Chinese Traditional Medicine (TCM) store Eu Yan Sang is a household brand in Singapore with origins dating back to the 1800s.
It is also one of the largest TCM groups in Asia, with over 210 retail outlets in China, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia and Singapore.
Besides retailing Chinese medicine and herbs, it also operates close to 30 TCM clinics in these countries as well as a food and beverage store in Malaysia.
Furthermore, it also has sales and distribution channels in Western countries like Canada, the United States, Australia and South America.
Starting out as a small medical hall, here’s a look at how Eu Yan Sang expanded over the years to become a global brand.
Over 140 Years Of History
The first Eu Yan Sang outlet was opened as a small medical hall in Malaysia in 1879 by first generation founder Eu Kong.
Back in the day, opium consumption was widespread so Eu Kong was concerned about the welfare of opium-addicted tin miners in Malaya.
He hoped that his medical hall would encourage labourers to use TCM instead of opioids to treat their ailments.
His only son, Eu Tong Sen, inherited the business and by the 1910s, the shop had branches in Singapore, Hong Kong and China.
After Eu Tong Sen passed away in 1941, the business was handled by administrators, and was converted from a proprietorship to a limited company status.
According to a report by Forbes, the threat of Eu Yan Sang going extinct in 1989 forced Richard Eu, the great grandson of Eu Kong, to join the business.
Richard threw the business a “lifeline”, as it was “riddled with succession thorns.”
At the time, TCM was already deemed a ‘sunset industry’. Richard was thus a key driving force in modernising TCM, as he works on making it more accessible to the masses.
When he took control of Eu Yan Sang, the brand had one location in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong respectively.
He then decided to aggressively expand and increase the number of retail stores in these countries. He also started building distribution channels in Canada, United States, Australia and South America.
Richard was a firm believer that TCM was not just for the East, and sought to increase its acceptance in the Western world as well.
I didn’t want to wait for the West to tell us about traditional Asian medicines or be sidelined in any conversation on healthcare.
So that was the beginning of the thought process on how to change the business and in fact the whole sector, because back then, people were very intimidated to go into our stores.Richard Eu, Chairman of Eu Yan Sang International Ltd in a High Net Worth interview
In 2000, Eu Yan Sang was listed on the Singapore stock exchange. The year after, it bought over US brand Exilir, known for its health tonic and teas, and Australia’s YourHealth brand.
Richard later stepped down as CEO in 2007 and assumed the chairman role of Eu Yan Sang International Ltd.
The brand delisted from the Singapore Exchange in 2016, and the majority ownership of Eu Yan Sang came to rest with a consortium consisting of the Eu family, Temasek, and private equity firm Tower Capital.
Pairing Traditional Wisdom With Modern Practices
When the term ‘TCM’ is mentioned, many tend to think of dingy, dimly-lit medical halls selling traditional herbs.
However, Eu Yan Sang’s retail stores are quite the opposite. Besides, Eu Yan Sang prides itself on its ability to rigorously integrate science and technology into its products and offerings.
Since the 1990s, Eu Yan Sang has constantly innovated, incorporating modernisation into its products.
For example, the brand has developed its own ginseng tea bags, pre-packed TCM soup formula, and bottled bird’s nest.
In 2009, Eu Yan Sang established Singapore’s first TCM laboratory with Nanyang Polytechnic.
It has also partnered organisations like NUS School of Medicine and Parkway Cancer Centre to publish scientific papers on the interactions between TCM and Western medicine.
From Dying Trade To Household Name
Though many once thought that TCM was a dying trade, it seems to be the opposite, as seen from Eu Yan Sang’s steady growth over the past century and more.
In 2018, the group earned a profit of S$39 million, with revenues just under S$300 million.
Furthermore, the company has managed to build up a good reputation for itself as a leading TCM brand, and won the trust of the general public.
If your customer base believes in your name and reputation, that you would do right by them, at least that’s the basis of a good relationship.
It’s probably stronger than saying I can sell you something cheaper, or I have the latest technology.Richard Eu, Chairman of Eu Yan Sang International Ltd in a High Net Worth interview
Featured Image Credit: Eu Yan Sang