Successful Toy Story

PHOTO: Successful Toy Story

His entrepreneurial journey began in a shopping mall in Taiwan four years ago.

There, Mr Michael Low first laid eyes on a Japanese indoor-playground system called Yu Kids, which was not yet available in Singapore.

He was drawn by the innovative movable equipment designed in Osaka.

Equipment such as the Waterfall Tunnel, a slide with a built-in water fountain, and the Dancing Balloons, a large netted enclosure where balloons of different colours and sizes are blown around by fans also caught his attention.

A project manager in the semiconductor industry then, Mr Low, 42, instantly saw a business opportunity.

"One day I overheard a kid asking his parent in a shopping mall, 'Why do adults spend the whole day shopping, while we kids have nowhere to play?'" Mr Low told my paper.

That kid's lament struck a chord in Mr Low, who gave up his engineering job to bring Yu Kids to Singapore, under his company SingKids PlaySystem.

The first SingKids opened in May last year at Changi Airport's Terminal 3, in a 3,200 sq ft retail space.

A month later, a branch opened at VivoCity, and in April this year, a third outlet opened at United Square.

Mr Low, the company's managing director, has also expanded the business overseas, opening a Yu Kids Island at Kuala Lumpur's 1 Utama mall in March.

In October, he will open his first outlet in Brunei.

Under his agreement with the Japanese firm, Mr Low has exclusive rights to take the playground system to countries in South-east Asia.

With the exception of Singapore, which uses the trademark SingKids registered by Mr Low, the regional branches will carry the Japanese name Yu Kids Island.

There are currently more than 400 Yu Kids Island playgrounds worldwide.

Mr Low said securing the rights for Yu Kids PlaySystem was not easy - there were at least four others before him who tried and failed.

The secret to his success? It was a matter of "trust".

Mr Low said he first made a proposal to Yu Kids in 2009, but the company was not keen initially.

Seeing that a personal touch was needed, he flew to Osaka at least three times to visit the headquarters, and also went to Orlando to meet Yu Kids personnel attending an event there.

Besides trying to convince them, he also worked closely with the management of Changi Airport and VivoCity, getting floorplans so he could show his Japanese counterparts where he would locate his first two playgrounds.

Despite coming from an engineering background with little retail experience, Mr Low stuck to his guns and was given the green light early last year.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Mr Low said he is looking to open a fourth outlet, preferably somewhere in the western part of Singapore.

He has also been making trips to Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City to explore setting up operations there.

He estimates that there are 11 other players in the indoor-playground market, including some who use knock-off versions of Yu Kids' patented products.

Asked if these imitators posed a challenge, an unfazed Mr Low said it's like comparing "cassettes and MP3 players".

"We are the MP3 - our quality is better. We are branded, safe and attractive," said Mr Low.

For more my paper storiesĀ click here.