Entrepreneur

How This 50-Year Old Stationery Shop Reinvented Itself After A Fire To Thrive In A Digital Age

CzipLee first started out as a sundry shop in Kajang in 1968, founded by Peter Chen with a sum of capital from his mother. Later, he saw the potential in selling stationery and books as demand was high from students and parents, and in 1973 he found a larger premise to move into.

Today, CzipLee in Kajang occupies 4 shop lots. By early 2000, Peter also decided to branch out to Bangsar. A new CzipLee store was thus formed which catered to a new segment, infused with new brands and ideas inspired by his two sons, Alvin and Jason.

The old CzipLee in Kajang. / Image Credit: CzipLee

“We would say while CzipLee Kajang will always remain to be CzipLee’s iconic status in history, CzipLee Bangsar is our flagship store,” Alvin told us.

50 Years Owned And Run By Family

After 50 years, CzipLee is still a family-owned and run business. “Currently both Jason, myself as well as our two older cousins, TK and David are running the business,” Alvin said.

Image Credit: CzipLee

As children, Alvin and Jason had always been in CzipLee doing their homework, playing and eating while their mother worked. They eventually learnt to help around the bookstore after school and during school holidays.

They later lived overseas but came back to help with CzipLee Bangsar, this time equipped with more knowledge of customised, niche stationery brands.

Alvin and Jason. / Image Credit: CzipLee

“Being placed in Bangsar, one needs to differentiate immediately from the rest of the pack. We couldn’t sell run of the mill products and therefore we looked towards established brands in Japan and Europe to cater to our customers,” Alvin said.

To name a few, they brought in brands like Clairefontaine, Rhodia, Midori and Kokuyo to help CzipLee transition from a simple stationery store to a curated art supply store. They also brought on board two stationery lovers, Joy and Sharon, who are community manager and online store manager respectively, to complement the team.

Unity And Strength In Community

While CzipLee has held on for 50 long years, they’ve faced their share of challenges. One of the biggest they faced was in 2016 when a fire decimated CzipLee Bangsar. Never had CzipLee’s name, which comes from the Chinese characters of unity, Ji (集) and strength, Li (利), rang truer.

The community of Bangsar came together to support CzipLee with neighbours bringing bottled water, food packets and even ice cream for the firefighters who took almost 8 hours to control the fire.

After the fire. / Image Credit: CzipLee

“We watched our lifeline literally burn down before our eyes and at that point, we really contemplated whether to just close the business and call it a day or to rebuild,” he shared. They eventually decided to rebuild, and that was where their team played a monumental role in bringing CzipLee back to life.

An aerial view of the roof after the fire. / Image Credit: CzipLee

It took six months of sifting through rubble, ash, muddy water and spoilt stocks before things began looking up again. “Fast forward 2 years later, the fire was a blessing in disguise, almost a re-fining moment for us as it allowed us to conceptualise and reimagine CzipLee,” Alvin said.

While they’ve seen a 30% increase year-on-year in sales, they’ve had to take into account the major losses incurred during the 2016 fire, which Alvin said they’re still recuperating from, 3 years on.

More Than Your Average Stationery Store

In strengthening its standing as a curated stationery and art supply brand in Malaysia, CzipLee is no stranger to partnerships. Just recently they partnered up with Kokuyo, a Japanese brand for stationery and furniture design, to host the Kokuyo Design Award event. The winning designs of 2018 were exhibited for 4 weeks in their store and customers were able to see, feel and purchase the designs on the spot.

Image Credit: CzipLee

“Kokuyo as a brand in Malaysia was always known for their InkJet Papers as well as their sturdy office files. Despite their stationery’s popularity in Japan, the market for them in Malaysia is very niche,” Alvin said.

CzipLee works to introduce them to the Malaysian public by not only constantly bringing in more of their products, but also by hosting several Kokuyo events. Besides the award event, CzipLee will be having a Kokuyo Open Day on 21 September as the main highlight of a Kokuyo Month.

Kokuyo Month is unique to all CzipLee stores, where there will be attractive discounts on all Kokuyo stationery in-store. However, CzipLee isn’t only working with international brands, either.

Inside their JB store. / Image Credit: CzipLee

In March 2019, CzipLee opened a new store at Midvalley SouthKey Johor. Some new features for the store are:

  • open patching sessions by Decopatch,
  • a dedicated area with curated children’s books by Me Books Asia,
  • weekly craft workshops, coding classes and storytelling sessions for kids,
  • curated children’s educational toys, craft and stationery,
  • art and calligraphy workshops,
  • and their first CzipInkBar.
Image Credit: CzipLee

They’re also working with Malaysian brands like Me Books Asia, APOM, Nala Designs and Loka Made, giving each brand a dedicated space in CzipLee for them to showcase their range of products and share their stories with the community.

Using Technology To Keep The Traditional Alive

Alvin is aware that we’re in a digital age but believes that CzipLee and its offerings still have a place in society.

“With the advent of technology, many people are doubtful about whether there is a need for stationery in the future,” he said. “In our opinion, we see a huge potential in stationery, not the traditional take on stationery but more on curated stationery.”

How they do this is by bringing in brands that their customers have requested for or referred CzipLee to on social media. “For example, the story of how we brought in Moleskine, a brand of notebooks which was then quite hard to find, but extremely popular and used by artists such as Da Vinci,” Alvin said.

They credit this to a frequent customer, Sam Coleman, who was then the editor of Time Out KL. He had recommended they bring it in as he loved the brand and also thought it would suit CzipLee’s customers.

Image Credit: Moleskine

“Long story short, CzipLee was one of the first few book shops in Malaysia to bring the brand and was even given a first in Asia Moleskine wall, which featured all their key products, outside of Europe. We attracted customers from all over Malaysia and also some regional countries as we had an extensive collection—and still do, till this day,” Alvin proudly said.

CzipLee relies heavily on social media to update their followers on stationery products, their weekly classes that are managed by Artmakr, and on online and in-store promotions.

“We think that with everything being so instant and almost impersonal with technology, many people crave going back to their roots, something to hold on to and that’s where we see, good old stationery, curated, having a place and relevance in the future,” Alvin said.

  • You can find out more about CzipLee’s curated stationery site here and their site for office/school supplies here.

Featured Image Credit: CzipLee

 

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