RAFFLES TAILOR & MENSWEAR

MAC Ho went from the brink of bankruptcy to a successful businessman. The managing director of Raffles Tailor who now has three retail outlets in the financial district, is in the midst of setting up an online store, and plans to open eight to 10 more shops in Singapore before venturing overseas.

A professional tailor since 1978, Mr Ho's passion for fashion and sewing started at the young age of 12. His Primary school uniform, for instance, was tailor-made instead of bought off the shelf like those of most of his peers.

Realising that he had a knack for the craft, he signed up for a two-year course in tailoring at a local institution.

After graduation, he immediately started a business and his bespoke suits and shirts gained popularity. He progressed from a small shop in East Coast Road to Katong Shopping Centre in the 1980s, and built up a customer base of more than a thousand.

Yet, he never stopped improving himself. He further developed his skills at the London College of Fashion, specialising in making patterns and cutting as well as tailoring.

Mr Ho is also a member of the World Federation of Master Tailors, based in Italy, since 2000.

On how he differentiates himself in an increasingly crowded fashion market, Mr Ho said: "To the contrary, luxury bespoke suits business players are dwindling due to the extremely high expectation of the skill sets required. We are able to train our workforce efficiently and hence, able to continue shining in the menswear industry."

Raffles Tailor has also kept up with trends by launching Raffles Suits - a unique, semi-finished ready-to-wear collection based on the same bespoke concept but which can be ready almost instantaneously.

"As a result, Raffles Tailor is able to capture both the bespoke luxury suits segment as well as mid-level mass market customers," added Mr Ho, who has tailored suits for newscasters and dressed the cast of a popular TV drama series.

He believes men's fashion will be divided into two distinctive segments.

"The luxury market will always be there for the rich and famous who appreciate and enjoy clothes made from luxury fabrics such as Vicuna, Cashmere and superfine Gold thread and Diamond chip," he noted.

"On the other hand, all other customers will go for fast and high quality ready-to-wear that suits their fast pace lifestyles and ever-changing fashion."

Looking ahead, he said the high fixed costs such as rental and labour will be a challenge for all businesses in Singapore.

"To counter this, we have to be creative in capping costs from running too high, too fast," he added, sharing that his solution is setting up workshops in neighbouring countries such as Malaysia which has cheaper costs and an abundance of workers.

HWEE METAL WORKS

The steel structures at Changi Airport and Khatib MRT often go unnoticed by passers-by, but they are proud pieces of work for Lee Siang Hwee, managing director of Hwee Metal Works.

Set up in August 1998, the company is recognised as a major player in steel structure fabrication and installation, constructing a variety of items such as lift shafts, staircases, fences, handrails, roof frames and canopy structures.

Just as metal works is about turning raw steel into steel structures for clients, it was the constant refinement of his business that led Mr Lee to where he is today. After leaving school, he worked his way up to become a site foreman before deciding to strike out on his own.

Looking back, he said that starting his business was both challenging and rewarding. The challenge was to stay successful, and the rewards came from people around him, particularly his existing clients who were keen to recommend his services and offer him opportunities to do his best.

The company soon expanded its operations overseas where its steel structures are fabricated.

To differentiate the company from its competitors, Mr Lee said; "Aside from being innovative, we consistently offer our clients quality service and we are closely involved for the entire project execution."

Since then, the company has earned notable awards and business achievements, such as Singapore SME 1000 Company Emerging 2013, SME Top 25 Prestige Award 2013, Top SME Achievers Award 2014, SME Platinum Category 2014, and BEI Asia Top Distinguished Award 2014.

It is also registered with the Building & Construction Authority as a specialist builder for structural steelwork and engaged in many addition and alteration projects for HDB flats, polytechnics, factories and commercial buildings. Among the projects that Mr Lee is proudest of are Temasek Polytechnic's new teaching facilities in the West Wing with 800 tons of steel work completed within 4 months, while at the same time working on Lift Upgrading Projects for HDB and other commercial projects with a total of 4,000 tons of steel work completed in 12 months.

Mr Lee also shared that every day brings new challenges. "One of the biggest challenges we face is capacity. We have increasingly been able to build up our demand, but ensuring we have the right people to execute on this demand is really tough," he said.

The company hopes to expand their business by getting projects overseas, increase branding and marketing exposure to generate greater publicity and enhance its operations with the latest technology such as tools, machineries and handling equipment.

NEWSTEAD TECHNOLOGIES

Newstead Technologies started as a lone computer retail store in Funan shopping mall in 1998. Today, the company has more than 45 retail outlets across Singapore, some bearing names such as nübox, Digital Style and @notebook to cater to different segments of consumers.

Now a major consumer electronics retailer, Newstead Technologies offers the full range of products from an array of global brands. It also operates concept stores for Fujitsu, Lenovo, Toshiba, HP, LG and Dell.

For those mad about Macs, Newstead Technologies is also instrumental in bringing the Apple experience to Singapore - all the way into the heartlands too. In 2008, it launched its first Apple Authorised Reseller outlet, called nübox, at Sim Lim Square.

Very quickly, nübox attained the Apple Premium Reseller status where store location and size, and the availability of Apple certified staff are among some of the stringent criteria. It now operates close to half of such outlets here, including stores in heartland malls such as Jurong Point, Tampines Mall and Causeway Point.

"We aim to become the leading One-Stop IT Solutions Provider in Singapore," said founder and chief executive officer Mindy Tan. "Everyday, I work towards achieving sustainable growth, nurturing employees to be engaged and motivated while retaining the trust of our customers."

"If my customers think of Newstead Technologies every time they need a new notebook or a tablet, earphones or speakers, I am happy," she added.

For now, it is revamping its website to include a new e-commerce system for online purchases. The company also plans to expand its services and reach out to more customers, from small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to the government and industrial sectors, shared Ms Tan.

For instance, it has set up a Software Division which develops in-house software systems to improve business processes and productivity for clients in the retail as well as food and beverage industry. It has expanded overseas with a branch office in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

But like all other consumer retailers, the No 1 challenge faced by the company is the constantly climbing rental rates in Singapore. But the company has worked around this by locating stores not just in crowded downtown areas but in cheaper alternatives such as suburban malls.

"We learnt early to employ a strategy that does not only emphasise expensive real estate for the sake of foot traffic but one that focuses on decision makers and where they are making their purchases, for example in the suburban parts of Singapore," said Ms Tan.

The company also needs to constantly cater to the changing needs of consumers. "Branding and good customer service are more important than ever," she noted.