Singapore's self-made 'Crystal King'

Singapore's self-made 'Crystal King'

SINGAPORE'S homegrown "Crystal King" David Chan received numerous warnings from friends and family when he started Garden Home Gifts and Souvenirs in 2006.

After all, this was a completely different industry from his previous maid agency business where he had a 20,000-strong customer base. Despite those warnings, Mr Chan pushed on with his ambitions, eventually branching out to build his own crystal empire.

Under the "Garden Home" brand, Mr Chan started three companies, namely his now-defunct Garden Home maid agency, Garden Home Gifts and Souvenirs, as well as Garden Home Crystal Palace.

Starting from scratch

Mr Chan began running Garden Home Gifts and Souvenirs in 2006, selling all kinds of souvenirs and corporate gifts. Being such a drastic change from his maid agency business, Mr Chan had to source for an entirely different clientele from scratch.

His latest endeavour, Garden Home Crystal Palace, customises and sells high-grade crystal products. Plaques, trophies, corporate gifts, wedding portraits - you name it, Mr Chan will supply it.

Mr Chan initially branched out with Crystal Palace in 2009 as he felt that the gifts and souvenirs market was too broad and saturated, therefore choosing to specialise solely on crystal products to carve out a niche for himself.

A firm believer in constantly improving and moving forward, Mr Chan tried to apply his philosophy to gifts and awards. "We started out awarding paper certificates, then moved on to trophies. The next level up from there would be crystal plaques and trophies," said Mr Chan in Mandarin.

It was a good call on the part of the astute businessman, as Crystal Palace now prides itself on its ability to offer the best and highest grade crystals with the shortest production lead time in Singapore.

From the start, Mr Chan hoped to be a one-stop shop for all his clients' needs, and subsequently jumped into a S$500,000 investment in engraving machines, as well as the concomitant staff training to ensure that his team had the necessary skills and knowledge required to operate the new equipment.

Although he is shrewd and enterprising, Mr Chan is not one to scrimp on the quality of his products to earn a quick buck. To date, he has made many investments in the firm's human capital, in an effort to maintain high standards. Mr Chan also often emphasises the need to be truthful when doing business and to deliver on promises made to clients. "We believe in delivering on each and every one of our promises, regardless of circumstances," said Mr Chan.

It is this attitude that has driven the successes of all his business endeavours. The simple truth is that Mr Chan's clients can always rely on him to fulfil their needs, and that's what brings them back to him time and again.

The group recently purchased a factory in China as it needs the additional production capacity to fulfil international orders. Crystal Palace now exports its products all over the world, fulfilling orders from the Middle East all the way to Europe. "Our overseas clients hear about us through word-of-mouth," said Eileen Chan, Mr Chan's eldest daughter who works full-time as deputy director of Crystal Palace.

The far-reaching nature of Crystal Palace's reputation beyond Singapore's shores is testament to its reliability in delivering high-quality products. Even within Singapore, Crystal Palace has won several awards, such as the Singapore Quality Brands award in 2013 and 2014, the SME Achiever Award in 2014 and 2015, as well as the Asia Pacific Brands Award in 2014.

Today, Crystal Palace carries a wide range of more than 1,000 differently designed high-end crystal products. Apart from its main crystal line, the company also has the wherewithal to create and customise the packaging of the crystals.

This additional service comes in handy for large corporations that require unique packaging of their corporate gifts to suit a given occasion. Mr Chan has tailored many different packaging solutions to suit his clients' demands, ranging from elaborate Chinese-New-Year-themed gift boxes, to simple paper bags with company logos on them. Crystal Palace also offers extensive services in crystal customisation, including designing 2- and 3-dimensional artwork, suggesting and proof-reading texts for engraving as well as internal and external lasering.

Although clients pay a higher premium for the quality of the crystals, Crystal Palace also takes its clients' budgetary constraints into account, offering rock-bottom factory prices for bulk orders.

Mr Chan currently owns factories in Singapore, Pujiang (Zhejiang) and Shenzhen.

His factory in Singapore handles fine-tuning, assembly, lasering and packaging production, while his factory in Pujiang mainly handles bulk orders and creates new designs that the company wishes to explore.

Quality control is done in both the Shenzhen and Singapore factories.

With so many achievements under his belt, it is hard to imagine that the "Crystal King" behind Singapore's most successful crystal empire started out from nothing. The businessman speaks only a bare minimum of English, and has no educational qualifications; not even an O- or N-level certificate. Coming from a poor family with multiple siblings, Mr Chan was forced to end his education at the age of 14. With no qualifications, he had nothing else to rely on but his own wits and persuasiveness.

A firm believer in hard work, Mr Chan spent the earlier years of his career working long hours and taking up many different jobs in the hope of providing a better future for his three daughters.

Wake-up call

He has job-hopped many times throughout his life: starting off as a general construction worker, taking up menial jobs at a tiling company, and also working as a painter, putting himself at risk daily by climbing to dangerous heights to fulfil his tasks.

Mr Chan received his wake-up call from a friend's father one day, who rebuked him for wasting his youth, and for not making full use of his natural flair for speaking. He then advised Mr Chan to leverage his talent in speaking in future endeavours.

With this in mind, Mr Chan took up several jobs in sales, selling everything from vacuum cleaners to construction materials.

This exercise helped hone Mr Chan's ability to persuade customers to buy any product he was selling, thus laying the foundation for his success in selling his own products and services in the future. With his can-do attitude, Mr Chan broadened his sights and pursued any project he could lay his hands on, growing his earnings bit by bit, and eventually starting up his own maid agency.

When he ran Garden Home maid agency, Mr Chan would personally fly to Indonesia to hand-pick the domestic helpers he wished to bring into Singapore. However, he found it increasingly hard to continue running the business due to policy changes from the Ministry of Manpower, and seeing his daughter Eileen taking flak from unsatisfied customers.

Since Garden Home had become such a well-known name in the domestic helper trade, Mr Chan decided to preserve the company's legacy by naming his subsequent businesses under the same brand.

With his motto "sweat and tears, along with hard work", and his undying spirit, Mr Chan built up each of his businesses bigger and better than its predecessor.

The businessman often emphasises the need for progressive and forward thinking, and hopes that the market his business is in can keeps moving forward - just like himself.

This article was first published on March 8, 2016.
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