JASON SIM

Jason Sims started his career in playground business and gradually moved into setting up his own company with two good friends. When it comes to designing a playground, it's no child's play. But, it does help if you can think and play like a kid. Jason learnt the ropes of the playground business while working for a playground company before he started PLAYPOINT. So, he knew what it took to make things work. Jason is looking into expanding PLAYPOINT product offerings such as park and outdoor furnishings. PLAYPOINT has a big heart when it comes to its corporate social responsibility. Over the past four years, he has given back to the community by sponsoring playgrounds to non profit organisations to Singapore, Indonesia and Philippines. As long as there are kids wanting to have fun, Jason and his team will make it a point to let them play.

Business Profile:

Established in 2001 by three budding entrepreneurs Jason Sims, Wayne Chua and Charles Tay in Singapore, PLAYPOINT has grown rapidly to emerge as the premier turnkey specialist of playgrounds and outdoor space solutions in South East Asia.

PLAYPOINT's strengths lie in our strong in-house design capability, exclusive distributorship of leading playground and outdoor equipment products, and seamless project execution. These qualities have enabled PLAYPOINT to deliver one of-a­ kind, innovation and imaginative playgrounds and urban outdoor space solutions that not only joy to children and adults alike, but also enhance and differentiate our client's properties from the competition. PLAYPOINT has completed over 2000 projects for condominiums, shopping malls, schools, attractions, parks, etc. in the past 10 years. PLAYPOINT works closely with leading landscape architects in the region to bring imagination to life. Our clients include leading government agencies such as the Housing & Development Board, Santos Development Corporation, Jargon Town Council, National Parks of Singapore and leading residential and commercial developers throughout the region. 

Moving forward, PLAYPOINT aims to expand our footprints throughout Southeast Asia, deepen the penetration of our product line.

Interviewer's Comments:

Jason made me feel that sometimes the key to success might just be as simple as taking that first step. Besides being passion with his work, he also ensures that his staffs are treated well, he strongly believes when his staffs' welfare needs are met, it will also contribute greatly to the company's success. With a strong desire to continuously improve, Jason is really someone who wants to make a difference to the community. He has inspired me to get moving, find my own passion in life, his ethics of giving back to society has also touched me greatly.

Interview:

1)   What is the nature of your business?

We are into playground business. Our playground equipment contains galvanised steel, solid plastic and rubber. Materials used are fire-resistant.

We do not use PVC material that is hazardous to the children on the equipment of the playground. This is because when the material PVC is burnt, it will give out hazardous fumes. We get our suppliers from KOMPAN, a Danish playground developer and manufacturer. A no.1 playground developer and manufacturer, their products have been marketed in Europe and the United States.

2)    When and why did you decide to become an entrepreneur/take over your family business?

Iwas doing my undergrad degree in Marketing while Iwas still serving my national service. I decided to join an advertising agency upon graduation to handle account servicing with big MNCs. Previously, I had the business contacts from the supplier company for the playground company I was in while doing my undergrad studies. After six months in the advertising agency, I decided to quit and start PLAYPOINT Singapore. I stumbled upon this business idea when I was working for a trading firm that provided playground materials from KOMPAN, a Danish Company. In my previous job, we had good contacts with the Danish supplier back then, sales of the brand boosted. It was then that the Danish supplier asked if it was possible to be our sole distributor. It was a pleasant surprise and I thought to myself that opportunities do not knock twice, I decided to take the leap of faith to act as their distributor: KOMPAN. This move was backed by research. I saw the tremendous potential that KOMPAN had for the Singapore Market. You could say that it was a transition, from my previous working experience in a playground company to setting up my own enterprise. We started in 2001, designing and selling playgrounds to property developers. I was in charged in marketing and sales, Wayne was in charge of logistics and Charles was in charge of project management. All of us had prior experiences in marketing playgrounds in our previous work places. We had a strong pool of customers that were ready to take a step further to support our business venture.

3)    What are your reasons for choosing to do business in this particular industry?

We had prior work experiences in playground business in our previous jobs. We knew what it took and had all the previous business contacts to make our business work for us. We had a strong pool of customers: Far East Organisation, Capital land, Wheelock properties, Landscape Architect: DLQ Design Pte Ltd, Lena Quek, Sign concept were very supportive of our products and services.

4)    How did you put together all the resources needed to start your business? For example: getting the start-up capital, hiring staff, doing sales and marketing, advertising, etc.

In 2001, together we pooled a total of $200,000 to procure our first batch of KOMPAN products. We saw that the new range of plastic and metal based KOMPAN products were more suitable for Singapore's humid environment. The quality of products and design of the products do not come cheap, ranging from $20,000 for a small site to almost $2 million for a large project. From delivering more than 1,000 playgrounds to clients here and overseas as of 2010, we have now exceeded the 3,000 mark. I am handling the marketing and sales of Playpoint, my partner Charles is doing the project management while Wayne was handling the accounts and logistics side.We started hiring our very first staff in Singapore after business took off in a year. We have to try to conserve our funds when we first started out because none of us are handling other jobs besides Playpoint. For our marketing, we wrote in to the press for media coverage on our corporate news with interesting news angles. We managed to get our company featured under the media spotlight, we advertised our brand and services mainly through television news. We secured 30 minutes news coverage on our company featured by Channel News Asia which was showcased in other countries as well. Once you managed to get your company listed in local media, there would be more brand confidence instilled among other corporations and members of the public because news reports are objective and neutral. We advertise our services through brand recall, Facebook 'Like' pages, internal marketing and 'word of mouth' through inviting distinguished speaker in our seminars where we catered a sumptuous spread of food. We are a 828 enterprise so we try to engage our clients such as developers and architect firms through internal marketing building a strong brand recall that was when I put my education: Marketing degree to good use. We ventured out to overseas market: Vietnam was the first market we ventured to. We were partnering with Unilever to sponsor 300playgrounds in Vietnam. We advertised and recruited staff overseas to work for us. Within 5 to 6 years, we expanded our franchises overseas. Our staff headcount had surge from 15 in 201O to 26 staffs spread across Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines and Indonesia. For Philippines, it was a challenge to enter; you need to know the right people in order to engage our customers in Philippines. The cost of renting an office, hiring people as staffs is much cheaper overseas as compared to Singapore.

5)    What is your company vision and mission? How do you convey these to your company staff and team members?

Brand Vision_ To push the boundary of playground and landscape design Mission_ To create playscapes that combine art and landscape design seamlessly into one.

This is communicated through posters that is hung on the wall or when new staff joined the organisation.

6)    What are some of the challenges you faced when you first went into business?

My partners and I were only 25 years old then. Our customers then thought that we were too young and inexperienced to start our own business. Back then, we took take the risk because we do not have much financial commitment nor families and a house to maintain. We managed to prove our capabilities through the good services rendered and the purchase of good quality products KOMPAN from Denmark to convince them to have more faith and give us new projects. We believed in ourselves, put in 100% hard work believing that it would succeed. Success eventually followed. Our major customers are Capital Land, Wheelock properties COL and major HDBs. Our latest customer is Gardens By the Bay.

7)    How did you overcome these challenges? Please share some specific examples of the action you took to overcome the challenges?

We started to hire our very first staff one year after our business took off. Our customers were initially worried we were too young to handle their accounts. They were afraid that we would close down business halfway and they would not have anyone to turn to service their playgrounds. To allay their fears, my partners and I took on different roles to strengthen the foundation of our company. We visited every old KOMPAN playground sites in Singapore that Playpoint took over and did maintenance work to convince our clients that we were here to stay. Eventually, through diligent hard work, it won over our clients' confidence over. Refurbishment of the older KOMPAN playgrounds help Playpoint established a reputation for customer service, a move that differentiates them from other players in the market.

We have to try to think like kids, be around where they play to understand how they play. From these observations, we gained a better understanding of what kid these days want. My favourite part of the job is to create playgrounds that I myself would like to play. To design the best playground, ultimately one has to be a kid at heart. This approach has helped PLAYPOINT's playground brand like Bigtoys, Metalco and Sonic Architecture.

8)    What are some of your proudest business achievements to date? And why are they so important and meaningful to you?

Our first big project is Safra's Boon Lay Clubhouse costing over $1.6 million. In 2006, Playpoint was awarded the rights to supply playgrounds in Vietnam under a sponsorship deal by Unilever. A year later, Playpoint Philippines was set up in Manila. With presence of five markets in Southeast Asia including Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines and Indonesia, we have completed over 2000 projects for condominiums, shopping malls, schools, attractions, parks in the past 1O years. Town councils draft us a request to change their playgrounds every five to six years.

9)    What are some business ideas you have implemented that created great results in your business?

Implementing the Eletronic Direct Mailer that kept our clients informed of our recent installations, product launch or new products carried by Playpoint. Venturing into overseas market and branding Playpoint from Singapore enabled us to gain credibility in a relatively short time. Embarking on the Green Mark initiative to get our products Green label certified. This have proved to be a good strategic move as it enabled us to get more projects.

10) Did you face any difficulty when expanding Playpoint Franchises overseas? How did you overcome these challenges?

Yes, The first in find the right staff to head the market and the second in finding business in the market. Cultural and political difference is a stumbling block in our expansion. By engaging local staff familiar with the local conditions are we able to overcome the difficulties. Most of the clients are not informed or aware on the quality and safety of playgrounds. We educated them through seminars and talks which allow them to see the difference between a quality playground and a poorly made ones

11) How do you promote learning within your company? What are the training opportunities that you provide your staff?

We send our staffs to our manufacturer office in Denmark for training, besides that they have to be enrolled into a safety course for playgrounds. We also sent them to get themselves upgraded on software design skills. We as management staffs also help them to plan for their goals while working for this company. For my partners and I, we upgrade ourselves on our management skills.

12) How will you describe your working relationship with your customers, suppliers and service providers?

Most of our customers are consultants and developers such as National Parks boards and architect firms. We are very detailed in our explanation, guiding them in planning to allow them to know what they want. When our customers approached us to do up a design, they have a very vague idea in their mind so we have to handhold them in a sense. They know that we are continuously upgrading to keep up with new product offerings. Playpoint Singapore is one of the market leaders in playground industry.

13) How do you differentiate your business from your competitors? Please provide specific examples.

Playpoints' strength lies in our strong in-house design capabilities and exclusive distributorship of playground and outdoor equipment products. We are able to provide customization for our customers, bespoke that is tailor­ made. Most of the players in the playground business in Singapore are mainly distributors, they only sold standard playground. At Playpoint Singapore, we sell both tailor-made playgrounds and also standard playgrounds compared to stand out among competitors. We try to keep up and follow closely to the market trends and provide design flexibility for our customisation. We are able to meet the consultants' requests to come up with unique designs that are not readily available in the market. From then on, we keep getting new referrals for business from our existing consultants. We work closely with leading landscape architects in the region to bring imagination to life, our clients include government agencies: Housing & Development Board, Sentosa Development Corporation, Jurong Town Corporation and National Parks Board of Singapore.

14) How do you think your business have made a positive impact or contribute to the community that you serve? For example: creating jobs for Singaporeans or underprivileged; upgrading the skills of employees; improving livelihoods or lifestyles of customers?

We set aside $30,000 to $50,000 yearly for charity projects. As part of our corporate social responsibility program, we donated new playground equipment to APSN Katong School (Association for persons with Special Needs). APSN is a voluntary welfare organisation catering to children with mild intellectual disability. We hope to bring joy and laughter to these under­ privilege children, to encourage physical activity through developing their motor and social skills through social play. We collaborated with The Chain Reaction project in June 2010 to donate $28,000 worth of KOMPAN playground to Hiam Health Centre, a malnutrition rehabilitation centre for children in East Timor. Playpoint Philippines donated KOMPAN playground to ABS CBN Bantay Bata 163 Children's Village that serves a shelter for children rescued by Bantay Bata as a result of abuse, neglect, exploitation or abandonment by their parents or guardians. These contributions are part of Playpoint's Corporate Social Responsibility programme called "Playpoint Gives Back 2010."

15) What are some entrepreneurship qualities that you need in order to be successful in business? (e.g. Educational Qualification, work experience, family influence, attitude, etc)

We are a B2B enterprise so we try to engage our clients such as developers and architect firms through internal marketing building a strong brand recall advertising our brand and service through news media. That was when I put my education: Marketing degree to good use, I applied the brand recall theory to practise. Educational qualifications, previous work experience and attitude towards work all play a very important role to putting this business together.

16) Can you share some of the more significant events/incidents that affected or shaped your business philosophy and the way you conduct your business? (i.e. SARS, new competition or shifts in market behaviours and trends, etc.

We are a B2B enterprise not B2C, we were not affected by external factors such as SARS or H1N1. We started our company during a recession in 2001 when the market growth was slow. At that time, we were also wondering if we could survive. We are glad to build this company from scratch to success from where we originally started.

17) Where or who do you get your business ideas from?

I got my business ideas a previous playground company I used to work for whilst I was doing my part-time degree.

18) With the changes in the market today, do you think it has become harder or easier to succeed in business? Why do you say so?

We need to be the best of what we can offer to move along with the market trends as things are changing on a rapid phase. If you do not catch up, you may be the one lagging behind the customers' requirement. You have to upkeep, be engaged with the market, be well-informed on the current trends to provide better services to our clients. From regular market trend analysis, we are able to keep up and change our product offerings to cater to our customers.

19) What are some entrepreneurship qualities that you have which has helped you come this far?

In entrepreneurship, there's no 100% guarantee you will succeed and no 100% you will fail. You must be 100% focused and committed in giving your attention to your business. You have to make sure that you succeed. You must be passionate in your business. Iwould say that risk taking and perseverance is important for our company to succeed. That's where we give 100% of our dedication and believed that it would work out. We also have to learn to learn to manage our staff well.

20) What do you think motivates you?

Our passion to succeed, making our own money and being our own boss is our main motivation. Being a pioneer that introduces new product offerings in the market gives me a major sense of accomplishments. The idea of successfully see our products and services breakthrough new markets such as China allows us to know that our business is viable and there's a demand for good quality products. It is difficult to breakthrough new markets as we do not have an idea of what they want or are they able to pay for our quality product.

21) What are your company's latest achievements in 2014?

Minton, Gardens By the Bay and Jacob Ballast Children's Garden are some of our latest projects. At Gardens by the Bay, the 1ha garden, located between the Cloud Forest conservatory, Satay by the bay and the Sun Pavilion, features tree houses, climbing ropes, slides and water play areas for children.

22)  Who or what motivates you?

Getting new and innovative playground concepts from design to reality makes the effort worthwhile and Playpoint making a difference in the playground design through innovation.

23) What advice would you give young people who want to start their own business?

Know your interest. You must have passion in setting up your own business. You need to be aware of your own strengths and weaknesses. If you are into partnerships, you need to find the right people who would complement your weaknesses and be able to communicate in the same business direction. All of our partners and I are very focused on our own strengths to build this business from scratch.

24) In your opinion, what does it mean to have the "spirit of enterprise"?

To possess the "spirit of enterprise" is to be a leading pioneer in our playground Entrepreneurship is more than nurturing an idea from what if to what it. It's a lifelong commitment to embracing change, to rethinking the possible, oF taking risks you believe in and making others believe in them too.