Skip to main content

Advertisement

Advertisement

Rolling good times for motoring entrepreneur

SINGAPORE — When Valerie Tan returned to her used car shop after a few days abroad, she was puzzled to find that the doors were locked. While trying to figure out what was going on, she heard familiar voices at a rival dealer next door.

As a young businesswoman starting out in 1996, three of Ms Tan’s sales staff walked out on her car business and joined her competition next door — all this while she had been on holiday. Photo: Ernest Chua

As a young businesswoman starting out in 1996, three of Ms Tan’s sales staff walked out on her car business and joined her competition next door — all this while she had been on holiday. Photo: Ernest Chua

SINGAPORE — When Valerie Tan returned to her used car shop after a few days abroad, she was puzzled to find that the doors were locked. While trying to figure out what was going on, she heard familiar voices at a rival dealer next door.

She went over and found that her three sales staff, who should have been manning her shop, had jumped ship to the competition during her absence.

Angered, she confronted the rival boss, who gave her some unpleasant truths about the state of her then-fledgling business.

“Every dealer had a whiteboard to write down what cars they had. Most of them were full. But mine only had four. He asked me why (I even bothered) doing business and questioned, ‘Can you blame your staff for leaving?’” said the 39-year-old Tan.

“I realised what he was saying was true. I was 21 and a woman, and new at business. This is what happens.”

This was in 1996 and, despite having to battle against perceptions that she was out of her depth in the male-dominated car business, she persisted anyway.

After two years she moved from used cars to parallel imports and slowly built up the business. Her firm, Pinnacle, also exported deregistered cars out of Singapore and, at its peak, was selling vehicles to over 40 countries.

Business success often depends on making the right decisions at critical turning points. Three years ago, even as her business was thriving, Ms Tan sensed that the car market was headed for a slowdown.

She decided to refocus on the tyre business, one that was less exposed to the vagaries of policymakers and, ironically, more protected from fluctuations in demand for cars.

“It was a good decision. Whatever business you’re in, you have to be in line with what the Government is doing. They were pushing for people to use public transport and doing things like increasing ERP charges. So you could tell something was coming,” she said.

That “something” was cooling measures unveiled earlier this year which have already hugely dented the demand for cars. In hindsight, her decision was uncannily prescient.

“When I was doing parallel imports of cars, I was already doing tyres, because people don’t just want the cars but also a lot of accessories to go along with them,” she explained.

She started a new entity, TyreQueen, in September to handle the business, which opened its first outlet at Turf City. A second store is due to be open at Kaki Bukit next month, with a third to follow next year. She eventually aims to have six TyreQueen outlets across Singapore.

But having a physical retail presence is only one part of her strategy. TyreQueen also sells its products through an online portal that allows customers to view and select their merchandise. Once an order is made, they can choose to pick up the tyres from either a Tyre Queen outlet or at partner workshops.

“The websites give customers the luxury of comparison. When you drive into a workshop to buy tyres, you can only choose from what they have in stock. But when you have an online portal, everything is there,” she said.

As a parallel importer, her tyres cost around 20 to 30 per cent less than others. The company also offers its own warranties, she added.

Although still in its early days, around 90 per cent of the company’s sales have come through online purchases. Yet Ms Tan believes that increasing the number of physical outlets is still important in order to control the level of service delivered to her customers.

Going forward, the plucky entrepreneur is looking to bring the Tyre Queen model to markets abroad. This time around, with her new business growing at a good clip, losing staff to competitors is probably less of a worry.

Read more of the latest in

Advertisement

Popular

Advertisement

Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.