As tertiary students, most of us would have had held a part-time job in retail at least once, right?
I used to work at a couple of clothing stores in Somerset, excited at the thought of earning my own keep and owning a few pieces of nice clothes at a discounted price.
But I never understood why the store I worked at had to keep changing its layout, or why the visual merchandisers kept changing the clothes on the mannequins so often.
Then I landed my first full-time job after graduating from university, doing marketing for a travel agency that was big on travel fairs.
On top of my appointed job scope, I had to assist my manager with the logistics of setting up and running the fairs, and sometimes come up with ideas to draw crowds.
Even with such prior experience, I still wouldn’t trust myself to organise or even conceptualise a full-blown event.
But in 2001, when Singaporean Hidekatu Shigekawa was 25, he recklessly started his own events management firm with no experience.
“Young And Gung-ho”
Yes, that’s his real name. And yes, he’s Singaporean.
In fact, he has clarified this numerous times before and wasn’t surprised when I asked him about his ethnicity.
Shigekawa, more affectionately known as Hide, was born to a Japanese father and a Chinese-Singaporean mother.
But like every other Singaporean guy, he went through the local school system and served his National Service (NS) in the Artillery unit until 1999 after graduating from Shatec in 1996.
He then started H.A.M Creations with his secondary school classmate and army mate in 2001.
After completing his NS, he worked as a Project Executive under the late Mdm. Juliet David – “Singapore’s best-known professional gourmets and founder of Singapore’s Wine and Dine [sic] magazine”, as described by the Los Angeles Times.
His job was to research and interview hawkers and restaurants, prepare write-ups on them, reach out to companies for sponsorships for events, doing all the prep work pre-event, and providing support on event day.
At that time, Andrew Tan, co-founder of H.A.M Creations, and him worked on the first World Beer Festival in 2000 and published a free food guide for the Central Singapore Community Development Council (CDC) called ‘Eat Out!‘.
That was when Andrew and him hit a turning point.
While working on the food guide, the pair had not been paid for a few months as the food consultancy company they worked for ran into financial difficulties.
Hide said that they wanted to quit to look for another job, but in one of the meetings with the CDC, they were asked if they knew “how to create an event” or knew someone who could launch the food guide.
Without putting in much thought, Hide and Andrew told them that they “could do this opening launch” and resigned from the food consultancy.
The pair, along with Andrew’s cousin Marc, then formally registered a partnership in 2001.
Hide told me, “We couldn’t think of a business name. After spending an hour at the ground floor of International Building, we gave up and just went with the initials of our names (Hide, Andrew, Marc) in a hurry to start work (on the launch).”
The trio went headfirst into the full suite of event management without any prior experience, funding, or leads.
“We pooled our savings (around $3,000) and rented our first office at Macpherson Road, which was about 100sqft, cramping in two tables and two computers.”
“One of the computers was used by my creative director, and the other computer was shared between my sales director and me. I handled the finance and administration work,” he recounted.
Hide surmised “being young and gung-ho” led them to where they are now: from a snug three-man team in 2001, to operating in a 20,000 sqft factory space and managing 40 staff in 2017.
The Big Break
Some people have a preconceived notion that being a boss means you are rich.
But for the first five years, the trio were getting by with only $300 to $500 a month – that is, if their pitches succeeded.
Hide said, “There were several times we wanted to throw in the towel and look for a stable job seeing most of our peers doing well in the corporate world.”
He first envisioned for the company to create and manage events for businesses, like product launches and unique mass events (think themed festivals).
“We had ideas but getting sponsors and clients was extremely difficult for a small company with limited contacts and resources.”
So they changed H.A.M Creations’ business direction.
Between 2005 and 2006, they went from managing full-blown events and projects to focusing on more production work, like backdrop installation and stickers.
Manual labour and craft skills took centre stage instead of coming up with creative ideas for events and business proposals for sponsorships. Along the way, we had opportunities to conceptualise and handle product launches like before, so our skillset is more diversified now after gaining experience in handling production.
The three of them handled everything from design to sourcing, logistics, and the whole event set up and installation.
“Basically, the things that the three of us could handle, we did it by ourselves,” Hide said.
Then in 2006, they worked with Fossil, producing their designs and layout, and installing the stickers for their stores in Singapore.
This led to them hiring their first staff member.
From then on, they started seeing growth, and decided to be prudent with their spending.
They upgraded and brought in more production equipment as they started landing more projects from international brands.
Hide said happily, “I feel blessed and amazed at how the three of us could build a company, competing with the big boys like Kingsmen, Pico, Cityneon. And it was all through grit and determination.”
He expressed gratitude at the opportunity to work on projects like F1, and eventually become the “go-to company” for luxury brands like Hermes.
The Makings Of A Legacy
They have evolved from a small team of three, focusing only on the business’ survival, to managing a fleet of 40 where they now have to consider staff welfare and morale, their health and safety, and much more.
Hide’s most memorable mistake starting out was thinking that starting a business was a way to get rich quick. But they began with zero experience and business contacts, suppliers, and financial support.
Another mistake he made earlier on was thinking that administration and bookkeeping could be easily managed by themselves.
“It proved to be one of the most tedious job to implement a good system in our company,” he admitted.
“We had problems filing for our own income tax and corporate taxation matters during our partnership days. This was resolved when we engaged a part time accountant to handle our financials in 2006.”
They learnt along the way, adapting to different situations, and finding solutions that made the most of their situations.
“We have to look into other aspects of running a business that we were not trained or prepared for,” Hide explained.
Now they have “taken a backseat in managing projects”, channeling their energy into developing work processes, business development, and expansion into new markets.
Hide announced that they will be opening H.A.M Creations’ newest office in Phnom Penh, Cambodia this December.
Ultimately, he wants every client they undertake to feel wholeheartedly assured, and to trust them even when problems arise in the course of the project.
“We eat, sleep, and breathe your brand because it matters to us.”
Featured Image Credit: H.A.M Creations