Putting the fun in events
Calyn Yap 

FOR entrepreneur Mark Chua, running sustainable businesses is second nature. The founder of events equipment provider Cool Merchant Connections Sdn Bhd, he is also the founder and managing director of 2Cool Productions Sdn Bhd.

Cool Merchant Connections has been around for the past 21 years, while 2Cool Productions is relatively newer with a seven-year history.

The former became a pioneer in outdoor cooling systems when, in 1996, it brought in misting fans from US’ Palm Springs.

The original intent, Chua says, was to sell and install the units at coffee chains such as Starbucks and Coffee Bean, as well as numerous mamak stalls across the country.

He believed that if the system worked in the US where it can be used for three to four months a year only, than it would possibly work better in Malaysia, where the climate is hot and humid all year round.

Its first client was Modesto’s at Jalan P Ramlee, Kuala Lumpur. It was one of the first restaurants to adopt the al fresco concept.

However, it was a hotel’s request to rent misting fans for an event that moved Cool Merchant Connections to hiring out event equipment.

“We were accidentally roped into the rental business. It wasn’t planned. After this rental job, we discovered that we liked the business model and working on events. And it became very much a part of our company’s operations over the last 21 years,” Chua says.

Sui (left) with Chua at 2Cool Productions’ office

Wow factor

The company has since brought in other creative equipment for events with a single criterion – the products must have a “wow” factor. This has helped his company to be well received and supported.

Some examples of products in its portfolio include LED furniture, interactive dance floors, customised inflatables and bag jump.

The last is an activity where people walk up a tower of about eight meters high and then jump down onto a giant safety bag. It is typically used at family-themed events and other festivals.

“The equipment we choose are a little bit wacky. We have a knack for looking for unusual stuff. Our tagline for Cool Merchant Connections is ‘how cool is that’,” he points out.

It is not the first tme Chua has run a business that brought in innovative products.

Prior to Cool Merchant Connections, he started a venture in 1994 to bring in breath analyser machines from Australia.

Back then, increased regulations on drunk driving were enforced, so he imported a machine that could be placed inside restaurants or pubs so drinkers can know if their alcohol levels were below the limit, and safe for them to drive.

“I’ve always had this interest in fun, innovative and unique things. If it’s something special, we’ll be the pioneer that brings it in.

Cutting across industries

“We have a saying here that we’re importing things that people don’t need, so we create the need for it,” he says.

When he stumbled upon the misty fan cooling systems, he felt it was something he could “sink his teeth into”. And by extension this led him to be further involved in events.

In 2010, Chua decided it was time to start his own event management company. He established 2Cool Productions with the aim of making events exciting.

Events it undertakes cuts across industries and range from property to media companies. It also scales the jobs according to requirements and can handle everything from a press conference to weeks-long activation campaigns.

“We have made the events business our main one for the last 21 years, so we’re quite well known. To exist for over 20 years says that we are obviously doing something right,” says Chua.

2Cool Production’s strength lies in its creative flair, which is supported by the products and equipment brought in by Cool Merchant.

One of its most recent jobs was a six-week event for EcoWorld’s Illuminations Flower Show at Eco Majestic, in Semenyih, Selangor.

The vision for Chua’s two companies is sustainability and long-term growth.

“Our goal is to keep bringing in new and fun things, creating some excitement in events, and keeping the standards high to make sure our clients and guests are well entertained.

“Besides just crafting an event, we want to make it exciting for the client and ourselves too.

“If the work is not exciting, why would anyone want to even do it?” Chua asks.

Incidentally, Cool Merchant Connections general manager Sui Chen Seng, who has been with the company for 17 years, is his business partner for 2Cool Productions and handles operations and execution.

Future plans

Chua, on the other hand, has moved into a more strategic role over the years, making decisions on planning, company direction, product acquisition, investment priorities and talent development.

On the companies’ future plans, he says there is a need to beef up the team to handle the high workload and continuously maintain the fun working culture the two companies have.

Moving forward, 2Cool Productions is also keen to create its own events and service clients at the same time. It has already taken a step in that direction.

The company partnered with another in mid-2016 to introduce a drone racing competition, which has been held trice thus far.

The MultiGP Eco Ardence Drone Prix 2017 was the most recent installation of the competition.

It was held in early May while the other two competitions were held last year.

“We believe in drone racing as a future sport. It’s one that transcends generations in terms of audience and participants.

“We’re looking to grow the audience and interest in the sport, make it more regional, and maybe even host a global event that puts the country on the map. It’s really exciting,” he says.

Chua says even though his company will continue to service clients’ needs as that’s what it is good at, being able to create and develop its own events is exciting and will fuel growth.

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 240.