Polliwogs is a household name in Singapore today. Practically every family with small children is aware of this brand. Word of mouth and the high quality of services have played an important role in Polliwogs’ popularity and growth.
For those of you who have been living under a rock, Polliwogs is Singapore’s preferred children’s playground, recreation centre, and venue for children’s parties.
How did this venture become such a success in the face of entrenched competition? Are there lessons for other entrepreneurs in Hariman Kwok’s story?
Brand is all-important – Two years after the company had been launched, half-a-million dollars had been invested but break-even had not been achieved. Interestingly, most of the funds had been spent on building the firm’s brand.
At this juncture, founder Hariman Kwok thought long and hard about whether he was on the right track. After all, it was not just his own money at stake. He had borrowed extensively from friends and family.
His analysis led him to believe that it was only a matter of time before the popularity of the Polliwogs brand translated into financial success. The ground reality was that the company’s facilities were attracting visitors from all corners of Singapore and most of the increased footfall was due to the glowing reports that visitors narrated to their friends.
Hariman Kwok and his team stuck to the core values of the brand and every passing month proved that their belief in Polliwogs’ eventual success was completely justified.
An all-important differentiator – If a new enterprise is to succeed in a crowded field, it has to offer its customers a unique product that stands out from the competition. While this is a commonly known concept, it is very difficult to identify a differentiator and incorporate it into a company’s operations.
In fact, the success or failure of a business in an industry with many players could depend on this single factor.
At the initial stages itself, Hariman Kwok knew what his company’s differentiator was going to be. When he had visited his competitor’s sites he had noticed that although the children were very happy and enjoying themselves, the parents looked bored and seemed to be at a loss for what to do with their time.
He resolved that Polliwogs’ facilities would cater to both children and their parents. This strategy paid off handsomely and led to Polliwogs becoming a leading brand.
Partnerships and tie-ups are key to a startup’s success - A new business can gain great mileage by piggybacking on an established brand. People start associating a company with its partners. Startups who manage to link themselves with well-entrenched companies retain that association in the minds of customers for months ahead.
Polliwogs got its big break when it entered into an arrangement with DBS at the time they were launching a new card. The bank’s mailers carried information about Polliwogs. The results were immediate with Polliwogs seeing its popularity increase almost overnight.
The Polliwogs centre saw an immense rise in customer interest and the DBS tie-up could be said to be the turning point in the company’s prospects.
A company’s culture is crucial to its success – At Polliwogs, every employee is treated as a member of an extended family. The company’s management expects each worker to internalize this concept and treat fellow workers and customers in the same manner as they would family members.
The idea of ‘family’ permeates every aspect of Polliwogs’ working. An organisation chart is referred to as a family tree. Employees who do not subscribe to the company’s views are gently steered in the right direction.
Hariman Kwok also holds that teamwork is critical to an organisation’s success. He admits that he made some errors of judgement in his initial hires. He did not pay enough attention to the ability of the candidate to absorb the Polliwogs culture.
But he has learned his lesson and now a basic requirement is that every successful candidate has to demonstrate an ability to align with the Polliwogs culture.
The fact that employees do not work at cross-purposes has played a tremendous role in Polliwogs rise.
Current expansion and the future – A couple of years back,
Why adopt the franchise model? It is the best way to expand operations without risking your own capital. It also has the advantage of earning significant revenues for the company in the form of upfront fees and charges.
Of course, an organisation can become a franchisor only if it has a well-recognised brand and high customer recall. The passion and single-mindedness displayed by Hariman Kwok have ensured that Polliwogs has both.
But the company is not stopping here. It already has plans to expand its product portfolio and start catering to older children. It is also looking at geographical expansion in the ASEAN region.