Singaporean man engineers a shoe success in Asia with PAZZION
By Celine Chen
SINGAPORE, NNA - Fascinated with fashion since his youth, Tom Ng abandoned his engineering career to join the more exciting world of trends and styles.
When he realized there was a market potential for affordable, trendy shoes, he stepped in to create Singapore's PAZZION brand. That was 20 years ago.
Since then, his business has expanded to more than 10 countries, from Thailand and Vietnam to China and Japan.
The brand has more than 20 boutiques in Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, Brunei and India. About half are in Singapore.
Its shoes are also sold at 34 dedicated sections within department stores in Indonesia, Thailand and Japan. In Thailand, PAZZION is available at 20 locations of Central Department Store.
In Japan, its shoes are sold mostly at malls at 12 locations including cities like Tokyo, Nagoya, Kobe, Kagoshima and Fukuoka.
While Ng, 50, declined to give actual figures, he let on that business has been good with a 20 percent growth year on year before the pandemic struck.
However, he is confident of returning to a firm footing and has plans to expand on this new business concept of pairing a store with a trendy cafe to engage more with customers.
Below, Ng shares with NNA some insights into his shoe business and how an engineering background does help to put the best foot forward.
Q: I understand you're a trained engineer. Why the interest in shoes?
A: I grew up in a middle-income family, studied overseas and graduated with a bachelor in mechanical engineering, which led me to my first job in the oil and gas industry. While the pay was good, I wanted to pursue my interest. Since young, I have been fascinated with fashion. So when I had the opportunity to venture into the industry, I jumped at the chance and quickly learnt the ropes of managing a fashion retail brand. After which, I caught the entrepreneurial bug and started my own ladies footwear brand PAZZION. The rest was history.
Q: Engineering and shoes seem like chalk and cheese. Does it help your venture in any way?
A: My background in engineering has taught me that precision is integral to many things and this is especially true for both engineering and shoe making. In both industries, one has to be very meticulous when it comes to details such as the measurements, types of material used, etc to ensure that the end product is of utmost quality and standards.
Unlike mass-produced fashion items such as clothes, every single detail of a shoe is crucial as it can greatly affect the durability, the fit, the level of comfort, the level of support and the aesthetics. Like an engineer, a shoe designer or maker has to make accurate calculations and precise measurements in order to craft out footwear that is ergonomically suitable apart from being aesthetically pleasing and in line with current trends and preferences of consumers.
Q: What inspired you to produce trendy shoes for women? Why not for men?
A: Many may not know this. I actually started out my first business with men’s shoes. To supplement my income, I helped Japanese and European wholesale customers sourced for shoe factories to produce their ladies’ shoes. I quickly realized that the demand for ladies’ shoes was much higher. Noticing a gap of trendy, quality and affordable shoes in the Singapore market, I started to develop my own line.
Q: Your shoes cover all occasions, from trendy office to evening and casual wear. Which are the best sellers?
A: Our core business is ladies’ shoes, which complement our range of leather handbags. In Singapore, our flats and foldable shoes are our best sellers throughout the year. In other countries with four seasons, our sandals with embellishments sell well in summer while our loafers and ankle boots are most sellable in autumn and winter.
Q: How have trends changed from 2000s to 2020s? Do more people prefer comfortable walking shoes for all occasions now?
A: Consumers have become more conscious of what they want to wear compared to 20 years ago. High heels are still popular but customers will seek out those that are comfortable and yet make them look fabulous and confident at the same time. The demand for athleisure footwear with trendy elements incorporated has grown substantially over the past five years and we foresee that this demand will continue to grow.
Q: Do all your shoes use leather? Do environment concerns guide the way you run your business?
A: Majority of our shoes are made with genuine leather, with a small percentage using special materials to achieve certain looks that we are unable to do so with leather. We are very conscious of the environment. We use recycled materials for packaging. We experiment and adopt the use of recyclable materials for our merchandise. We ensure and encourage our OEM (original equipment manufacturer) factories to use environment-friendly products in the manufacturing process. We have also embarked on an upcycling project for offcut leather.
Q: What is your business model for each country?
A: We manage the Singapore and China businesses directly. But for the rest of the overseas markets, we work with a local partner on a franchise model. The business in some countries operate on a wholesale or distribution arrangement due to local conditions and requirements.
Q: Which country is most successful, has interesting preferences?
A: Thailand was the first overseas venture. We work directly with Central Department Store (CDS), the leading department store in Thailand. Our sales have improved year on year and we are now available in more than 20 locations all over Thailand.
Customers in different countries have different expectations and requirements. So we have to develop products to cater to their preferences. Shoes with embellishments sell very well in Brunei. Vietnamese women prefer high heels while Japanese customers value quality and craftsmanship.
A: You have branched into food with a cafe next to your store in Jewel Changi Airport. Do you plan to expand this new model?
Q: We want to provide a holistic lifestyle experience for our customers. The café also serves as a space where we can engage our customers more intimately with workshops and learning sessions. We definitely have plans for more shops with a cafe.
Q: How did you cope with the business impact of pandemic lockdowns?
A: We were caught off guard and had to quickly adapt and make strategic decisions to ensure continuity. Fortunately, we already established a digital presence way before the pandemic. So, we encouraged customers to shop on our online website. We also offered incentives and improved the online shopping experience such as giving more flexibility in returning or exchanging products.
While our retail stores were badly affected by lack of tourism and lower spending power, our e-commerce store helped mitigate the brick-and-mortar losses. Like other businesses, COVID-19 accelerated our online expansion. We have since joined more e-marketplaces like Shopee and eCapitalMall. In addition, we created more content to engage customers on our social media platforms.
Q: Has the situation improved?
A: We see consumers slowly coming back to malls. But with many people still working remotely or from homes, the demand for shoes is still relatively depressed. On the other hand, our e-commerce store continues to grow and is helping to recover some tourist business by focusing on strategic markets.
We are working with malls to drive traffic to our stores, create more marketing promotions to entice shoppers to shop at our online and offline stores. We are also collaborating with other brands and vendors to create unique and exciting products or bundle deals.
A: Do you think and dream shoes the whole day and night? How do you relax?
Q: As we are in the fashion industry, I have to keep a constant lookout for what’s in and trending at all times. I’m always thinking of different ways on how we can do things better and to improve on work processes and customer journey. That has sometimes kept me up at night. But I also like to do some reading before going to bed. Occasionally, I would catch a movie with my kids just to unwind or indulge in roti prata outside with friends and have loud conversations.