Mr Kwan says the ERP system helped the company to understand its customers better. Photo: Sam Yeo

In the first part of a six-week series featuring SMEs that have taken steps to build their capabilities or venture into new markets with Spring Singapore’s support, Gregory Leow speaks to Kwanpen on growing its business.

The Straits Times
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August 5, 2015

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WHEN luxury handbag label Kwanpen decided to invest in the latest Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system at the beginning of 2013, it was aimed at managing its data better and automating certain back-office functions.

Founded in 1938, Kwanpen, which specialises in high-end crocodile leather goods, had at that time expanded to 19 stores in Singapore and across the world. Managing that much stock and customer data was becoming too unwieldy.

Spring Singapore offered the company its assistance and after a survey, the company found that it would benefit from an ERP system that would help in the data collection of all the bags sold in its stores.

Kwanpen tapped into Spring Singapore’s Capability Development Grant (CDG) for the upgrade of its data collection systems. The grant, which gives SMEs the opportunity to bring more innovation into their business operations, defrays up to 70 per cent of the project costs.

These may include fees for consultancy and training, as well as for certification.

Timely data, better business

By putting all its stock and customer information online, the ERP system allowed access to real-time data at the click of a mouse.

“Now, we know promptly when stock needs replenishing and we can change the supply within a matter of hours or days,” says Mr Jonathan Kwan, its director of special projects.

When the ERP system was fully rolled out last year, the benefits were immediate. The company found out that 70 per cent of its customers were mainland Chinese and they preferred long straps on bags.

This new information focused the company’s expansion plans into markets visited by mainland Chinese — Paris, Milan, London, Tokyo, Seoul and Taiwan — but also markets it was hoped would open doors to new customers.

“Opening in London was a logical next step for us. It was our entry into Europe and London was a city that attracted both mainland Chinese and Middle Eastern tourists,” says Mr Kwan, 32.

Study mission

His participation in retail study missions to major cities last year and early this year helped the company to establish its London store.

Part of a management course by Essec Business School in partnership with Spring Singapore, the study missions were aimed at exposing local luxury retailers to international best practices of luxury retailing and to support them in their internationalisation.

Says Mr Kwan: “The lead professor of the course has many contacts in the market, besides years of insight, experience and knowledge on how to shape and build a luxury brand.”

Opening its three-storey London store took 18 months as the company had to adjust to new situations at every stage. For example, the labour law there dictates that retail employees are not allowed to work more
than 42 hours a week, even if they want to work more.

Despite the hurdles, Kwanpen will continue with its expansion plans because as Mr Kwan puts it, “there is no choice”.

“The Singapore market is roughly eight million people. For a luxury goods company, you are only appealing to the top 5 per cent, so there is a limit to how much you can grow locally.

“It wasn’t a case of whether we thought we could survive overseas.

We had to if we wanted to grow as a company, otherwise the company would stagnate,” he says.

Capability Development Grant

The Capability Development Grant (CDG) is aimed at helping small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) defray qualifying costs of their capability upgrading projects to improve productivity and develop business capabilities for process improvement, product development and overseas expansion.

To encourage more SMEs to build business capabilities, the application process for grant support of $30,000 or less has been simplified. SMEs can look forward to simpler application forms and reduced  documentation requirements for such projects.

For more information and guidance on the CDG, visit cdg or call 6898-1800 to make a free appointment with an SME Centre business adviser

Singapore Retail Industry Conference

The 24th annual Singapore Retail Industry Conference will be held at Suntec City Convention Centre on Sept 22.

Co-organised by the Singapore Productivity Centre and the Singapore Retailers Association, the conference is Singapore’s key retail event for the latest retail trends and global best practices.

With the theme of Re-Evolve Retail, this year’s conference promises to inspire companies to achieve greater growth through international and local sharings, focusing on how retail businesses around the world have transformed to meet today’s challenges.

Visit for more information.

For more information on the retail sector and stories on how retailers have built their capabilities, please visit or email

This article was first published on Aug 5, 2015.
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