

I want to make sure that I earn and save enough to be financially independent as well.


Q: What property do you own?

A 4,000 sq ft ground-floor unit at 8, New Industrial Road, where I operate Tilam King.


Q: What is the most extravagant thing you have bought?

It would probably be the Tilam King Luxury Series queen-size mattress I sleep on which cost $1,599.


Q: What's your retirement plan?

I intend to continue doing business by giving customers value-for-money products.

I've also been sharing ideas with budding entrepreneurs on how they can set up their businesses.

Not everyone has the privilege of growing up in an entrepreneurial environment. By sharing with them some harsh and frank realities of running a business, I hope that other start-ups can succeed in their own right.


Q: Home is now...

A 9,000 sq ft three-storey shophouse in Jalan Eunos where I live with my parents, two elder brothers and their families, my grandmother, as well as two domestic helpers.

There are 15 of us living together.


Q: I drive...

A second-hand silver Jaguar, which I use to meet clients and take them around.

My dad paid for the initial down payment while I service the monthly installments.