Tonasco Malaysia

Tell us how you started?
This company is owned by my husband who is Dutch and I. Back then, he was working for a very big Dutch company and was posted here in Malaysia. My background is in sales, marketing and business development, I studied and worked in Singapore and when I returned to Malaysia, I worked as a Business Development Manager for a GLC and connected with many large oil & gas companies, telecommunication companies and financial institutions. Then I started my own training and consultancy company for clients such as Maybank and Bonia.

Through some networking, my husband learned that Tonasco wanted to outsource to Europe. They were not confident yet to outsource to Asia but we saw the opportunity to gain their confidence with our first customer in Holland. We put our strengths together, him in technical and product development and his ties with Tonasco, whilst I led the business development, marketing and branding for the business. We felt that together, we can grow bigger and better.

What makes your company unique?
It is important to differentiate ourselves and have a unique position for our products. Our first tagline was low volume, high precision and low cost. Asia is commonly known for mass production at low cost, more volume but with just average quality.

We used Malaysia’s advantage on low-cost labour so that we could produce high quality and single piece parts at a lower cost. We put emphasis and pay attention to quality control. We set up our own quality assurance team even before we set up our own factory. We believe that to our customers, we are the manufacturers, we are responsible for the quality and therefore we need to consistently deliver high standards.

“You must know how to differentiate yourself, have a unique position…”

   Tonasco’s unique advantage is in producing single piece, high precision parts at competitive rates

In whatever decision that we make or path that we take, we always believe in continuously improving ourselves to better serve our customers, and to remain relevant and competitive.

How do you keep customers engaged?
We usually participate in international trade exhibitions, and invest time and money to travel to meet customers. Face-to-face interaction is important. It also helps that I can speak Dutch and learning German as well. We also maintain our website and social media for the latest information and activities.

What has been your experience during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The economy has already been slowing down prior to the pandemic, and we have also experienced the economic crisis in 2008 that happened about 2 years after we started the business and that taught us many lessons. That gave us some confidence on what to do during tough times.

During the lockdown period, we quickly had many discussions with our customers and shared with them our mitigating plans and possible workaround. The European markets was not too badly affected during that time, but we did not expect that soon the whole world would be badly impacted.

Then we had to find a way to cut cost to sustain. This is where we relied on strong teamwork, we asked the directors and the management to study the situation and find ways to save the company. By having our staff included in this decision-making process, they understood on how bad the situation could be. Ultimately, we had to retrench some people, and required the operations staff to multi-task. It did affect staff morale to a degree, and some of them were sad to see their friends leave.

What we did from the beginning was to always make sure we communicate as frequently as possible. Communication is very important to sustain team spirit especially during these times.

With the situation right now, what are your next plans?
We have to definitely re-think our plans. Our customers do come back to us but we cannot do the traditional way of marketing, e.g. exhibitions, traveling etc.

   Tonasco is moving ahead with their plans for a smart factory to produce more high-tech products with high quality finishing

We are now relying more on digital platforms and tools to reach to our customers. We do more postings on social media, and increase communication via conference calls with our customers. Luckily, technology is ready to support and enable our needs.

Hopefully when the situation improves by next year, the conventional way of visiting customers is still important. Although I admit, by using technology we save in some expenses, but I think in doing business, you can never not have that human interaction and physical engagement.

We plan to further digitize our operations and automate our processes. If I can automate and need less manpower, then I can focus more on highly capable technical people and produce more technical products.

In fact, with the current situation people become more sharpened, geared up and more driven to do their work properly because they know it is a state of survival. Moving forward, we are resuming our investment plans and have started working closely with MIDA, MATRADE to explore whatever platforms that are available to us. Recently, we have completed the assessment by MIDA on our readiness moving towards IR4.0. The government has been being supportive in industrial automation and advancement.

What would be your advice to new entrepreneurs out there?
Depending on what stage you are as a business owner, your readiness and maturity would be different, and you need to always revamp yourself and improve your business because the external market is always changing. You need to always be alert on what is happening around you and stay relevant to your market and customers. Venture into new areas and innovate, not only for yourself but also for your whole company.