99 Speedmart founder Lee Thiam Wah, and the history of the business


Drive through most neighborhoods and you’ll probably come across a 99 Speedmart on the corner. The convenience store brand is best known for its affordable prices with a wide range of options to meet your grocery needs.

Whether it’s the best mini-mart around is subjective, but for many it’s a reliable basic store that neighborhoods can depend on, so it’s no wonder you’ve found enough popularity to open more than 1,500 stores in Malaysia. . In 2020 it was reported that the brand has also opened 3 outlets on the road.

The man behind his successes is Lee Thiam Wah, who founded the convenience store 32 years ago.

No legs, no problems

Lee was born with poliomyelitis, a disease of his central nervous system, and by the age of eight months was already tied to a wheelchair for life.

With ten siblings in a low-income household, her construction worker father and traveling mother worked 24 hours a day to feed them, leaving them without time to care for Lee.

Due to his disability, he had to drop out of school after his primary schooling as the secondary schools were too far from home for him to travel. “Angry with this condition, I envied my brothers while watching them lead a normal life. They would go to school, play sports and hang out with friends while I could do nothing but sit, ”he revealed to The star in 2017.

Lee approached his grandmother, who would nurture him and encourage the then-teen to find his own way. He told Lee that he was only physically and mentally disabled; she was smart, and she said she could still use her hands to do so much more.

Lee’s First Store / Image Credit: 99 Speedmart

His words surprised Lee, who realized that no one in his family had pursued anything in the business world before. This inspired him to make some money selling snacks on his porch.

Saving what he earned with these sales, he opened his first miscellaneous product store called Pasar Raya Hiap Hoe in 1987 at the age of 23, with a capital of RM 17,000. That was its beginning retail training where he knew what customers would buy and what they would connect with suppliers to know their prices.

All of this would be useful after running your mini-mart empire.

If it is not 100, then 99

5 years later, Lee sold his miscellaneous store (according to $ 88,000) Forbes, RM38,000 seconds Enterprise Asia, 30,000 RM seconds Threshold) and opened a mini-mart called Mini Market 99 and Klang Utama. He wanted the challenge of running a bigger business and so he chose to build a mini-marts chain.

“If you don’t have scale, you can’t compete with Chinese medicine wards in terms of prices, and you can’t compete with hypermarkets in terms of scope,” he said. In 1998, it was expanded to have another 8 outlets around Klang, and in 2000, the employer changed the name of the store to what we now know as 99 Speedmart.

The name is also symbolic for Lee: “We chose the number 99 because it implies that while we are not perfect, we still want to offer our customers the best services and products we have at a competitive price,” he told The. Star.

In true Asian fashion, the near-perfect score of 99 also reminds Lee that there is always room for improvement.

Products sold in the store / Image credit: 99 Speedmart

99 Speedmart keeps its prices low by selling products of smaller sizes. With experience running his store, Lee knew exactly which fast-moving goods had high turnover rates and would stock up on them.

During the early days of the brand, however, the profit margins of certain products were sacrificed to sell them at the lowest possible price. Still, he helped consolidate the brand’s reputation with Lee tediously overseeing its operations. The employer also had a good relationship with suppliers and avoided dragging out payments, which is why the larger supermarkets were supposedly famous.

With Lee, sellers were able to collect their payments within 30 minutes for a previous order by leaving a new stock of products at the outlets. Suppliers appreciated Lee’s strong business reputation.

Under his leadership, 99 Speedmart expanded rapidly and had 100 stores in 2008. In 2011, they achieved this. 1 billion RMS in sales with 300 stores at your fingertips. Based on its growth from the 500 stores registered in 2013 and 600 in 2014, it could be said that 2 outlets would open each week.

In 2017, Lee held his 1,000th store in section 13 of Shah Alam, Selangor. While the exact number of current 99 Speedmart stores is not conclusive, at least there are 1,500 around Malaysia, and 3 that opened in Singapore in 2019.

There are no signs of slowing down

The sign we all know / Image credit: 99 Speedmart

Despite not having an e-commerce site, 99 Speedmart was still one of the top options for physical grocery shopping during the 2020 MCO. The low-budget supermarket was prosperous, as 39% of Malaysian consumers (who were) respondents in a Vase.ai survey) bought their groceries at 99 Speedmart.

The other 40% and 21% would get their groceries at mom-pop and Tesco stores respectively.

According to The Edge in 2014, Lee had no plans to enter hypermarkets or supermarkets. To remain competitive, it plans to follow what it knows by growing its mini-markets.

  • You can learn more about the 99 Speedmart here.
  • You can read about other startups in Malaysia here.

Featured Image Credit: Facebook / Wikipedia

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