Exhibiting a knack for staying ahead of the curve

PHOTO: Exhibiting a knack for staying ahead of the curve

CHANGE is the only constant in the advertising and exhibitions industry, and after more than 30 years in the business, Mr Benedict Soh has seen and done it all.

As the chairman of Kingsmen Creatives, Mr Soh, together with co-founder Simon Ong, oversee a "one-stop shop" that deals in the design, project management and production of exhibitions and museums, retail and corporate interiors, research and design projects, and integrated marketing campaigns.

In the last decade, new technology and media platforms have opened up endless advertising, marketing and design possibilities but Mr Soh recalled how it was a different story when he and Mr Ong first started the company.

The two men first met in the 1970s at an advertising agency, where Mr Soh was working as an advertising executive and Mr Ong, a designer.

Mr Soh said back then, Singapore's economy was moving into a new stage of growth and the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) sector had just started out.

This gave him an idea to start his own business to meet the growing demand for companies that could provide quality services for the sector.

"I never (followed mainstream practices)... and I saw that there was a market for alternative marketing."

"We (decided to) deal directly with the clients. We do the designing, we do the account servicing and we could make a profit out of it... If you do it well enough... there's plenty of money to be made," said Mr Soh.

Together, the plucky duo set up Kingsmen Creatives, housing their operations in a terrace house in Balestier.

Starting in 1976, the two men managed to secure their first big project - to develop a showroom for Japanese camera maker Canon - within the first six months of setting up their business.

Mr Soh said: "From the very beginning, we were having very good business because both my partner and I were able to take on big projects... When we first started, it was window displays, exhibitions, signboards, retail interiors, offices and showrooms.

"We had jobs from the very first month so we were profitable from day one," said Mr Soh.

But in his business, there are no hard and fast rules for success, and Mr Soh said the key to the company's survival is in its ability to adapt to the evolving needs of both the market and the customers.

New technology like computer-aided design software and new media platforms, such as digital billboards and SMS marketing, have created more business opportunities for Kingsmen.

The constant evolution of the media landscape has also made it easier for new companies to penetrate the sector, creating more competition within the market.

"(As with) trends in the different sectors, you got to see what the customer likes, that's how we've survived all these years... It's our job to show the clients how we can offer something different that will help them stand out from everyone else."

But it take more than an ability to spot trends to run a successful business, and Mr Soh said it is Kingsmen's commitment to quality, design, production and service that has enabled the firm to win over regional and international clients over the years, like Cartier and Chanel.

In 1982, Kingsmen made its first foray overseas, in Malaysia, followed rapidly by Thailand in 1983 and Indonesia in 1992.

"When we started in China 16 years ago, we serviced mostly the international brands, not the local ones because the local brands didn't need such sophisticated offerings. At that time, we weren't competitive enough to meet the local market's needs but we adapted and grew slowly and started to take on more local business."

Mr Soh emphasised that every market is different, presenting its own unique opportunities and challenges, but stressed that Kingsmen has always been dedicated to providing the same quality of services the firm has been known for since its establishment.

"People expect good products and service from a good company, but once they have a bad experience, news of it will spread 20 times faster."

Mr Soh also shared how IE Singapore has helped Kingsmen to start its offices in Thailand, Vietnam and the United Arab Emirates, adding that it has been very supportive and encouraging of the firm's efforts to market its brand and services overseas.

The company has grown by leaps and bounds since venturing overseas. It currently has more than 1,400 employees in 18 cities across Asia.

Kingsmen's revenue has been growing at an annual compounded rate of 4.5 per cent per annum for the last few years. Last year, it posted revenue of $290.3 million and net profit of $17.1 million.


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