Viteysatya Seng is pragmatic when it comes to selling tyres. In fact, he’s verging on simplistic when it comes to describing them. “They’re all basically the same – black and round,” he quips.
“It’s the technology behind them that creates the difference and it’s that difference that can ultimately save your life.”
At just 31 years of age, faced with not only managing his first business but also introducing a global franchise, the General Manager of TYREPLUS in Cambodia understands he’s in for a challenge trying to convince the average Cambodian driver to pay a little more for safety.
He knows it’s all about the price when a customer walks through the door and while he’s happy to cater to that market, he’s making sure TYREPLUS offers a whole lot more. “For most on a middle or lower income, they just get whatever tyre they can afford,” he explains.
“In general, that’s a Tier 3 tyre. But we’re also offering Tier 1 and Tier 2 tyres along with servicing and other products.” For the uninitiated, Tier 3 is considered entry level for all segments of tyres; the value brands marketed specifically for consumers more concerned with price than brand, and Viteysatya is offering plenty of those.
However, with his launch of the TYREPLUS franchise in Phnom Penh, he’s also carrying Tier 1 tyres comprising major brands such as Michelin, along with Tier 2 BFGoodrich, all of which sport higher price tags.
“As yet, Cambodian consumers aren’t aware of the importance or the benefit of tyre safety,” he concurs. “This is where we will provide sales and technical advice they can understand and trust because, unless they are familiar with the brand and its benefits, they are drawn to cheaper options even if they can afford more. It’s our job to educate, not just sell. We want to advise on the best quality and effectiveness of a tyre suited to their driving habits.”
Viteysatya has become passionate about tyres after drifting into the business four years ago from a career in power solutions and applications including fire protection, alarms and air conditioning.
He was recruited by Michelin as Product Marketing Manager, discovering very quickly that there was much more to his product than meets the eye. Prior to that, Viteysatya had no idea about the extraordinary engineering involved in producing a tyre to ensure the right one is fitted to the right car to meet performance requirements.
“Of course, from a marketing perspective, I recognised tyres as a great consumable product, because everyone who drives a vehicle needs them,” he explains. “What I didn’t know was that there are so many different methods and techniques in producing a tyre. It’s actually not just a simple product, it’s a very, very technical product and I found that fascinating.”
After spending more than two years with Michelin, Viteysatya became Cambodia’s first franchise manager for TYREPLUS, a one-stop shop for automotive needs. He launched the first store in October last year, followed by the second in March, just seven kilometres away.
He divides his time between the two to lead a team of 20 skilled mechanics and technicians, who are all trained to advise on the range of premium, mid-range and budget car tyres or offer servicing, repairs, wheel alignment, spare parts and batteries.
It’s actually not just a simple product, it’s a very, very technical product and I found that fascinating.
Viteysatya admits that while he learned a lot about tyres at Michelin, he faced a steep learning curve at TYREPLUS to get an understanding of the extra services and products on offer. He called on his own team of experts to familiarise himself with vehicles, their parts and the cutting-edge machinery used to service them, which meant getting out onto the workshop floor.
“I can now fit a tyre, remove it, do wheel alignments, balancing and change the brake fluid,” he says. “I learned all of that from my team. My belief is that if I am going to be a leader in this business, I need to know every aspect of its operations, from what happens in the workshop to what happens in the office.
But we’re learning from each other because I am also teaching them. “I want my staff to do more than just sell; I want them to understand the benefits of different tyre brands so they can educate their customers. I love improving people; I share my knowledge and coach them. I’ve always done that, no matter where I’ve worked. It’s my favourite thing.”
Boasting slick avant-garde premises equipped with smartly uniformed staff, TYREPLUS quickly captured attention and business, encouraging Viteysatya to envisage another 30 franchises opening over the next five years. “That’s our objective,” he affirms.
“We want to showcase our initial shops first to let people know we are a stand-out one-stop shop offering multiple car solutions, not just tyres, with standard operating procedures. We need to get that recognition. Then, when franchisees want to get on board, we’ll train them in retail and provide all the support needed to develop their shops.”
The best ideas don’t always go to plan though and COVID-19 quickly thrust a spanner in the works. With the first shop showing enormous promise, the second was launched just as the coronavirus pandemic hit, bringing potential consumer traffic to a halt.
Viteysatya concedes that while business was effectively quashed, his dreams are still very much alive. “Our second shop was a huge investment and sure, it never really got off the ground,” he says.
“People didn’t walk through the doors and they stopped coming to my other store. But I am confident we will bounce back and that this new business will attract investors. Once they familiarise themselves with my shop and see its success, more franchisees will come. I am sure of it.”
The pandemic also forced Viteysatya to postpone the Master of Commerce he’s completing online with Australia’s Charles Sturt University. He’s halfway through his studies, which are teaching him more about finance management, global business, accounting and marketing.
“It’s helped me a lot, as I have found the components of the course align well with the practical experience that I’m gaining from running TYREPLUS. I can apply everything I’m learning to my day-to-day business,” Viteysatya enthuses.
“My biggest challenge is time management. It’s been tough launching a business and studying and I’ve had to do a few overnighters. But it’s definitely worth the sacrifice.”
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