Charles & Keith is a Singapore fashion homegrown brand known for its footwear and accessories. Charles Wong and his brother, Keith Wong joined this industry at a very young age, and opened their first shoe store in 1996, in Amara Shopping Centre. Their interest in shoes started way back in 1990, where they helped their parents managing a shoe business in Ang Mo Kio.
After learning the ropes of managing the business, and observed ways on how other businesses were making shoes the conventional way, they decided to launch their personal label and open a shoe store of their own. The decision to open the shoe business was not merely just making sales and profit, but they realized that the current market at that point of time was lacking of variety, in terms of options and design. It was then they thought that this will give them a big advantage. Charles and Keith Wong not only design their own shoes but selling them at a very affordable price.
Nearly to ten years later, Charles and Keith introduce a whole new product line, Pedro, footwear designed especially for men. Following that, Charles and Keith then diversified its product range to include accessories inclusive of sunglasses and belts.
From a small shop that sets out at a business district hotel arcade, it has grown to more than 500 stores in Asia Pacific, Europe and the Middle East. It has even more outlets in Dubai than in Singapore, with currently 29 stores located in shopping centres (as at 2016). Over the years, they have garnered a strong presence in fashion cities such as Dubai, Seoul, Shanghai and Taipei.
Charles and Keith brand has bagged numerous accolades over the years for his outstanding achievements.
(Extracted from eresources.nlb.gov.sg)
Part II: Selected Issues
1. What are the three most important lessons Charles and Keith learned about business and entrepreneurship in his lifetime?
“Someone else’s problem could be your opportunity”, Charles said. Despite the Asian Economic Crisis in 1997, Charles and Keith Wong were not discouraged. Instead, they seized the opportunity to move the business in a new direction and work directly with factories to gain control over the design and production.
As the current market at that time does not offer many options and variety in terms of design, Charles and Keith Wong took in feedbacks from the customers and create designs based on it, and through there, they learned what customer likes and dislikes. Furthermore, as the economy was in its gloomy state, Charles and Keith sold their product at a very affordable price, which also means that its product was somehow an attractive package in a recession.
“If you don’t move forward, you’ll move back”, yet another important lesson that Charles learned. He learned that being in the fashion industry one cannot be laid back (relax). Charles know that this industry is fast paced and needs the team behind the brand to keep continue moving and never stops. The company spends 3 percent of the revenue on training, this is one of the ways to keep improving, adapt to change, learn and observe the trend to ensure that the company does not lagged behind.
“It pays to learn about your parent’s trade”, Charles added. The decision to opened the company was inspired by their mother. Charles and Keith Wong assist their mother at her shop at Ang Mo Kio when they were younger, and as they were there frequently, they learnt about the business and had always been observing. It was through this experience that he eventually gained skills to open his own shoe store.
2. What attribute make a successful entrepreneur?
“To keep an open mind”. Charles also added that one should not be afraid of raising ideas as it might be a good turning point for the company. Furthermore, this helps in building trust and at the same time promotes ownership and sense of responsibility. Any idea can be a good idea if its carefully thought. Keep an open mind and never a closed one, as one may let the progress pass by and never take any advantages and opportunities that it creates.
Charles Wong is a high achiever and has always been grabbing opportunities, he believed what is possible even when there are risks and challenges.
3. What advice would Charles Wong give to an aspiring entrepreneur?
“Think big, and do not be afraid of failure, even if you do not succeed in your first attempt.” Every business has its risk, and through mistakes and taking risks that he succeeds. Charles Wong faces many challenges along the way, there were times when he finds it hard, and no matter how hard the situation was, he never gave up.
There was a time when Charles and Keith Wong came across the most challenging business decisions on whether to expand their business outside the Asia-Pacific region. They had no experience on operating business outside the region and was not sure if the business would take off, besides, Charles and Keith shoes were made specifically for Asian’s taste and feet.
The company was very careful and did a market research and strategic business efforts before making the decision to develop and operate their business there, and fortunately, it was a success.
4. What are Charles Wong comments briefly on the importance of the following skills to an entrepreneur?
Leadership Skills. Charles Wong stressed that building relationships with employees, suppliers and business partners is important for the long term. To be a good leader, one must always listen to others and understand their needs. Good things will follow if one has good leadership qualities. For example, employees will put their trust on you and therefore be more motivated to work.
Charles Wong also commented that it is important to conduct regular sharing sessions with employees as this will allow the employees to share the difficulties they face at work and thus improve on their working condition. At the end of the day, they are important assets of the company, without the employees, no company can operate.