myNEWS’ Dang Tai Luk: Reshaping Convenience Stores

Dang Tai Luk has plenty of big plans in store for the local grown convenience store chain myNEWS.

If you are a regular visitor to any urban mall in Malaysia, chances are you’d be very familiar with myNEWS that modern network of somewhat indispensable convenience stores that offer everything from mobile data reloads to wholesome quick meals for all its patrons. The Peak speaks to founder Dang Tai Luk.

Where it all began

Since its inception in 1996, the brand has evolved from just a single newsstand to becoming the largest homegrown retail convenience store chain in Malaysia, with over 550 outlets nationwide at present. And yes, founder Dang Tai Luk can also be considered a role model for purposeful entrepreneurship in Malaysia.

After setting up his successful chain, the 59-year-old established initiatives that serve the communities around his business outlets and change lives. For instance, through the myNEWS corporate social responsibility initiative dubbed Allowances That Allowed donation boxes are placed in myNEWS outlets to collect loose change that is channelled to underprivileged students all over the country.

Such thoughtful consideration and foresight are perhaps just some of the many reasons why Dang was named EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2019 Malaysia in December. Dang shares the excitement he felt after winning the title: “You know, everybody joins a competition to win. I had read about the other Top Nominees and found them to be really good people. I was already so happy just to be nominated but I was really blown away when they declared me the winner during the awards gala night! I was really hoping to win as this is the most prestigious award I had ever been in the running for. It is a great inspiration for me to have picked it up in the end!”

Reflecting on achievements

Looking back at what he has achieved over the years, Dang Tai Luk reflects upon his choices right at the beginning of his journey. I suppose you could say that I was quite bold and brave, a bit like a calf wandering in the wild, not knowing the dangers that lay in wait in the wilderness! I ventured into business without realising the consequences of not being able to get back the same job if I failed. I had always told myself that one day, I would start a business of my own and, eventually, I did open a newsstand business.

Dang Tai Luk recalls facing all manner of challenges in his younger days, growing up in a rubber-tapping family with eight other siblings. But because my parents were extremely hard-working, we managed to get by. In retrospect, my difficult childhood seems to have been the necessary condition that made me work to break away from hardship. Perhaps poverty does inspire one to work very hard to become a leader.

In order to support a big family with increasing needs, such as children’s education, Dang remembers his father supplementing the family’s income by venturing into a small welding business. This was when I was first exposed to the business world. I worked beside my father, first in the rubber plantation and later in a workshop, during every school break from primary one! I learned a lot by working beside this amazing man. He was committed, resourceful and always able to find opportunities during difficult times.

Dang Tai Luk

Dang Tai Luk

The First myNews

And when it was his turn to venture into business, Dang Tai Luk recalls starting small and simple, chiefly because he lacked the resources for anything bigger. It began with a run-of-the-mill newsstand in December 1996, which still happily operates today at 1 Utama Shopping Centre in Petaling Jaya. At that time, however, Dang Tai Luk was working outstation and was making regular trips back to Bandar Utama with his wife, Ling Chao, to visit his parents and siblings. It was during one of these trips that he came across the small lot at 1 Utama Shopping Centre, which was still vacant even after the mall opened for business.

Upon enquiring, Dang discovered that the lot was indeed available but was given only 24 hours to confirm his interest. After discussing the opportunity with his wife, he took over the lot, resigned from his job and moved his family back to Petaling Jaya to begin his new adventure in entrepreneurship. After the first outlet, then named MagBit, opened on 25 December 1996, a follow-up outlet was quickly added soon after, at Restoran Jejantas Sungai Buloh, and Dang has never looked back since.

Completely self-funded, the business was initially financed by an overdraft account linked to Dang Tai Luk home mortgage. Since this very humble beginning, the brand has grown continuously, so much so that in June 2012, the company acquired a 125,000 sq ft industrial complex in Rawang, Selangor, to facilitate warehouse and central distribution needs for myNEWS.

Expansion plans unfolded

That same year, it entered into an equal joint venture with WH Smith PLC, a leading news and books retailer from the United Kingdom, to set up the first WH Smith store in South-East Asia at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).

Dang initially had his wife supporting him, but soon enlisted the help of his brother, Tai Wen, to help him build the brand further. It was this brother, a one-time student of architecture in Canada, who came up with the concept of a modern newsstand offering an open and inviting look that has been the hallmark of all myNEWS outlets since. This has been further developed now into a modern convenience store chain

Dang elaborates: Tai Wen is my youngest brother and he joined my business just a couple of years after I started it. He is also a businessman in his own right so, I have beside me a younger entrepreneur who has 20 years of business experience, and is now in his mid-40s. To top it all off, he is also as smart and hardworking as I am!

The two of them quickly saw that in order for the myNEWS brand to reach its full potential, its scope of business had to be expanded. That’s why in 2019, we completed the construction of our large-scale Food Processing Centre (FPC), reveals Dang Tai Luk. Since then, we have two plants operating within the FPC: one produces ready-to-eat food, while the other one is a bakery. We also opened 97 new stores that same year!

And as myNEWs outlets began to enjoy improved representation in popular areas and malls, as well as opening up in various high-density residential areas, its customers naturally began coming from all walks of life, and included both locals and tourists alike.

For each cluster of stores, we try and offer the right assortment of products suited to what the customers in the area are always looking for. Each store is also arranged with some differences to cater to the preferences of each store’s patrons. For example, we have our Consumer Value Store (CVS) format, or the mixed CVS and F&B store format featuring our own Maru Cafe product range with coffee, soft serve ice cream, fresh bakes, hot snacks and ready-to-eat food on offer, reveals Dang. Another example is some of our stores are also online ordering and delivery points where we deliver to your doorstep when you order online.

Dang Tai Luk

Dang Tai Luk

Innovation in Food and Technology

I think our consumers prefer myNEWS as we are always trying our best to make the chain relevant to their everyday lives. In other words, they can expect myNEWS to stock their everyday essential items and new products, as well as promotions, deals and even services. They keep coming back as we are consistent with our high-quality assortments, which we keep very contemporary. Couple all this with good service and a fast grab & go experience, it’s really no surprise that we have a huge number of members who have signed up for our CRM Loyalty App barely a year after its launch!

Dang Tai Luk is a keen follower of technology and operating a retail business such as myNEWS in this day and age makes this nature a crucially important one, indeed. I would say that without the adaptation of technology, there is no way we were able to grow over the years. In the beginning, when we couldn’t afford a third-party Point of Sale (POS) system, we actually wrote our own system,remembers Dang with pride.

We were the first to have our own POS system that recognises add-ons for magazines, and we have an in-house system that helps us receive and distribute magazines from 20 years ago. Even today, we are still using this POS application that was developed independently. Of course, we now have more systems to help manage our business. We have also embarked aggressively on digitisation as well. We are the first CVS with a loyalty app and e-wallet system, and also the first CVS to offer an online ordering and delivery platform with the myNEWS DASH and Grab service.

International Competition

Yet, with the arrival of trendy brands like FamilyMart from abroad, perhaps it’s not all smooth sailing ahead for myNEWS in the near future? Don’t forget that 7-Eleven is also foreign-sourced, reminds Dang. Competition has always been there. We were born into competition. Lately, it has become more interesting and intense with the entry of new players such as FamilyMart. Yes, they are only about three years old. So, in the short term, its stores look new and uniform. The other major brands have been around for 20 to 30 years.

myNEWS has never stopped changing and improving since its first store. Additionally, we have the advantage of homegrown strength, knowledge and infrastructure that we have built over 23 years. We are the only convenience store that has state-of-the-art infrastructure to support our stores. We are complete with in-house capabilities to build and operate our business.”

Dang goes on to say that myNEWS has also brought in Japanese technology, together with the people behind it, to spearhead the fresh food segment of its business in Malaysia. And because of this, he feels that it’s as though the brand’s Japanese partners have constructed its plants and then personally run them here in Malaysia. “So, with our continuous growth and relentless innovation, we are well prepared to move forward and to face any form of competition,reveals Dang confidently.

Looking ahead, perhaps the untrained eye can only see progress for the successful brand related to expansion beyond the nation’s borders. But Dang isn’t too keen on taking such a bold step yet.

We are very focused on the domestic market in the immediate future because we see the Malaysian convenience business as young, underserved and underdeveloped. We wish to expand faster and, at the same time, elevate the quality of convenience here, making it into a public infrastructure. However, having just licensed our first two stores in Myanmar and as a successful operator of the WH Smith international brand in Malaysia, we are well-equipped to go outside of Malaysia. We will consider this once we have achieved our big goals here at home.

Moving forward, Dang feels that the myNEWS brand will now be very focused on the retail front, upgrading existing outlets and building new ones. Dang has plans to open 100 new outlets this year, barring any unforeseen circumstances. “We have 80% of our stores in the Klang Valley, and we are now moving more aggressively south and north, even to East Malaysia. Keeping our fingers crossed, we expect myNEWS to double its size in about four to five years.

“I suppose I have worked very hard and persevered. You know, when you are fanatically driven to exploit every inch of progress, no matter how small, then eventually you will achieve success. The decision and commitment in growing the brand came from the achievements we enjoyed along this fanatically driven journey. As you do more and achieve more, you’ll soon realise that there’s just more to do, and you continue to grow to what the brand is now: a household name that is the number one homegrown brand in convenience, says Dang.

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