RONALD PANG

An extremely dedicated man that strives to serve the community in the best way that he can, Ronald is altruistic and compassionate about the people he serves and always does his best. Simple things like his customers’ smiles can make his day so much brighter and are to him more glorious than any other award. His will and passion to change and improve lives is truly admirable. Wanting to become his own boss from the very start, despite the challenges that he faced, he has always taken every step in a positive light and heads forth with faith and the hope that everything will turn out well. His big heart has helped him form great partnerships and his daring to dream has helped him achieve all that he has today.

Business Profile:

Clariti aims to improve the quality of customers’ lives through the improvement of their hearing. Clariti prescribes only hearing aid brands with the latest technologies that suppress background noises and enhance the clarity of the listening environment. This effort to always offer the best has helped Clariti win happy customers, numerous accolades and industry awards.

Clariti believes in providing professional hearing solutions as well as a personal touch to each and every customer, thus elevating themselves above other service providers. Customers enjoy consistent attention as Clariti ensures the highest standard of performance using state of the art SIEMENS UNITY audiometer systems to conduct professional hearing tests. Clariti also provides counseling to help acclimatise new users to prescribed aids. Many of their customers are referrals from existing happy end-users. This is the best testimony to their quality service.

All customers also enjoy half-year reviews, at no additional charges as long as they are still wearing Clariti’s quality aids. Clariti pledges to take care of customers’ hearing needs for the long term. Clariti is the preferred partner for Phonak and Siemens, the top brands in the world. They boast the latest in hearing aid technology and have excellent facilities in Singapore to meet the technical needs of all its customers. With these two brands, Clariti carries hundreds of models to meet varying hearing needs, lifestyle, cosmetic preference, expectations and budget.

(Retrieved from: http://www.clariti.com.sg/)

Interviewer's Comments:

It was extremely lighthearted and comfortable. The moment I entered Clariti, I could immediately feel the positive energy when I was greeted by the cheerful lady, Nicole, at the front desk. When I met Mr Ronald Pang, I felt very excited and at ease. His cheerful demeanour put me in lively spirits to start my interview. I was surprised to learn that he had prepared some key points for the interview, which I patiently listened to. As the interview went by, I could really feel the presence of God in him that was greatly reflected in his actions and decisions, which have helped his community greatly. He was very passionate, dedicated, selfless and hopeful. I was extremely touched by his concern for his customers, and his strong will to change and improve their lives. Ronald was very patient in explaining the technology of the hearing aids to me when I became curious about it, and even encouraged me when I couldn’t help but share my personal experience with him. We were able to bond during the interview and immediately after it ended, we even added each other on Facebook to keep in contact.

Interview:

Q1) What is the nature of your business?

A: I’m in the business of helping people hear better through the retailing hearing aids. It’s a one- stop solution whereby customers who suspect they may have a hearing problem come to me. I check their ears and then explain the results of the hearing test to them. And if needed, I will prescribe the hearing aid to help them hear better so that their quality of life is improved.

Q2) When and why did you decide to take over your family business?

A: It’s not a family business, I started this. In fact, I first started a hearing aid business in 1997, 17 years ago. At that time, I was taking a gap year after having completed my bond with the SAF because of my scholarship. Then, I realised I wanted to do something on my own so that I can have control over the growth of the company. There are a lot of things I want to do, like answering only to myself as there is a lot more free will. I also feel more comfortable when things are moving at my own pace. Big organisations have their bureaucracies and sometimes, I may not agree with the directions given by my boss. Hence, I decided to do something on my own. I also want to add that God was very much involved in guiding me in this entire decision and direction.

Q3) Do your parents have businesses as well? Have they inspired you in any way or another?

A: They were hawkers.

Q4) What are your reasons for choosing to do business in this particular industry?

A: This is a very niche industry, I started 17 years ago where awareness of hearing in Singapore was still very low. At that time in 1997, the “in” business to do was coffee outlets. And in those days, even Starbucks and Coffee Bean weren’t popular here yet. So a lot of people were looking at setting up cafés, feeling that it was cooler and more exciting to do. But I also felt it would be good to run a business that is not only profitable but also serves a strong need in the community. Hearing care is something I see as up and coming, because we all know that our population is aging. Therefore in preparation, I want to be established and be there to serve this need.

Q5) 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.

A: When I started this business, I was only in my late 20s without enough savings for this venture. So, I started by taking bank loans and help from relatives.

Q6) What are some interesting stories you have about your first few customers/first few years in business?

A: At first when I started this business I thought I was simply selling hearing aids. I thought it was very obvious but seeing my first few customers who successfully put on my hearing aids, some of them crying in front of me, I realised it’s not just about selling hearing aids; I’m changing lives. So I started to tell myself this – I’m not a salesman. At the end of the day, a salesman will count how many sales he makes. But I am here, changing lives. At the end of every month, I count how many lives I have actually helped to improve. It’s a lot more meaningful than selling hearing aids.

Q7) What is your company’s vision and mission? How do you convey these to your company staff and team members?

A: As I said earlier, I tell my staff all the time that we don’t sell hearing aids, we improve lives through better hearing. Our mission is to help our customers hear well to live well. The last words are more important – to live well. If our hearing aids do not help them live well, then there is no point in selling them the hearing aids. It must change their lives. Because if the hearing aids do not help them, they have wasted their money, and we have not done a good job.

Q8) What are some of the challenges you faced when you first went into business?

A: Finance is always the number one problem for young startups, you never know how much is enough, and particularly in business, cash flow is important, especially for a retail business. First of all, the two things that are heavy on our expense is staffing and rental. Especially rental. We have inadequate bargaining power with the landlords especially in big malls. There was a point in my time when I used to run five outlets. I had a chain. And rental was the number one expense. So, we needed a lot of finance and capital flows. And being in the retail business, you don’t expect sales to be steady, it fluctuates. There is no trend for my business, revenues go up and down. So if you have a consecutive few months of slow business, you will panic if your cashflow is not healthy. But thank God, so far I have not been stretched beyond what I can cope. Business has been healthy.

Q9) How did you overcome these challenges? Please share some specific examples of the action you took to overcome the challenges.

A: I started this business by buying a franchise and training was given to me. So, with that training, my learning curve is less steep. I have a lot of guidance and support that actually helps me during my start - up days. I also had a good business partner, so it was less fearful than running the business on your own at that age. My partner was there with me, and we split up our roles very clearly. One will do marketing to bring in business, the other to do the operations to make sure the business is running efficiently and effectively.

Q10) Can you remember your worst day in business or a time when you felt like giving up?

A: Well, I actually gave up. No kidding. It was back in 2006. I was already one of the most prominent players in Singapore and had five shops. But I sold the entire business for several reasons. Staffing is one of them.

In my business, we need to train good staff. It is frustrating that because they become good, competitors poached them. We end up training them for competitors. I guess it happens in most industries but this is not good for my customers. They keep seeing a different consultant and there is no consistency in our services.

Q11): How did you triumph over it?

A: So I started to sub -franchise my business and had business owners under me in Singapore. I don’t employ staff, I make these owners my partner. So they would have interest after having invested money. So in that way, there is continuity and they won’t resign. That was in those days. In 2006, I finally sold the whole chain, the whole business away to a MNC. And after observing my non-competition period, meaning I cannot enter the industry during this time, I started CLARITI in the same business. But now, I have a lot more experience and knowledge of how to do things more effectively and efficiently.

Q12) Can you share some of the lessons you learnt from overcoming your own business challenges that you think will help other businesses?

A: From my experience, I learnt that in employing staff, we must always be slow to hire, quick to fire. When you hire someone, take your time to know them and assess them before investing resources to train them. When you realise they’re not good enough or not suitable, part with them amicably but quickly. It’s good for both parties. Because if you make them stay in the field, even when they’re not suitable, the staff will get very frustrated and the company’s productivity will be low. So it’s wiser to let them know that they are not suitable for the job, and ask them to apply their talents elsewhere. That is something that I’ve learnt. For SMEs, sometimes you put in too much emotion into the relationships, and that can be a baggage to the company’s growth.

Q13) When was the moment you first realized the business would work and support you?

A: Well, when I first started the business, I did my cash flow analysis in my business plan. And by the end of the first quarter, I realised that I was doing better than my projections. The profits I saw were very healthy. That gave me more confidence that I was on the right track.

Q14) What are some of your proudest business achievements to date? And why are they so important and meaningful to you?

A: I think my proudest achievements are the smiles of my customers. Hearing loss is something very personal. Most people come to me and say “I want to buy the smallest hearing aid. Make sure it’s invisible so nobody can see it.” But after they put on my hearing aids, they feel so blessed, some of them say “I cannot hide this. I want to tell people what you have done for me and let them come to you.” So many of my customers publicly testified about my services and allowed me to put their photographs on newspapers and online. And they all do it for free. I didn’t pay them a single cent. These are my greatest achievements.

Q15) Can you describe the company culture that you have? How does it contribute to the performance of your company growth?

A: I think every one of my staff must know what we are doing. We are not selling hearing aids, they must always remember that. We are here to improve customers’ lives. And when I am satisfied seeing a happy face, my staff also feel happy. Because they are the ones who served the same customer that walked in. I want my staff to have a happy work environment, and they should look forward to coming to work.

When all of them look forward to come to work, they do their best on a day-to-day basis.

Q16) How do you promote learning within your Company? What are the training opportunities that you provide your staff?

A: Hearing aid performance relies on technology. And technology moves very fast in line with computer technology. Therefore we must constantly upgrade ourselves. Every few months, there are always new products and new models. We always attend seminars to get ourselves updated and I bring my staff along as much as possible. I make sure they all get training. If they don’t get trained, when customers call over the phone and make enquiries, my staff won’t be able to give good answers. And if they can’t give good answers, the customers wouldn’t even come in for hearing tests, and I wouldn’t be able to see them, nor help them. My staff who answers phone calls are the first in contact with the customers and they have to do a very good job, even before I see customers.

Q17) What do you see for your business in the next 5 years, and does it include any plans for expansion?

A: I have always asked myself this and a lot of people have always asked me, “So you have done well, are you going to expand?” Yes, I will grow, but I don’t aim to be the biggest in Singapore. I aim to be the best in Singapore. Being the biggest may bring in higher quantifiable revenues, but being the best ensures higher quality services. That is more in line with my mission. Like I said again, it’s not about how many hearing aids I sell. I just want to keep improving lives. There’s a big difference.

Q18) In your opinion, what is a good and ethical business? How do you think this helps you in your Company/ business?

A: I think it must always be ‘customers needs’ above ‘profits’. Especially in healthcare. I carry hundreds of hearing aid models costing as low as a few hundred dollars, to as high as above ten thousand dollars a pair. So how do we know which model to prescribe to the customer, balancing their hearing needs and maximising our profits?

We always assess what the customers’ needs are. If the customer is an old grandfather at home, only taking care of grandchildren or watching TV as a daily routine, he doesn’t even to step out of the house because he is over eighty years old. Then for him, I will prescribe him a simpler hearing aid, for home use. But if it’s a business man, who still attends meetings and conferences, plays golf, socialises and attends dinners, he will need something more intelligent, something that can suppress background noises and is good enough for his dynamic lifestyle. His needs are on the higher end.

Prescribing hearing aid is an art more than science. If I place profits on a high priority, I will always sell the most expensive hearing aids. But if I work at improving the customers’ life, I will always prescribe the most appropriate hearing aid for his lifestyle.

Q19) How will you describe your working relationship with your customers, suppliers and service providers?

A: Excellent. I have very good relationships with my suppliers, the brand manufacturers. We meet up regularly for both business discussions and social coffee and dinners. They also celebrate with us our anniversaries, exchange mooncakes, and things like that. We are very close. As for customers, our focus is giving them our utmost professional service. When the visit us, they do bring us coffee or light pastries and that warms our hearts.

Q20) How do you differentiate your business from your competitors?

A: If we focus on selling hearing aids, then all competitors are the same since we can all carry the same brands. There’s no exclusivity. At Clariti, we focus on the experience and that’s a big difference.

At Clariti today, we do not rely on employees to attend to customers. Employees keep changing and there is no consistency. Our consultants are stakeholders and we do not change. We have immediate interest to ensure we do our job well and build our brand goodwill.

In this business, it’s very hard to rely on employees to serve my customers. As an example, when you keep going back to your dental clinic and realise that the dentist keeps changing, there is no personal touch. This is how I differentiate my business from my competitors’. Some of them have big chain stores. 

I try to refrain from doing that. I want to give my customers the attention they deserve, so I personally see all of them.

Q21) What are some business ideas you have implemented that created great results in your business?

A: Many years ago, hearing tests in Singapore wasn’t free. Almost everyone charges consultation fees when they see patients. But when I started this business, I gave free hearing test and implemented a free consultation policy.

In those years and even today, hearing care awareness was very low. A lot of people suffered from hearing loss and refused to do anything about it. And when you slap a charge on the hearing test, it only deters people further. So I removed the cost of the hearing test so that people are encouraged to come and seek help. And in those days, people don’t advertise very much to increase awareness. When I started advertising, many start to see me for free consultations. This way, a lot of people stepped forward to doing something about their hearing and I am glad that their quality of life has improved because of that. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have done anything about it.

Q22) Where or who do you get your business ideas from?

A: I started this business from a franchise. I learnt the basics from there. Many new ideas come from experience in the business. I never stop thinking about how to improve my business and bring greater benefits to my customers.

Q23) How have these business ideas impacted your Company or business? Please specify the qualitative and quantitative terms of the impact.

A: The learning curve is very short, so I am able to recover all my investments in a short time so that I can expand and do more things. I don’t have to make the mistakes that other people make. That makes a difference. Therefore I was able to be this successful in this short span of time.

Q24) How do you think your business have made a positive impact or contribute to the community that you serve?

A: Until today, I am still looking for more ways to make positive impact. Today, I feel that I am in a better position to contribute more to the community. I started giving free awareness talk in early 2011. It could be very intimidating for new users to want to wear a hearing aid. Many could have very negative myths about hearing aids too. Hence, I started giving talk. It’s less intimidating. People come to gather information and they will be invited for a hearing test only if they want to. Some of them attend the talk and leave, but decide to come back another day when they are ready. And that’s fine. There is no obligation. I started this in early 2011 with two talks a month, but the demand kept growing and now I’m doing close to 10 talks every month. This encourages me. If I do it for the sake of sales, I can be disappointed because many will not purchase the hearing aids immediately. In fact, many will seek a second opinion elsewhere and it benefits my competitors. That is also fine with me.

I always tell myself my talks aim to sow a seed and they have learnt something. Even if they purchase elsewhere, I am happy for them because they have received some help and they first heard it from me. As I said, my focus is to always improve customers’ quality of life. I hope they buy from me but if they didn’t, it doesn’t matter.

Q25) What does entrepreneurship mean to you?

A: Daring to dream, and taking steps to achieve it. This is entrepreneurship. If you only dream but do nothing about it, that remains a dream, and you will always be a dreamer. The one that does something about it, and actually makes sacrifices and takes risks achieving that dream, is an entrepreneur.

Q26) What are some entrepreneurship qualities that you have which has helped you come this far?

A: First of all, it’s my courage to take the plunge. Secondly, the leadership training that I have received in the army days. Running a business, you have to take care of many aspects. From finance to marketing, from staff training to selling. You even have to change your own lightbulbs. You must be able to have knowledge in a lot of things. And if you don't have, you must at least be courageous enough to say, ”No worries, I can learn.” You need a lot of courage. I am a business graduate from NUS and that education taught me how to take care of the business aspects.

Q27) In your opinion, what other qualities does a person need in order to be successful in business? And why?

A: Hard work. Especially in entrepreneurship, you don’t have a boss. Hence, you need a lot of hard work and self -motivations. When you’re an employee, you have a deadline set by your boss. When you’re the boss, you set your own deadlines. If you’re lazy you will keep pushing back deadlines. So I think that an entrepreneur must be hard working, self- motivated and have the “never say die” attitude. Because in any entrepreneur journey, there are always obstacles and problems. When you face tough competitions, you must be able to face it bravely. When I face my challenges, I look at them positively. I tell myself that this is what makes entrepreneurship so exciting. I don’t take it as a setback, I take it positively and say, “Oh let me overcome this, and it shall be another learning experience for me.”

Q28) In your opinion, what does it mean to have the “spirit of enterprise”?

A: You must have the attitude to constantly want to scale new heights, and always want to do things differently.

Q29) Who or what motivates and inspires you?

A: God. I believe in God and he is a big part of my life. With the values taught in the bible, God shaped the way I think and built my character.

Q30) What are some of your business values and what would you like to pass down to others, particularly the younger generation?

A: Do not conform, learn to transform. A lot of people, especially the older generations with a lot of experience, they conform. When you give them new ideas, they think that it cannot work, because other people have been doing it the same way for ten years. But why? I always think of a better way to do things. When people have been doing things the same way for many years, they think it’s the only way, or the best way. They have to learn to transform. For example, 17 years ago, people didn't advertise very much, but I did. I conduct free hearing tests and almost everyone else is giving free hearing tests now. Therefore, learn to transform.

Q31) Can you share some of the more significant events / incidents that affected or shaped your business philosophy and the way you conduct your business?

A: In 2006, I sold my business. When I realised it was time to sell it, even though it was very profitable, I sold. Try to manage our feelings if we want business excellence. I sold my business to terminate the franchise and licence agreement. We parted ways, and today I feel like I can serve the community better, in the way I wanted. When I was operating a franchise, there were a lot of regulations. Some hindered my growth directions.

Q32) 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?

A: It’s easier. I really think it is easier now to do business. Singapore is more pro-business today. The government is giving so many grants, support, training and tax incentives to promote entrepreneurship. It is so much easier to get financial help today.

Also, there are so many mentor schemes available. I didn’t have a mentor to guide me. I made mistakes that were expensive.

A lot of people say it’s harder to do business because whatever is profitable, you already see other people running it. I disagree. Look at the restaurants. How many restaurants are there in Singapore? Thousands? But we still see new restaurants propping up every other day. New restaurants can still be successful if we have the right recipe and formula.

Running a business is similar to a golf game, you compete with yourself. You manage your own score.

As long as my restaurant is serving good food, and I do the right marketing, people come to me. Never mind what others do. The market is so big. It is the same for any other business. Do not worry about what other people are doing. Concentrate on what we do and do it so excellently above competition to stand out.

Q33) What advice would you give young people who want to start their own business?

A: Seek help. Do not think that you know everything. Of course some people say that you will need a good business hunch, but before you have that hunch in anything, before you make any decisions, you must always do some homework first. Have a good business plan, work out your cashflow and what you need to do in the next three or five years to grow your business and put as much information as you can in your business plan. And after that, share this business plan with other entrepreneurs. Share it with your mentor, share it with people that are knowledgable. When I first did my business plan, the people that said ‘no’ to me are the ones that loved me the most. My parents and loved ones. They asked me why should I do something so risky? Out of concern and love, they are afraid that we may fail. They normally say, just get a job, its safer. But instead, I went ahead. Because of my business plan, I went to the banks. I showed the banks my business plan. If the bank, being professionals, believe in my plan, they will agree to put money with you. That is a big endorsement. And if it is not a good plan, no banks will give me money. And true enough, I had a bank to support me.