Metro Biz, The Star, 13th March 2015

Charles Darwin once said “it is not the strongest of the species that survives but the most adaptable”.

How else can one explain the demise of the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex, one of the largest land carnivores ever, while more humble creatures like the cockroach have survived for more than 300 million years?

It’s the same in the business world, where many traditional mom-and-pop shops seem to face the fate of the dinosaurs with their “abacus” accounting and brick-and-mortar business model in the face of competition from e-commerce platforms.

But one hardware store, ATKC Hardware Trading Sdn Bhd, is fighting to stay up to date and remain competitive in the face of changes in the retail landscape.

Its managing director, Ang Kok Gei, 37, is certainly working hard to ensure that his family’s company does not only survive but also thrives.

Building on his father’s knowledge of building materials and establishing a good relationship with suppliers, Kok Gei, the third in the family, worked together with his younger siblings, Kok Wee, 33, and Shing Yee, 29, to implement changes to the way the business was run.

They started by computerising every single transaction that took place in the business.

“We introduced bar codes and computer softwares that helped the team to record every single stock input and every item sold.

“These data eventually helped us to make good decisions as we expanded our product lines,” he said.

According to Kok Gei, his father’s shop in Banting, Selangor, started as a store that sold everyday hardware goods, everything from screwdrivers to nails.

His father, Ang Teck Kwan, 65, started the company in a 1,500 sq ft shop with two workers.

“My dad also had the help of his six children, and I remember the days when we helped to lift cement bags, distribute pamphlets and prepare the receipts,” said Kok Gei.

After graduating with a Masters in Information Technology in 2003, Kok Gei, who also has a degree in electrical engineering, decided that he wanted to help his father to develop the business with his two siblings.

Their decision did not get an enthusiastic response from the old man, who wanted them to work in MNCs and gain exposure to the modern world.

He was not keen to see his children take his “retirement business” so seriously.

“My father was a contractor previously and had built everything, from bus stations to monsoon drains, in Klang and Petaling Jaya during the 1990s.

“He had a simple philosophy: that he did not need to drive a big car or live in a big house. As long as the children had proper education, he was happy,” Kok Gei recalled.

True to senior Ang’s philosophy, all his six children obtained degrees, in civil and electrical engineering, business and finance, with some going on to earn master’s degrees.

“I remember asking my father for a fixed salary as we wanted to manage our finances professionally, not take money from the drawers as and when we liked,” said Kok Gei, who is now in charge of management and strategy portfolio.

Today, ATKC is indeed reaping the dividends of adapting to the information age.

It has experienced double-digit revenue growth since 2003 and has expanded to a 50,000 sq ft lot in Banting, with 45 employees and counting. It is also increasing the variety of products in its warehouse.

Kok Gei said with pride, “We carry materials that will suit your needs, from fundamental piling right up to the roof above your head.

“Our 16 lorries are also equipped with GPS tracking systems to ensure that they deliver the goods using the most efficient route and time,” he said.

In 2013, understanding that the busy lifestyle of urbanites prevented them from visiting physical hardware stores during working hours, the store hopped on the e-commerce bandwagon by launching an online store.

“In the Banting area, we are looking at a customer base of about 60,000 people but going online enables us to serve other states, even overseas customers from Singapore to Bangladesh,” he said.

Online sales in 2014 accounted for about 3% of the total revenue for the year, and Kok Gei is confident online revenue will grow to 30% in the next three years.

Along with this potential growth, he said the company was planning to open another 10 outlets and three warehouses in the Klang Valley to serve as collection points for their online customers.

“They also serve as career progression for our staff, where some of them would be appointed as branch managers,” he concluded.