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Tastemakers 2 Seasoned Entrepreneurs Share The Importance Of Keeping Their Business Fresh

2 Seasoned Entrepreneurs Share The Importance Of Keeping Their Business Fresh

2 Seasoned Entrepreneurs Share The Importance Of Keeping Their Business Fresh
By Tien Chew
July 21, 2017
Michele Kwok of Soul Society and Ken Lim of Kens Apothecary join us for an intimate lunch at the Mandarin Grill for a talk on modern business practises.

Group-3.jpg (original size)Photo: Sean Wong/Malaysia Tatler

Two founders of successful Malaysian brands, Michele Kwok of Soul Society and Ken Lim of Kens Apothecary, arrive just in time for our lunch meet at the Mandarin Grill.

The two have over 20 years of business knowledge to their name, making them industry veterans.

The topic of the day: keeping your business fresh and relevant.

Our conversation kicks off by talking about the phones that used to sit in our pockets. The failings of Nokia and Blackberry remind us that change in business is unavoidable, even if the formula you currently rely on seems safe for the moment.

Michele-Final.jpg (original size)Michele Kwok | Photo: Sean Wong/Malaysia Tatler

Social Media Took Over The World

“Social media has taken over our world,” says Kwok half-jokingly. “It has taken over my business-marketing world and keeping up with the times through digital marketing is the only way to stay relevant."

Soul Society runs and operates many popular F&B outlets, beginning with Souled Out in 1996 and expanding with TujoWIP and the Hubba Hubba outlets around Kuala Lumpur throughout the years, each one bringing a different take on the company's well known hospitality.

Ken-Final.jpg (original size)Ken Lim | Photo: Sean Wong/Malaysia Tatler

“When I travel, I look out for new brands because we need to always introduce something new into the market due to high demands,” Lim adds in. “Packaging and aesthetics play an important role because of social media. It’s all about lifestyle and the products must fit into the customer’s lifestyle. To survive in retail, this is very important."

Kens Apothecary brought in a wave of beauty and skincare cult brands previously unheard of in Malaysia at the start of 2000, growing into a successful retail chain with a presence in popular malls such as The Gardens, Bangsar Shopping Centre and One Utama to name a few.

"For many years our business philosophy was ‘if it isn't broken, don’t change it’ and now it has come to ‘embrace change’.”—Michele Kwok

As lunch moves on from delicious seared Hokkaido scallops to a tangy parihuela, a slightly spicy Peruvian seafood bisque, so too does our conversation.

Taking a sip of her soup and pausing to appreciate its flavours, Kwok replies, “the challenge for us comes right from the top, that some partners are not embracing change. We started the business two decades ago and back then everything worked. For many years our business philosophy was ‘if it isn't broken, don’t change it’ and now it has come to ‘embrace change’.”

Ken.jpg (original size)Photo: Sean Wong/Malaysia Tatler

According to Lim, the world of retail faces the challenge of trying to capture their audiences' attention. Aesthetics play a major role in retail and Kens Apothecary updates their look by introducing changes to visual elements in-store. Other difficulties come with trying to keep their social media promotions exciting.

A great way to explore this topic is to take look at food, with today’s consumers now demanding items that must not only taste good but also photo-friendly and appealing to their sense of discovery.

Chef-Sebastien.jpg (original size)Mandarin Grill's New Chef de Cuisine Sebastien Barcudes | Photo: Sean Wong/Malaysia Tatler

A New World Of Flavours

Joining Mandarin Grill recently is Sebastian Barcudes, a talented Argentinian chef who likes foods that are big on flavour. He combines his love of oriental tastes with his knowledge of South American cuisine, serving dishes that are modern and inventive.

“This restaurant (Mandarin Grill) has also changed their food direction, you can taste a lot of Asian flavours in the food now. I like the change, it’s very interesting,” comments Kwok halfway through the meal, hitting the nail on the head. Coming from a restaurateur with 20 years of experience, that's saying something.

Swipe right to take a look of some of the restaurant's delicious new creations we ate from start to finish

Prawns.jpg (original size)Photo: Sean Wong/Malaysia Tatler

Prawn escaveche with pomegranate seeds – fresh, juicy and slightly tart

Scallop-2.jpg (original size)
Photo: Sean Wong/Malaysia Tatler

Seared Hokkaido scallops with pear and ginger chutney and grape gastrique – flavourful, savoury and well balanced

Prawn-soup-3.jpg (original size)Photo: Sean Wong/Malaysia Tatler

Parihuela, peruvian seafood bisque with corn and prawns – spicy, flavourful and delicious

Beef-Ribs.jpg (original size) Photo: Sean Wong/Malaysia Tatler

Braised Black Angus beef short rib with scallions and ginger infused beef jus – Rich, melt-in-your-mouth with a good chew

Dessert.jpg (original size)Photo: Sean Wong/Malaysia Tatler

Textures of valrhona grand cru chocolate – Sweet, rich and indulgent

Michele-2.jpg (original size)Photo: Sean Wong/Malaysia Tatler

"We don't deviate too much from our core. If we go riding on the Korean popularity wave, we risk losing our customer base”—Ken Lim

As consumers become more affluent and knowledgeable about the things they eat and buy, both entrepreneurs agree that they too must keep up with the demand without losing their business’ core identity.

For Soul Society, this means updating the items they offer without losing track of the what made their respective brands strong in the beginning. This could mean sourcing new and fresh ingredient,  introducing new methods of cooking their signature items with new equipment or even finding new ways to give customers a new hands-on dining experience.

In the case of Kens Apothecary, the temptation to sell items that are in trend, like Korean cosmetics, is there but not in line with his vision for the brand. “We don't deviate too much from our core (European and American brands). If we go riding on the Korean popularity wave, we risk losing our customer base,” he says. “We will introduce new brands, but I want to ensure that my business model is still the same as when we first started.” 

Have You Achieved What You Set Out To Accomplish?

Tucking into our main course after it arrives, we ask the two industry veterans a question that hits close to home. What was your original vision for your brand and have you achieved it?

The enterprising lady behind Soul Society notes there is still one more objective to achieve despite the success she has enjoyed. “I think what I have today is through a lot of hard work, big sacrifices and very little regrets. Our ultimate vision is to get listed and we’re working on that in the next 5 years. We’re close to getting there.”

Group.jpg (original size)Photo: Sean Wong/Malaysia Tatler

“I wanted to be the Joyce Beauty (reputable Hong Kong fashion retailer) of Malaysia!” Ken confesses to everyone's amusement. “We're close but I look forward to launching something of our own when the time is right.” says Ken.

Don't Get Swept Up By Business

With lunch coming to a close, the two experienced entrepreneurs leave us with a nugget of wisdom. Don't let your business take over your life.

"I don't want my staff to work late because I go by the principal that work is not your life and I display it. I usually don't work on Saturdays and Sundays and I encourage my staff to take time for themselves," says Lim.

"20 years ago I was much tougher on my staff. If I could do it, they could do it, and we drove the business that way," says Kwok. "With time, you see your staff growing alongside you and then you realise that there is actually more to life than just the business. When you apply that to yourself, you also have to do so for your staff."

Like what you read? Checkout our first Tatler Table Talk with the MD of Anya Hindmarch and a local renonwed food artist on mooncakes and nostalgia



Tastemakers Tatler Table Talk Table Talk Ken Lim Kens Apothecary Michele Kwok Souled Out Soul Society Mandarin Grill Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur


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