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Mr. Chin Kee Min Changing Customer Perception from Used Cars to Brand New Mercedes-Benz

Name: Mr. Chin Kee Min

Nationality: Singaporean

Position: General Manager Cycle & Carriage Automobile Myanmar (CCAM)

MI : When was your first visit to Myanmar?

I first came to Myanmar at the end of 2012 when the market was just opening up, to see the environment as well as the property where we could set up the facility. I moved in here in October 2014.

MI : What was your impression of the country then?

If you compare 2012 to today, there are a lot of differences. At that point of time, I think even Yangon City was quite basic. There were not many international brands in terms of hotels, food and beverage and choices were very limited. In terms of inter- national centers, it only had former Traders Hotel, Sedona, and Park Royal was under renovation. It reminded me of Vietnam and Thailand of ten years ago. Today, you can see that pace of progress is speeding up and new restaurants, hotels and apartments are coming up every month. Back in 2012, I would say that, probably, the country was ten or fifteen years behind Thailand, at this rate I think it will catch up Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh probably within five to seven years.

MI : Can you tell us more about your role as the General Manager of Cy- cle & Carriage Automobile Myanmar (CCAM)?

CCAM is a joint venture between Daimler AG & Jardine Cycle & Carriage and Auto- mobile Century which is fully owned by local businessman U Aung Moe Kyaw. Cy- cle & Carriage is the majority holder and I have been working for CCA for more than ten years. Previously I had taken charge of operations in Singapore. So when Myanmar opened up, I was offered the opportunity whether I wanted to come and develop this market and I said yes.

MI : What is your view on the current automobile market in Myanmar?

I think the current automobile market here is in its infancy stages. We see a lot of po- tential because in terms of car population versus general population, the ratio is the lowest in ASEAN countries. In fact it is half of that is in Vietnam. It also depends on how the government plans to develop this mar- ket. Again the government has the advan- tage of learning from other countries. So, I think the automobile market in Myanmar will grow very quickly. We are also working very closely with authorities to provide help and support whatever we can from the man- ufacturer side and also from our past expe- riences in other ASEAN countries.

MI : What kind of challenges do you have to face in this market?

The first and foremost challenge will be this market having a lot of legacy issues, in terms of used cars and road system. Also the policy currently in process, is more target- ed towards used cars than new cars, which is understandable because previously there were only used-cars. This is the main chal- lenge that is different from other countries. Myanmar has just opened up for new cars and most policies are targeted to used-cars for example the import procedures. The in- surance and financing system are also still much conservative and targeted towards used cars, unlike other countries. I will say the main challenge is to wait for the change of policies that the government supports for brand new cars in Myanmar.

MI : How different are the customer’s expectations here in Myanmar com- pare to other countries?

I think customers here are quite nice. Myan- mar culture is very polite and tolerant. We find that customers are very excited to see the brand new car showroom and every- thing. The understanding is still a bit differ- ent from other countries because they are not used to new cars and concepts such as warrantees which was non-existent previ- ously. Initially, you will see a lot of custom- ers saying that they would like to see the ac- tual car. The reason for this is when you are buying a used-car, you need to see it before you buy it because every used-car is differ- ent. But nowadays, we have showroom-cars and test-drive cars. Because they are brand new, everything is the same. The quality is the same and they only need to choose col or, exterior and interior and the kind of op- tions they want. We have been here for one year so far and we can see a huge change in customer’s understanding.

MI : What are C&C Automobile’s ob- jectives in Myanmar?

Our objective is to build our business here, of course. C&C Automobile is present in five ASEAN countries. Myanmar is the newest countries for us. We hope to build a success- ful business. It means we not only need sales and profits but we also need the recognition of the customers for the service quality and sustainability of business. What we want is to have a long term present in Myanmar. Cy- cle & Carriage itself is 114 years old. So, we want to be here for the long run.

MI : You are officially introducing Mercedes-Benz to Myanmar for the first time. Can you tell us more?

I think for the past twenty or fifteen years, Mercedes had not been officially in Myan- mar. It is not about buying a product but is buying the whole support system. When we first came last year, we started with a small temporary showroom. In fact much earlier before our showroom, we started with our first workshop. This current showroom was launched on 8th of May this year. It can be seen that the way that we progress is very much in terms of building a brand rather than selling a product. We want to tell the customers that Mercedes-Benz is finally here and we will take care of the customers. That is the main message.

MI : What are the current projects that your team has been working?

Concerning with the current projects, we will launch a display showroom of Mer- cedes-Benz in Mandalay very soon. It will be at Mandalay Sedona Hotel. Mandalay peo- ple will have full access to Mercedes-Benz now. Our full size workshop is already on Ywamakyaung Road. And also in the next six months, you will also see other Mercedes products. People usually associate Mercedes with cars but there are also Mercedes buses and heavy Mercedes commercial vehicles. Mercedes trucks are basically market leader in Africa which has a lot of mining and con- struction. In the next six to nine months, we will start introducing all our products and hopefully, the market will like it. In future, we will concentrate a lot on Yangon and Mandalay, which are two major cities and for our commercial business, we are looking at the city bus lines and heavy commercial business as well.

MI : What specialties C&C Automobile could offer to consumers in Myanmar?

I will split this into three different catego- ries. The first one is that since we are dis- tributors, we are representing the inter national brand. We have the most famous Mercedes, Mazda, Mitsubishi Fuso and a China brand Changan. In order to support these brands, the facilities and services must be international. The second one is in terms of after-sale services. We not only sell the car but we also make sure to take care of the customer throughout and beyond the warrantee period. This is important because cars are not cheap in Myanmar. Its taxation system is one of the highest among ASEAN countries. The third thing is about quality of experience meaning that if you buy a car from distributors like us, you are not only buying a product but also you are joining into family. For our Mercedes-Benz custom- ers, we will have regular trainings for drivers and owners. We have regular events. I think our Mercedes-Benz customers will find the exclusivity of belonging to the Mercedes family. This is very different from buying a car outside. This is the difference we can give in terms of our offering to customers.

MI : From a business standpoint, what do you feel are the biggest challenges facing you and your team in Myanmar in next 1-3 years?

I think we have already faced quite a lot of challenges which the team has done very well in building up. Even when we launched, we had about 30 staff. Today we have over 160 staff and one thing that we are very proud of is that we only have five foreign- ers out of this over 160 staff. We focus a lot on building a Myanmar Company. I think this was one of the first challenges we have achieved. The property market seems to be very hot right now and it is very difficult to get a good rental to expand the business. We also expect government policy to involve all the way. Currently there is not much sup- port for new cars. The third challenge will be the finance side. I think the central bank is still not ready to open up the vehicle financ- ing systems and there is not much credit. So these are the key challenges which I hope that we will be able to overcome very soon.

MI : What effect do you think that the sudden influx of foreign companies/nationals will have?

I think the biggest impact you can see is in the property prices. It is one of the highest among the whole region, even higher than Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh. Those are not so good effects. But the good thing is that when I first came to Myanmar, there were not many international brands but today Kentucky and Pizzahut are going to start next year. You will have many supermarket chains. You can see the living standard in terms of offices, condominiums and hotels has quickly upgraded. Also the labor force has been exposed to international practic- es. These are the positive effects. We expect this pace to accelerate more and more. The only thing every country has to be careful is that with this sudden influx of foreign cap- itals and nationals, two things will happen. One thing is the heating up of the economy which can be seen in property prices. If it goes up too high, it will affect businesses. Another thing is social issues that come with sudden opening up of economy. These are things that every country will face and it is natural process but it is unavoidable.

MI: What advice would you give to someone looking to start up a busi- ness and invest in Myanmar?

The main thing I will say is that opportuni- ties are fantastic. Whatever businesses that would like to come in, the market potential is huge. The only thing is that the cost factor is now a little bit high that is expected to be stabilized in a couple of years. I will say this is a developing economy and last one of the rare green field markets that you will have in the region. The country has fantastic re- sources and very healthy and young popula- tion of 50 million people. We don’t see any big obstacles into any kind of investment. The best advice will be that – come and study the market, pick the correct timing and set up.

MI: What would you advise the local young people?

Be open to opportunities and there are plenty of them. Be open-minded in a sense to try as much to expose yourself to inter- national practices as possible rather than be conservative. The other thing is to invest wisely. Don’t gamble. A lot of people will be bumped in property. We have seen this in every country that is developing. So, invest wisely.

MI : How are you enjoying your days in Myanmar?

Busy. I have not had much time to enjoy the holidays. But I have travelled to many plac- es for market visit. I find this very peaceful country. It is very natural. There are many things that you do not have a chance to ex- perience in other more developed countries and I am thankful for that. When I first came, there are not many choices. But every day we see more things enter and the qual- ity becomes better and better. It has been a wonderful experience.