Enterprise
Switch to direct selling pays off
Behonce Beh 
Lew started his entrepreneurial journey in 2003
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THERE are no guarantees in business and when something begins to spiral downwards, it is up to the business owner to change, adapt or sink.

This is especially true for those in the services retail segment that is dependent on a steady flow of repeat customers to survive.

For Amlife International Sdn Bhd managing director Lew Mun Yee, he chose to adapt and converted his retail chain to a direct selling model; a move that paid off for him.

Today, the company prides itself as a health management services provider, which focuses on marketing electric-potential thermotherapy (EPT) bedding products.

Amlife, which was founded in 2014, has about 3,000 members in its network of agents.

However, things were not all that bad for Lew in his previous business model.

 

International franchise

He founded UES Health Farm Sdn Bhd in 2003 to market healthcare provisions through an international franchise.

At the peak of its operations, UES had over 34 therapy centres across Malaysia, providing EPT therapy to its customers. 

EPT is a form of therapy where the body is exposed to an electric field that is packed with negative ions. These ions, once making its way through the cell membranes, are said to be able to delay ageing.

“When we first started our therapy centre, there were four other players offering similar services. We remained to be the only one still around as we managed to diversify our business,” he tells FocusM.

Lew recalls the initial years of UES enjoyed great hype and usage from clients who would visit his centre for treatment.

However, geographical limitations of a retail shop meant they could only tap a select group of customer who lived near the centres as many felt it was a hassle to travel long distances for their weekly therapy.

“Our centre in Puchong was not able to tap into customers who lived in Kepong, for example,” he says. 

As the hype for such services fizzled, change was imminent and a revamp was necessary.

Lew decided to speak to his manufacturing partner in Japan to turn the apparatus into a bedding equipment, which allows users to enjoy the therapy while they sleep. 

Amlife sold over 2,000 units of its electro-potential therapy bedding in August

Japan-certified

As a result, Amlife brought in its signature electric-potential and warmth therapy mattress that has been certified by Japan’s Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency as a medical device.

“From our experience, people would purchase countless healthcare products or equipment. The biggest challenge at home is for users to be disciplined to consume the products or to use them.

“It is common for people to dispose expired supplement or leaving the treadmill as white elephant at home,” Lew shares.

By combining innovation with daily rest pattern, it opened up a new avenue for users to access therapy through sleep.

“This way, discipline would not be an issue anymore as no one will forget or be too lazy to sleep,” he jokes.

Lew’s decision to not only change its business model but also to rebrand, was driven by market demands and challenging business environments.

“When we were selling our solutions via retail, we noticed many limitations in that business model. From the high operating cost, labour issues to slow business prospects, I believe we could overcome those limitations by deploying our solutions through a direct selling business model,” he adds.

Lew is no stranger in the direct selling business as he joined the industry in 1995.

“This industry has taught me many good things; from the way to be with people, how to approach challenges, to instilling the values entrepreneurship in me,” he says.

Amlife has grown exponentially since it started operations in 2014.

Last year, Amlife managed to double its turnover to RM120 mil from RM60 mil in the previous year. In 2014, it achieved RM20 mil in turnover.

In August alone, Amlife saw its best monthly sale of 2,000 bedding units.

Currently, Amlife is also present in Singapore and Taiwan and will be expanding its operations to Indonesia next year after obtaining its business licence there recently.

“One of our biggest challenges is to adapt to the cultural differences and various needs of the different markets we operate in.

“There are a lot of health maintenance options in the market, and medical innovations changing as we speed. We then as a company need to adapt fast not only in terms of technology but also localisation to our regional markets,” laments Lew.

That said, simplifying business processes and standard operating process is crucial in order to allow for its business model to be replicated in other markets.

Lew believes in “simple, easy, effective and duplication” as there is a portion of Amlife’s agents who are in their retirement age and do not want to work too hard or engage in complicated selling structures to generate side income.

 

Engagement with customers

While many people may have had bad experience with direct selling companies, Lew says this method is a good way to improve its engagement with customers.

“Many people would have a bad experience with direct selling. From our perspective, we do not sell but deploy experiential marketing where we allow people to try our bedding for a week,” he explains.

The trial bedding would be delivered to a potential customer’s home for a week and by the sixth day, Amlife’s agent will inform the user that the trial is almost over.

“Many a times, those who have tried the bedding would ask about the price of the bed without being prompted by our agents,” Lew adds.

In addition, having the necessary certifications are important to gain trust from customers around the world.

Lew explains it took them almost two and a half years before its products are recognised as medical equipment by the Taiwanese Department of Health this year.

Managing sleep disorders in Malaysia

Having difficulty sleeping is no laughing matter as it is a disorder that affects many people.

Though there are no official figures to denote the percentage of Malaysians facing sleep disorders, researchers in University of Malaya estimated that the prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea in middle-aged men and women to be 9% and 4% respectively.

In 2011, the Ministry of Health (MoH) introduced the Standards of Sleep Facility in the hope to improve the quality of sleep medicine.

The MoH recognises sleep disorder as a public health issue; one that is poorly recognised by the majority of the population.

Other support for this field of medicine can be found through the Sleep Disorder Society Malaysia, a society that aims to facilitate exchanges of information relating to sleep research among the government and private sectors and also the general public.

In economic terms, when there is a demand, there will be an opportunity to supply. 

The need for better sleep brings forth a valid demand for products and services to aid sleeping.

Figures in the United States show that the revenue of the sleep technology industry in 2013 reached US$35.2 bil (RM147.5 bil) in 2015, and is predicted to reach US$76.7 bil by 2019.

Though there is no concrete evidence supporting claims by many “sleep promoting” solutions, such figures indicate a growing awareness towards the importance of a good night’s sleep.



This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 259.