In 2020, Vulcan Post spoke to Benedick Chen, founder and CEO of Alterseat Malaysia, a local ergonomic chair brand. Back then, they were just an e-commerce business, but they have since grown their offline presence with two storefronts and two warehouses.
I recently visited the newest showroom in Uptown Damansara and sat down (pun intended) with the other half of the founding duo, Shaun Tan, to learn about Alterseat’s growth over the past years.
Walking into the store, I was greeted by a row of Alterseat chairs and a sales representative who was already tending to another party. I was soon joined by Shaun, who gave me a tour of the space.
Their first store was in Bukit Jalil, where the company’s office and warehouses are located. After noticing that some customers outside of the Kuala Lumpur area were unwilling to travel into the city due to traffic, this new spot was chosen to tap into the Petaling Jaya market.
“We studied our analytics and looked at our insights,” Shaun explained. “We get a lot of enquiries from the PJ area. And I would say the Uptown and Damansara area specifically, the GDP per capita is a little higher than other districts, so that’s why we opened in Uptown.”
It’s a fairly minimalistic space, and there will be a second floor soon to feature an office concept for bulk purchasers or consumers who want to purchase an entire office setup.
Amping up offline efforts
Alterseat’s decision to invest in another physical store could be seen as a departure from the new normal, considering how global e-commerce growth was boosted during the pandemic. But as Malaysia reopens, Shaun believes shopping habits have actually shifted offline.
To back up his statement, he shared that 50-60% of Alterseat’s sales now come from the physical outlets.
In the Bukit Jalil location, Shaun reported an 80-90% conversion rate, meaning most customers will actually leave with an Alterseat product. While that number is already high, Shaun expects to see a greater number from the Uptown location due to increased foot traffic.
True enough, in the one plus hour I was there, I saw two groups of walk-in customers, and a passerby who peered into the shop curiously.
Despite the significant growth of their offline presence, the team have not neglected their online following either, and utilise influencer marketing to their benefit.
Altering the market
Growth comes with change, and though they used to offer customisation, Alterseat realised it wasn’t the most economical move. The service increased costs and time, making it difficult for the business to scale.
Instead, making specific products to suit most customers’ needs and expanding their range of products for more variety appeared to be the right way forward.
Their B2B traction even grew. During the pandemic, companies like Digi, Celcom, DECATHLON, and Maxis made bulk orders so their staff members could work comfortably from home.
Now that employees are returning to the office, Alterseat has noticed SMEs buying 20 to 50 units to furnish their offices too. Larger fast-moving consumer goods companies have also ordered thousands of chairs for their employees, Shaun shared.
“We don’t go knocking on [businesses’] doors, we just create really good chairs, and we sell to normal consumers like you and me,” Shaun said. “And these people so happen to be working in HR or recruiting companies or they’re the CEOs of other companies.”
To up the ante on the B2B segment though, the team is planning to engage with salespeople to reach out to businesses. LinkedIn Marketing might also be in the pipeline, as Shaun believes many leaders and decision-makers will be accessible there.
On top of expanding their range of chairs, Alterseat has introduced new smart desks, which serve as an add-on to the chairs.
While things have certainly been evolving at Aterseat, some things remain the same—namely, the core message.
“Our value proposition is still providing consumers high quality and premium chairs at an affordable rate,” Shaun affirmed. “I believe the moment companies sway from their core values, that’s when everything starts to go downhill.”
The challenge of growing
Shaun revealed that in the last accounting year, Alterseat brought in close to RM7 million in revenue, a significant increase in their financials compared to previous years.
However, there have been internal challenges over the past year too, specifically with hiring the right people. In the end, they prioritised talents with the right personalities and attitudes over experienced ones, and simply provided training.
“Over the course of two years, we managed to scale from a two-man team to almost 15 people full-time,” Shaun shared. The number goes up to around 30 when counting the logistics team and subcontractors.
Another challenge is something we’re familiar with—inflation. The cost of supplies has gone up, and it’s also hard for end consumers to invest hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars into a chair.
“When [the inflation] started to snowball, we saw a slight dip in our quarter-to-quarter sales, so we quickly pivoted to things like installment plans,” Shaun shared.
Staying in the hot seat
Shaun’s entrepreneurial skills certainly help keep the business running smoothly, though he believes it’s ultimately the product that really gives Alterseat its value. He shared how customers have told him that the chairs changed their lives.
“Can you imagine?” he laughed. “How can a chair change a person’s life, right?”
Yet, Shaun understands the sentiment. He used to buy cheap gaming chairs online, but they caused backaches and butt pains. He ended up going to a chiropractor, whose services cost more than a few Alterseat chairs. Hence, he knows first-hand how important it is to create products that enhance people’s lives.
While positive comments about Alterseat are aplenty, there are still lots of competitors in the market, including big players such as AM Office, Office Pro, and Apex. As such, Alterseat’s goal of becoming the go-to brand for ergonomic chairs in Malaysia has not been reached yet.
Still, the company is striving to capture more market share through its offline presence. Over the next couple of years, Alterseat aims to launch more stores across Malaysia. Shaun listed Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Ipoh, Penang, Sabah, and Sarawak as target locations.
Beyond that, he also has his eyes set on APEC countries such as Singapore, Thailand, and Australia.
“On the online route, we plan to be omnipresent,” he added. “That means being present and active on every single platform.”
Expect to see Alterseat across platforms such as TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and even Xiaohongshu. But if you’re in the Klang Valley, maybe hit up the Bukit Jalil or Uptown Damansara locations if you get the chance, and get a feel for the seats yourself.