As a business that supplies 85% of its products — refurbished and reconditioned laptops — to physical PC and smartphone shops, things started to turn grim for APR Electronic Services Sdn Bhd (APRES) when the movement control order (MCO) was announced.
Due to the nature of its business, sales decreased by 75%. But the good news, says APRES director and founder Danny Ng Theng Wei, is that while one market diminished, another was being created.
APRES started receiving a lot of inquiries online for laptop rentals as more people were forced to work and study from home and many found there were not enough laptops to go around.
Ng had already been using search engine optimisation (SEO) tools such as Google AdWords so that APRES would pop up first when people searched for laptop rentals, even before the MCO.
“We take orders online on certain platforms such as Lazada, Shoppe and our own platform as well. We noticed an increase in online orders but it doesn’t help make up the losses,” he says.
“We’ve been doing [e-commerce] for two to three years but it has not really picked up because we didn’t focus heavily on that until now. Now, it is necessary and we’re building on it.”
Ng tells Enterprise that while the company’s immediate challenge was payment collection from offline clients, another challenge that has emerged as its online business picked up is insufficient manpower. With more manpower, he says, the company would be able to handle more requests and reducing the turnaround time on processing a laptop by a great deal.
In addition, the company has difficulty sourcing parts for the laptop because with the MCO, the supply chain has been affected and most of the parts suppliers are not operating. A large portion of the company’s time is spent on waiting for parts to arrive either from within Malaysia or from other countries.
“One of the more effective countermeasures that we implemented is to have laptops and PCs couriered to the homes of our staff who then repair and refurbish them. Our staff then courier the laptops back to a centralised location where they will be compiled and updated as stock.
“We held numerous online meetings, came up with systems and mapped out a series of countermeasures. We have tri-weekly meetings, utilising an online monitor software to communicate and update each other on the stock status,” he says.
APRES is a subsidiary of APR Capital Holding and is currently one of the larger companies in Malaysia that focuses on refurbishing and reconditioning laptops. The company works closely with all of the Tier 1 original equipment manufacturers (OEM), large corporate companies and many global clients. In short, it handles the 4Rs of IT hardware — refurbish, repair, recycle and reuse.
Ng says 90% of the company’s staff is working from home. Right now, the company is operating online and converting some of its offline sales online as well. When a sale is confirmed, APRES’ staff will log in remotely to issue an invoice. Its technical staff will send out the products from their homes.
“Some of our customers are larger corporates and MNCs that are encouraging their staff to work from home using laptops,” he says.
But in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, Ng says the company decided it is time for them to do a bit more for Malaysia, especially for lower income earners, so that they could also work from home and earn a living.
From the initial daily rental price of RM150, the company is offering laptops to rent for only RM5.99 per day. There is no minimum order quantity needed, he adds, thus allowing them to rent just a single unit. But there is a deposit of RM600 to RM650 (depending on the laptop specifications) to be paid, which will be refunded once the laptop is returned in good condition.
“We have been doing laptop rentals for about 19 years and this is the first time we are bringing the rates this low to RM5.99 daily. We really wanted to help single moms and others working from home because they struggle to put up the deposit.”
Ng says this offer started three weeks ago, where he shared it to different online communities. From there, quite a number of companies reached out for machines as they foresee the MCO continuing for a while.
“About 80 to 90% are renting the laptops for a period of two to three months. We’re struggling to meet the demand because of the difficulty in obtaining parts. Currently, we have over 600 units to be refurbished,” says Ng.
Now, the company is going back to its roots and using its “traditional method” of swapping out bad parts with good ones from other available devices. “We no longer use [this method] because we realised it’s better to put in new working parts for the user. But we needed to go back to this to fulfil the online orders coming in, just so the devices rented out can last for a while.”
The offer is open to children who have been forced to move their classes online, as the laptops can support Zoom meetings.
As an SME, Ng says the biggest challenge moving forward is the management of cash flow and efficiency of debt collection. However, he is focusing on the positives the company is seeing, including worker solidarity and digitisation of the company’s operations.
“To me, the two biggest gains for us during the MCO would be seeing my colleagues working whole-heartedly in handling customer’s requests, sometimes at odd hours from their homes. To me, this lockdown has brought the hearts of our staff together and as an entrepreneur, this is touching to observe,” he says.
“[We are also] creating a more systematic approach to monitoring our performance remotely. This systematic working process and platform monitoring will enable us to scale more easily and work smarter.”
Ng says he is appreciative of some of the measures and initiatives put in place by the government to help SMEs as he believes that the stimulus package will help in reducing a portion of an employer’s burden. However, a longer-term countermeasure is really about how the company changes the way it operates, controls its costs and provides a low-cost solution for the IT needs of people in Malaysia.
The company is applying for the wage subsidy made available by the government under the second stimulus package for SMEs, where employees with an income below RM4,000 are entitled to a wage subsidy between RM800 and RM1,200 from the government.