The Iskandarian : Monthly Drill, Maslee Express

Lee Chuan Aik is the Co-Founder cum Managing Director of Maslee Group of companies. He owns and operates 12 high volume supermarkets in Johor. Lee began his career as a distributor before venturing into the wholesale and supermarket business. 

Graduating with an M.C.E. Degree, Lee and his partner Lee Boon Lye formed Maslee in 1985. With extensive experience in retailing experience in the retailing industry, he works with all his store managers to continuously introduce new concepts and innovating marketing ideas. Under his guidance, the supermarket cum local convenience chain store is now a neighbourhood name to residents in Johor.

Maslee Distribution Centre is also being set up in sourcing and supplying for internal stores, successfully negotiating ranging and promotional programmes with suppliers both large and small. Mr. Lee’s absolute focus now is to ensure Maslee Group becomes a recognised and respected retailer known for providing the best services and products to the customers.

Lee is also the founder of Maha Global, a company which is involved in property investments in 2002.

How many years did it take from going to being a van vendor to setting up the first Maslee store?

About 10 years! My nephew and I drove around Taman Aman Senai with our van at that time carrying the name EMANIAGA selling crackers and spices. We have grown close with the community around that area and they saw us as neighbours who moved around selling simple products.

We then decided to venture into the retailing business starting off with a small mini market business occupying two shop lots. This was roughly around 1995 in the area of Tampoi where the community was growing. We started selling basic needs and fresh produce. When the business went well, we branched out to Pasir Gudang with a bigger outlet spanning 10 shop lots providing more variety in our products.

Now after almost 20 years since opening our first mini market, we have a chain of 12 outlets throughout Johor.

Was your family supportive of your decision?

From the beginning my family has always supported me wholeheartedly. When we started to venture into the retailing business, I invited many of my family members to help me with the business and share a piece of its profits.

Once our company Maslee Group obtained the Private Limited (Sdn Bhd) status, all of them got a position in the Board of Directors because they deserved it. They have been with me ever since the beginning through thick and thin.

Maslee Express is commonly referred to “Is My Neighbour”. Who came up with this concept and how is it being promoted?

The Board of Directors came up with this as a tagline because in the early days when we started off in Taman Aman Senai, the people used to say “Jiran Kita” which was the original word-play. We used that for quite some time and even in most of our promotional audio advertisements. However, the Board discussed that we had to translate it and registered both lines as our intellectual property.

Now with the Malay and English versions of our slogan, we can expand our promotion to a bigger market size.

Other promotional strategies that we have done are to disseminate our Monthly Mailers which is like a catalogue of the products and prices that we offer. We also advertise in special media like The Iskandarian Newspaper and get involved with community activities.

GST is now a fact of life in our country. How is Maslee coping with GST and are there any plans on absorbing the GST surcharge for your customers?

Our supermarket system is in full compliance with the Customs Department’s requirements on the GST implementation.

We are working very closely with our supportive vendors to lessen the impact of the selling cost using bargains, discounts, member prices, everyday low prices and many more value for money activities. Any valuable feedback from customers will be considered seriously.

We use banners and shelf labels to highlight items which are zero rated GST for easy access and understanding of customers.

Coming from a very competitive genre of business, how do you remain resilient through challenging times?

First of all, our business is not competing with the big guns like Giant, Tesco and Econsave for prices and product offerings. We rather compete to strive for excellent customer services, high standards of cleanliness, attractive ambience, and constantly upgrading and re-organising the store.

As a neigbourhood store, we are always sensitive to our customers’ needs and wants. For example, in locations which have more demand for fresh produce, we have a bigger section for it and even in Setia Indah; we have a section for organic foods.

Maslee acknowledges talent and value the staff very well. We also maintain a good relationship with our vendors and suppliers as it relates back to how we can cater to our customers.

We also have plans to venture into the supply chain by opening a distribution centre.

How many stores are there currently and any plans to expand? If yes, please state the locations if you can.

We have 12 stores around Johor. Yes, of course we have plans to expand. We were invited to open up shop even as far as Tangkak, but we would like to focus on maintaining the stores that we have now so that the quality of service does not go down.

We are planning to open more stores in Johor around Seri Austin, Nusa Idaman and Bayu Puteri, just to name a few locations. This is to cater to the upper class community in Johor Bahru. In addition, as I have mentioned earlier, our expansion will include the opening of our distribution centre which will hopefully be within this year.

“Always believe in achievement through hard work”

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