Sitting down with The Peak for a one-on-one interview is the Vice President of YOO Worldwide’s Business Development sector within the Asia Pacific region, Rich Millar. From regaling the core concept of the YOO and Yoo2 hospitality brand to discussing the recent expansion plans across Southeast Asia, including their upcoming upmarket residential concept, 8 Conlay, Malaysia is their next target on their global expansion plan and we could not be more ready for it.
So what is YOO about?
We have always been, for 21 years involved with branded residences. We actually have around 82 projects completed. We have a hundred completed within 2 or 3 years. So we are by far the largest design firm in the branded residence field globally. So the Trump and the Lamborghini and the Arman, they cannot touch us. We have done far more projects and as a result of having this association with (Philippe) Starck. He really made a name for himself on interiors.
People have been asking us to do hotels. We’ve always said no. But now we’re saying yes. Hotels are now on the radar. There’s a reason why it hadn’t been in the past and why the time is right for us now. And of course, service apartments. So in this sense, we go across all of the terms of stay, short term, midterm, long term but all within residential. We’re talking about the hospitality component. Even when we do branded residences, there’s a hospitality component whether it is hospitality services that are offered to the owners of the apartments. It almost feels like you’re living in a hotel but in your own place. If you want hotel services they are available for you. If you don’t, that is also okay. We have projects in Canada, New Zealand and Tasmania with a lot more in Asia.
Since you operate on such an international scale how do you localise your projects to the country it is being developed in?
We usually have a local architect in place that the developers hire. That’s usually good for us because Malaysian architects in Kuala Lumpur will be essential. We don’t know mechanical, electrical plumbing, fire escape rules and we want to stay away from it. We work from the inside out. Once the schematic is done, we know how many floors it will be, we know the shape, we know what amenities are being asked of us. That’s when we slot in, right after the architect, and we’ll work with him to finish. We practice a strong development DNA which means we can understand the building process and the designing process, supply chain, organisation all that kind of stuff. We have to do that because when we are speaking with professional developers and they need the confidence to know that we know what we are talking about. We have done about 26,000 apartments globally.
In KL where the hospitality industry is saturated, how does Yoo2 differentiate itself from its competitors?
Firstly, we do design, marketing and branding. So when it comes to hotels, we don’t own and we don’t invest. That means someone who has a building or a parcel of land is gonna go through a feasibility analysis through a third-party broker and come out with whether it is best used as a hotel.
Secondly, I think with the right brand you can achieve this price point and of course the owners want the highest price point. So the many hotel brands out there and people from hospitality are gonna fight for that opportunity. What happens for us is that they will see us as very fresh. This is unlike a big brand. We will help you resource everything if you want but we will not dictate everything. So a lot of our business comes through hotel consultants. These are the ones that do the feasibility studies. It is their job to determine the best use for the property, the price pointer they can try to achieve and what are the best brands to achieve that price point with. They bring them in and then it is up to me. I have to make a compelling argument. So we need to communicate through people, that we are present, open for business and we have a great story. We are just here to meet the right people, the right like-minded developers, people who share the passion for design who believe we can achieve higher prices through design. It is a lot about communication.
Why has the Yoo2 brand only recently decided to venture into Malaysia? Was there an intentional delay?
Yes and no. We have been present in Hong Kong for 8 years. The deal we did with KSK here was done through Andrew Pang in Hong Kong. The decision was made and now we are going to allocate this time for other things. I will take over business development activity. We believe that Bangkok was a right first step and is the centre for where we needed to be. First of all, Bangkok will be an easy market for us to conquer because ONYX, our hospitality partner, is so well connected. We can bring in actions and we can develop a lot of hotels in Thailand relatively quickly. I can actually fly developers to Thailand and let them stay for the weekend on our bill and I promise them that by Monday morning they would have signed on. So Thailand has been the start point just because of where we all are. But now that we are established there, we are trying to take over Malaysia as fast as we can. Malaysia and Indonesia have been considered effort for the last few months, now that we have things moving in Thailand and Vietnam. Onyx hasn’t been so strong here which has probably held us up a little bit, whereas they have a strong presence within Vietnam and Thailand and Sri Lanka. So we have to work a bit harder here. That’s okay for me though. I’m happy with challenges.
Can you give us a bit more information about your upcoming projects?
You have 26 million people visiting Malaysia, half of them are going into one province. Do we need to be in the province? Probably yes, but we’ll need to find the right partner and the right opportunity. We have a strategy for where we want to go. Kuala Lumpur should be pretty easy for us. A couple of other resort destinations are obvious as well. In Thailand, we know the brand stretches from the city centre to the beach. I would like to follow the same strategy here. I would like to find the best opportunity here in KL among a couple of things that are kind of brewing and one beachfront location to show the flexibility of the brand. That would be ideal. There is a project in Cherating for example and others in Kuala Lumpur. I’m gonna focus on those two now, particularly Kuala Lumpur because we should be here and find out how quickly these opportunities can turn into reference project for me. I want to show people, I want them to walk into a Yoo2 hotel and see the financial performance that this really works.
What is your next plan for Yoo and Yoo 2 within South East Asia?
I think we have a fantastic opportunity. The documents we are going to be signing are around Phuket and in Bangkok. That’s just this year because we are present and we are letting people know what we do. The consultants are starting to love us because we are an easy brand to sell.
Let’s say this year, five or six signed on without difficulty. Next year I want to double. I want to double every year. If we can sign seven this year, maybe fifteen the year after and then twenty five the following year. That is entirely possible when you realise we have China, India and all of South East Asia on our side. We do a few big projects in city centres, but if you want to do projects in Malaysia you had better be in Malaysia, be here reasonably frequently, manage and nurture the relationships. It takes a bit of time but we have time