Mr Toh says that his company stays ahead by reinventing itself. Photo: Ray Chua

In the third 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 Tai Wah.

The Straits Times
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August 19, 2015

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A HAIRDRESSER’S job involves handling as many as 12 appliances — such as hair irons, curlers and hair dryers — and each of them has a motor and electrical cord that is at least 3m long.

“Imagine that multiplied by 12. Cable management can get messy,” says Mr Toh Kok Swee, 67, managing director and owner of Tai Wah Distributors.

“Storage for all these appliances can be a problem too. Many hairdressers also complain that the appliances feel heavy when you have to use them the whole day.”

Tai Wah — a sole distributor of personal care products, hair and beauty equipment — hopes to help solve the woes of hairdressers with a first prototype launch of its own product dubbed the Tuft Magic Box in November.

Mounted on a trolley, the system uses a single high-powered motor that delivers powerful heated air through a hose that can fit a hair dryer or curler attachments.

Hairdressers will use fewer appliances and can cut costs because only a single motor and cable is required.

The system also incorporates a mist generator for hair and facial spas.

“The only hairdressing tool that is not covered is the styling flat iron. It is something that we are currently in the process of developing,” says Mr Toh.

Founded in 1956, Tai Wah has developed a hair and beauty salon distribution network across more than 15 cities over the years.

The company aims to sell the Tuft Magic Box to hotels, country clubs, high-end condominiums and home users.

It is currently in talks with retailers to see how best to go to market.

Entering the consumer space

The prototype is one of Tai Wah’s latest moves to transform itself from being merely a B2B (business- to-business) player into the B2C (business-to-consumer) space.

“The company already has a 59-yearold history, but how do we make sure that it lasts for another 50 years?

“Truthfully, we are nowhere near our (full) potential, but at least now we have set the foundations to start moving forward,” says Mr Toh.

Tai Wah’s move to be a serious B2C player began in 2010 when it introduced a prosumer range of hair dryers, hair irons and curlers called Play with Tuft.

A year later, the brand was seen in big department stores like Tangs, Robinsons and Metro.

It is currently in talks with Amazon Prime to break into the United States market with its professional and prosumer range of hairstyling accessories.

It is currently developing its own e-store, which will go live in October.

Looking ahead

The move to be more than a traditional B2B distributorship model is out of its comfort zone, but it is necessary for the company, says Mr Toh.

“It is about looking ahead. I have seen companies that feel they are so strong that they will never fail. You have to change and move to maintain your edge,” he adds.

While the idea of the Tuft Magic Box was conceptualised as early as 2011, the development of the system was rapidly accelerated with help from Spring Singapore which introduced Tai Wah to Chemistry, a design consultancy that helped the company with its rebranding.

Research findings with hairdressers and consumers convinced the company that it was on the right track with the Magic Box system.

During its development, Spring Singapore also put Tai Wah in touch with SimTech A*Star, which supported it with resources from its research institute.

“For a small company like us to have access to the technologies and the scientists at SimTech is amazing. They helped us out a lot.

“Developing a system like the Magic Box requires a lot of research and development and trademarks, and those cost a ton of money.

“Without Spring’s support, we would not have dared to move with confidence and just stayed as a B2B distributor,” says Mr Toh.

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This article was first published on Aug 19, 2015.
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