Since I started college up until my working days, I’ve driven past this one building on the highway daily. It houses Fire Fighter Industry Malaysia (FFI) and even while in lockdown, the brand seemed to have followed me around via its creative social media ads.
A recent ad that caught my eye was its CNY offering where customers could monogram their Chinese surnames on a fire extinguisher. Creepily enough, the ad had my family name on it (then again, I do have a common surname).
Digging deeper, I learnt that FFI is actually one of the first fire safety companies to be established in Malaysia almost five decades ago. One company that’s just a year older than FFI is Steel Recon Industries Sdn Bhd.
Editor’s Update: The information in the above paragraph has been edited to reflect greater factual accuracy.
It started with just RM500 as capital
We spoke to Brian Soo, the Chief Innovation Officer and second generation in the business. Brian shared that FFI was started in 1974 by his father, Jeffrey, who was just 22 years old at the time.
Returning from the Singapore army, Jeffrey worked a few jobs before eventually starting his first and only company, FFI.
“Most entrepreneurs would have a magical journey on how they started their business. For my father, one of his friends told him, ‘Every building needs a fire extinguisher,’ and that struck him that it’s an industry that will never die,” Brian told Vulcan Post. “Hence, he has stuck on to that to grow into the biggest fire safety company in the B2C space in Malaysia.”
With two co-founders, FFI was launched with a starting capital of RM500 in Sungai Besi. It was a location close to where Jeffrey lived at the time to make travelling easier.
Since then, the company has moved out from nine different offices, with its tenth office coincidentally situated on the tenth mile of the Federal Highway.
“The vision was to be on the oldest highway on Malaysia, to be visible to the public as much as possible since fire safety is not an industry that most people care about,” added Brian.
An old brand with new tricks
The FFI team today has grown into 140 employees. Brian heads the Innovations team that focuses on digitalising the company internally and externally. This is the team that’s responsible for new product launches and all marketing materials.
Going digital for the company also meant starting an internal production team. Five months ago, they hired a full-time TikToker and accumulated 400k views for their content in 30 days.
Inevitably, strong marketing messages are necessary when it comes to selling their products. Fire safety products are tough to sell because people usually don’t usually think of getting equipped until an accident happens.
“The fire safety industry is not the most common or sexy industry for entrepreneurs to dabble in,” Brian acknowledged.
Thus, using the knowledge and experience he’d gained from studying in the US, Brian knew that in order to sell and market boring products, he needed to change public perceptions.
“By changing how the boring old fire extinguishers look, that would make people want to buy a fire extinguisher which would then be in line with our goal to fireproof Malaysia.” Brian also takes the advice he was given by GoPro’s founder to heart, which was, “Don’t show them the product, show them what they can do with the product.”
Since then, it has become the team’s mantra in their marketing journey.
To show that FFI’s fire extinguishers were non-toxic, the team posted a video of spraying Brian in the face with the product from two feet away.
“We’ve used marketing to our advantage to show that fire safety can be cool (pun intended),” Brian joked.
The FFI team has come a long way from educating Malaysians on fire safety via demos at residential parks, to now leveraging social media to reach the masses.
On top of just posting educational content, FFI’s marketing team are evidently having fun with other posts too. Scroll through their Instagram page and you’ll find some interesting and provocative marketing messages published by the company.
One Instagram post parodies Squid Game’s honeycomb challenge, while another played off an innuendo of using protection when things get heated (in the bedroom).
In line with the latter post, it’s no surprise then that FFI also collaborated with ONE Condoms for a joint promotion.
“Our ROI for our marketing ads is at ten times, where every dollar we spend, we get about ten times more in revenue,” Brian disclosed to Vulcan Post. He added that the value fluctuates, but it is the team’s goal to maintain it through their marketing campaigns to the masses.
“The thing about our industry is, while we focus almost all of our marketing on our B2C segment, this marketing leaks into the B2B market, which is still the stronghold of our revenue,” he said.
One of the most telling signs that FFI has made a dent in the industry happened in late 2021, during Brian’s visit to a hidden bar in Penang called Backdoor Bodega.
“The first thing you’ll see when you enter the bar is our Matte Black fire extinguisher with [the owner’s] name customised on it,” he recalled. “Never would I have thought that our products would be showcased proudly in one of Penang’s most popular hidden bars.”
Sharing about the company’s numbers, Brian disclosed that 99% of FFI’s revenue came from the B2B segment three years ago. It was where most clients bought fire safety products because they had to, not because they wanted to.
Today, FFI has grown its B2C segment to make up about 10% of its total revenue, and it’s still in its infancy.
Within the B2C segment, the majority of customers come from the 25 to 45-year-old bracket because fire safety becomes somewhat more important to individuals who have moved out and live on their own.
In the upcoming years, FFI’s Innovations team will be focusing on digitalising the user journey in acquiring fire safety products.
“We want to make it fun, rather than a chore to fulfil a requirement that is set by the government,” Brian hoped.
On top of that, the team will be collaborating with different brands to tap into different market segments in Malaysia in their efforts to fireproof the country.
- Learn more about Fire Fighter Industry Malaysia here.
- Read about other startups we’ve written about here.
Featured Image Credit: The team at Fire Fighter Industry Malaysia