What it takes to survive over 100 years in business? Like Tiger Balm

It is  a product  you may have used many times  and probably  sworn by it for  its effectiveness. Haw Par Corporation promoted Tiger Balm has been an effective remedy for  aches and pains for years. Founded in China in the 1870s,  the brand today is well known across Asia and the US.

YourStory recently met A K Han, Executive Director of Haw Par Corporation, to understand what it takes to become a success in the  healthcare space and how Tiger Balm has survived  for so many years.

Tracing the brand history

Over 100 years old, Tiger Balm  was developed by Aw Chu Kin and perfected by his sons Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par. Though the founder belonged to China,   his sons  shifted base to Singapore to build the company. A K Han says Singapore was the perfect destination to do business even back then, just as it is today.

tigerAs an entrepreneur, you have to be relevant and look at what your customer wants. This truth was recognized by the founders a long time ago.. One of the earliest promotional methods they employed  was  sample testing.  They would travel in carts and urge people to use the product and give their feedback.  They  incorporated the customer feedback to improve their product. “In those days many people were poor and didn’t have money to  buy English medicines. And this product was a panacea. This can cure everything from headache to toothache to  stomach ache and even flatulence.  So it became very popular,” says Han.

The ever-growing loyal cutomer base helped spread the word and  neighboring countries like Indonesia, South China, Hong Kong and Malaysia became  the first markets to be conquered. Today Thailand, Hong Kong and USA are the big markets for the brand.

“Tiger Balm has gone through many  upheavals and survived. That’s because the product delivers on its promise.  It is called Tiger Balm after Aw Boon Haw, whose name means Gentle Tiger. The founders understood the importance of trademark very early. So you will not find any other product by the same name or even names like leopard balm or cheetah balm. Be sure to protect your creation,” advises Han.

Fast forward

A K Han, Executive Director, Haw Par Corporation
A K Han, Executive Director, Haw Par Corporation

In countries where Tiger Balm expanded, local partnerships have helped it grow. However, wrong partners have also cost the company dearly. “We do local partnerships in most countries we enter, including India. These partners help us grow and distribute the brand,” he says.  Han was in India to review their recent partnership with Chennai-based FMCG giant CavinKare. He says many new products like neck and shoulder rub, heat patches, joint rubs will be launched to expand the product portfolio in India. “Tiger balm has 80% conversion rate. Out of 10 people who try it  eight will repurchase the product.  All we need to do now  is offer products in different forms which will cater to the modern customer,”  explains Han.

Most users of the product today are from the older generation and in order to connect and bring the youth into its fold Han says they are leveraging social media. Contests and prize distribution has been the favoured route for engagement with them so far.  “We are modernising our image with the help of our new products. Anyone who wants to compete  has to be up to date,” he advises.

The basics of business

According to Han,  businesses, old or new, all have to do some basic things to be relevant. Investing in R&D is one thing which Han says is important to build a long term brand. “Be relevant to people. If you have a good product, you have to think how to become competitive. If you have a product which can be copied then it’s not a good idea. Build a product that can be patented, which is strong and which people will have a need for a very long time.”

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Investing in R&D helps ensure product superiority, which can help command a premium in the market. “Many brands do not want to invest in R&D, that’s critical. Don’t be cheap to sell more. Keep your integrity, make sure about the quality  and don’t cut corners,” he emphasises.

Han says   nothing can replace hard work finally.  “Entrepreneurship is a lot of hard work, there is no magic. People stumble and grow. It takes a lot of hard work to build something for the future, so stick in there.”

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