Jason's journey from ITE to IPO

PHOTO: Jason's journey from ITE to IPO

Jason Sim, managing director of Jason Parquet Specialist, was never one of the more promising students in class.

In fact, by his own admission, he simply "couldn't study".

He was retained in both Primary 4 and Primary 6, and only passed the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) on his second attempt.

Things did not improve when he went to secondary school, and he failed his Secondary 1 examinations as well. He thus enrolled in the Vocational and Industrial Training Board (VITB) - now called the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) - for two years before enlisting in the army.

Fast forward to today: Mr Sim's company lists on the SGX Catalist, and boasts a $2.7 million profit after tax for the 2011 financial year. But success did not come easy.

Upon completing his National Service, he became a general worker for a renovation contractor.

This entailed doing all sorts of work - tiling, installing kitchen cabinets, being a deliveryman.

Fortunately for him, he was also tasked to do parquet flooring.

This became a passion.

He felt he could "take the timber industry to another level because there was so much more to timber than what others realised". At the same time, he knew that others did not want to venture into the industry.

It looked like it was going to be a dying trade as most of the people involved were from the older generation.

This being the case, he felt he had some sort of advantage and could bring in new ideas.

Thus, in 1987, at the tender age of 21, he set up a sole proprietorship and set out to do parquet flooring. "At that point, I had no money," he says.

He had no choice but to beg suppliers to give him timber on credit terms.

While some turned him away, there were a few who took a gamble with the then-unproven entrepreneur.

The business grew and Mr Sim made his first million in 1990 - three years after striking out on his own. Things were looking promising and Mr Sim thus chose to incorporate Jason Parquet Specialist in 1993. The company's main areas of business involve supplying and installing timber flooring as well as distributing timber products and flooring accessories.

Jason Parquet Specialist began as a small outfit with one office worker and about five project coordinators.

Mr Sim knew a number of main contractors because he had started out as a general worker in the industry.

Through these contacts, the company was put in touch with even more main contractors.

"At that point, the main contractors did not know about (my company's) quality. But I gave them a good quote, and came across as sincere," he says.

That, apparently, was enough to set the company on a successful trajectory.

Its first major contract involved installing teak parquet flooring for a residential development in Orange Grove Road, D'Grove Villas.

Even though that contract was not a very lucrative one - Mr Sim estimates that it was worth a couple of hundred thousand dollars - it set in place the momentum for the company to win more contracts.

Over time, the company cemented its reputation as a reliable parquet flooring specialist.

Mr Sim attributes this to the fact that, among other things, the company used proper equipment, did not cut corners, was punctual and honoured promises.

Nowadays, the company doesn't have to source for business from main contractors. Instead, "they look for us", he says.

A key reason for the company's success is Mr Sim's knowledge of the various types of timber available.

In fact, his eyes light up when he describes the options available and he clearly takes an interest in knowing as much about a type of timber before recommending it to potential clients.

Thus, he tests timber before releasing it to the market. Timber meant for external use, e.g. for a patio or garden, is left exposed to the weather. Timber meant for use indoors is installed on a panel and left in Mr Sim's office.

After a sufficient period - which could take two to three years - he checks whether the timber has warped or otherwise succumbed to the elements.

It is only when this assessment is positive that he will recommend that particular type of timber to customers.

Second, the company tries to source for timber from reliable sources in countries such as Australia, Indonesia, China and Paraguay.

This is to minimise the risk of supply disruptions, which could cause delays in the construction of a development and, perhaps worse, could have knock-on effects and delay the work of other contractors involved in the project.

Third, the company has started offering customers eco-friendly options. One such option is what Mr Sim calls "composite timber", a wood-plastic composite that looks like real wood but is in fact made of recycled products and timber sawdust.

Besides being good for the environment, it is also good for the bottom line. It saves labour costs because installation is more straightforward, e.g. there is no need for varnishing, etc.

Fourth, the company does "not go into price competition", says Mr Sim. It chooses to outdo the competition by being more sincere, offering superior workmanship and expertise, and delivering quality consistently.

Fifth, the company takes managing risks seriously.

For example, it will choose to work for main contractors who are themselves doing work for established developers.

In this way, explains Mr Sim, "you will always get paid for the work you do because they (the developers) will not be affected by economic downturns."

The company has garnered a string of awards along the way, including the Singapore Prestige Brand Award - Established Brand (2009, 2010 and 2011), the Enterprise 50 Awards (2011), and the Singapore SME 1000 Company Award this year.

It has also done work for prominent residential projects (such as The Pinnacle @ Duxton and The Oceanfront @ Sentosa Cove) and commercial developments (such as ION Orchard and 313 @ Somerset).

Listing on Catalist will put more funds into the hands of the company.

The funds will help the company explore advantageous investments, acquisitions and joint ventures.

In deciding whether to explore such opportunities, the company will consider the possibility of synergies, the reduction of operational costs and higher market penetration.

These funds will also help the company expand its range of "green" products and adopt environmentally friendly practices, as the end-customers and the retail public become more environmentally conscious.

In addition, says Mr Sim, being listed on a stock exchange gives the company greater credibility when it deals with customers and suppliers, both in Singapore as well as from abroad.

Mr Sim admits that his journey thus far has been remarkable and he wants to serve as a role model for ITE students.

After all, it was in the ITE that lecturers gave him support and treated him like a family member.

ITE, he says, gave him the opportunity to learn skills that have helped him earn a living.

Today, he serves as second vice-president of the ITE Alumni Network.

"I really want to encourage the less academically inclined to go to ITE instead of dropping out of school entirely. At least pick up a proper skill, so that they can make something of themselves," he says.

And who knows? One day they too may lead a listed company.