The Royal Selangor Executive Director and fourth-generation steward tells us why the world's largest pewter maker has defied the proverbial saying, shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.
Tell us briefly about Royal Selangor.
Royal Selangor is a luxury giftware and home décor brand with a heritage of pewter craftsmanship dating back to 1885. We design, craft, market and retail a wide range of pewter product categories: from tableware, home décor and tea-sets to personal accessories and baby gifts. Designers such as Erik Magnussen of Denmark, Nick Munro of the U.K., Jamy Yang of Shanghai and Freeman Lau of Hong Kong have designed ranges for Royal Selangor. We have also worked with some of the best museums in the world for design inspiration, including the National Palace Museum in Taiwan and the V&A Museum in London. Today, Royal Selangor products can be found in the best department stores around the world, from Wako in Tokyo and David Jones in Sydney, to Harrods and Selfridges in London and Hudson’s Bay in Toronto. Royal Selangor retail stores can also be found in major retail capitals of the world – London, Hong Kong, Singapore and Melbourne. Our bespoke work includes champagne chillers for Krug and Dom Perignon, as well as trophies for major sporting events like F1 races and PGA golf tournaments.
What is your role as Executive Director of the company?
I work with our sales and marketing offices in Asia to build the Royal Selangor brand. We have our own Royal Selangor teams in Singapore, China, Australia, Hong Kong and Japan, and we work with exclusive distributors in Indonesia, Vietnam, Taiwan and Saudi Arabia. Four of us from the fourth generation of the family are currently working in the Royal Selangor group of companies: Yoon Li heads our design, manufacturing and group marketing functions, Chris provides creative direction for the Royal Selangor brand, and May Foon is Creative Director for Selberan, our fine jewellery brand.
Royal Selangor has been in this business for more than 130 years; how have you kept the brand and the products relevant?
All of us at Royal Selangor are very proud of our rich heritage of pewter craftsmanship. We believe this authenticity, this preservation of craft from 1885, really resonates with our discerning customers. When you combine this authentic heritage with our intense level of product development activities, we believe you have the right formula for longevity. We launch over a hundred new designs a year. Last year’s launches brought many new customers to Royal Selangor through new licenses such as Star Wars, or new product categories such as whiskey. Achieving greater relevance in the lives of our customers will come from getting them to use our products more often, rather than keeping them purely for decorative purposes. Many will place photos in our frames, or keep their tea leaves fresh in our double-lid tea caddies, but I wish more customers would use their tankards and tumblers for cold drinks, and not save our wine goblets only for special occasions!
The business pretty much started off as a cottage industry but has now evolved to become a global luxury brand; when would you say was the defining moment for the business?
I do not believe there is one single defining moment for our journey, which has lasted over 130 years. Some companies have transformed their business with the introduction of a single new product or category. Our story is different; it is one of continuous evolution and it has been made possible by the passion and loyalty of our craftsmen. They have nurtured and preserved (our founder) Yong Koon’s legacy; they have moved with the times as we repositioned the brand. Half a million visitors to our Visitor Centre each year see these 250 craftsmen at work, and they make fantastic ambassadors for the brand.
As a fourth generation flag-bearer, where will you take the company in the next 20-30 years?
Our leadership team at Royal Selangor consists not only of family members but also non-family managers with decades of Royal Selangor experience working closely with dynamic young department heads. Heads of Design, Group Marketing, Communications, Sales, E-commerce are all in their 30s. This is the team taking us forward for the next 20–30 years. They are already engaging our customers in more effective ways, for example through our Facebook and Instagram platforms, our recently-revamped website, royalselangor.com, our loyalty programme Privileges, as well as on-ground activities like our current series of Star Wars roadshows. These communication or engagement activities not only help us reach a new generation of consumers, but also customers in new geographies. The world is clearly a smaller place today, which means huge growth opportunities outside of Malaysia. We are conscious of the need for our product offering to be relevant to the lifestyles of each market we enter, so we will need to focus on a few key markets. The U.S. and China alone could keep us very busy for the coming years.
How are you going to do that?
Well, with this management team in place, I plan to take it easy!