During his school days, Peh Yeng Yok always helped his father to pack and sort out used woven sacks (for packing rice and animal feeds) to sell to Indonesian customers. In 1979, after finishing his National Service, he decided to start his own business and registered a sole proprietorship named Yeng Yok Trading. His father assisted him to purchase a pick-up lorry and S$5,000 capital. He started his day by going to every household (at that time there was a pig farm and fish farm in Singapore) within the neighbourhood and vicinity to buy any used woven sacks, plastic bags, newspapers, used clothes and any other used goods that he felt he can re-sell for a small profit. He would repair and clean the items if necessary and re-sell to those ‘Kalong-Guni’ shops (second hand collection shops).
In 1989, his big opportunity came when one of the second hand shop owners intended to let go of his shop and offered him to take over. After considering for a few days, he decided to take the risk and started his own second hand goods collection shop. With more manpower and capital needed, he asked his siblings to join him and thereafter started a partnership company.
During that period in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there were many walk-in customers from Indonesia and Malaysia who came daily looking for used clothes and electronic items. That gave him an idea to focus on the used clothes business. He went to Indonesia frequently visiting many towns and markets and talked to the people dealing with used clothes to better understand the business.
As a result of his determination, the business volume increased in the mid 1990s and a bigger space and office was needed to operate the business. So Peh decided to purchase his first warehouse situated in Jurong and registered a Private Limited company in 1997. He invested in more machinery and vehicles and hired more employees. However during the Asia Financial Crisis in the late 90s, his business was badly hit. His customers stopped buying due to the big fall in their currencies and his suppliers kept asking for payments. Despite the downturn, Peh persevered and kept all his employees.
In the early 2000, there were many buyers from developing countries such as the Philippines, Thailand and Bangladesh coming to Singapore looking for cheap used clothes, used electrical appliances and household items. At that time, the company was only importing used clothes from Korea, Taiwan and Japan and re-exporting to the customers. The supply could not meet the demand for these items. Also, recycling programs were not common those days. To meet the increasing demand, Peh decided to increase the volume of his products by setting up an in-house sorting facility to sort out the used clothes. He went to Taiwan, Japan, Korea and the United States to study the process and spoke to suppliers and brought in first hand used clothing materials. These materials were later sent to factories in Malaysia for sorting. Peh also collaborated with the PWC (public waste companies) to buy recycled used clothes that the PWC collected from the households throughout Singapore. With this shift in business operations, more machines and storage equipment were bought and old ones upgraded. Manpower was also increased to sort, clean and repack the used clothing.
With the in-house sorting facility running, the company grew bigger and stronger as there were better quality control and products can be sorted out to meet customers’ requirements. Customers in South East Asia have rather unique requirements. While many consider used clothes akin to used newspapers, these customers were specific in their demands such as winter or summer clothing or cotton, nylon or wool. The condition of the used clothes were also important, thus they have to be classified under new, slightly used or rags. Mastering this sorting technique takes months or sometimes years.
Peh is the second youngest in his family and has seven 7 siblings. Since young, he looked up to his father and eldest brother because they started business without any good education and financial background. He believed in hard work, determination and no taking short-cuts to success.
Peh took his company from a turnover of S$5M with just 10 workers to $18M with 50 employees today. He also has his own sorting factory in Malaysia employing over 200 employees. Peh appreciates his workers’ hard work and motivates and trains them according to their skills and expertise. He also helps the needy through fund raising events and giving rice to poor families.
Looking forward, Peh hopes to expand his business to Africa and to strengthen the company’s presence in niche markets and to expand to new markets.
“Go Green” is the company’s vision and Peh hopes to encourage reusing and recycling used items to minimize wastes.
A memorial quote from Peh?