There is a Chinese saying that describes those who have no concept of fear. 初生之犊不怕虎. Literally translated, it means, “A new born calf has no fear of the tiger”.
This is the perfect description of twin brothers Vincent and Eric Tan, when they first embarked on their entrepreneurial journey over two decades ago.
Today, the 52-year old brothers manage FotoHub, an innovative photo processing and leading imaging company, which has since become an established name amongst Singaporeans.
Born in a kampong at Lim Chu Kang, Vincent and Eric were the youngest of six siblings. They would help their father who worked in a poultry farm daily, by feeding the poultry and collecting eggs.
“We worked hard every day, even during Chinese New Year,” Vincent recalls. “It was not easy.”
Reminiscing their entrepreneurial journey, the brothers are proud to have come this far.
From Dark Room to Photo Lab
Fascinated by pictorials in photography magazines when they were younger, they were inspired to set up their own mini dark room so that they could try their hands at developing the photos they took.
As photo-processing materials were costly then, the pair tried to earn additional cash by taking wedding photos. They would send the wedding photos to the Kodak main lab to process because of its print quality. However, the cost was very high.
They saw a business opportunity then.
“The processing cost per photo was about a dollar per piece which was very expensive, The customers also had to wait a few days before the photos were ready for collection,” says Eric. “It was simply not efficient.”
“We saw the opportunity to start our own processing lab. There were not many minilabs in Singapore during that time that could produce good quality prints. With our own lab, we can have better control over the print quality,” Vincent adds.
Hence, armed with $20,000 from savings and loans, the brothers launched their first store in 1987.
Relationships that build Trust
Like every other business, contacts are undeniably the most crucial and the brothers had to learn this the hard way.
With their first store located on the third floor of Coronation Shopping Plaza and their competitor situated on the lower levels, plus a lack of contacts, the twins struggled to attract customers.
“I remember sitting at the store waiting and waiting endlessly for customers to appear with film for processing. We were at a loss,” says Vincent.
“We would print promotional leaflets and flyers, and request our friends to distribute them to the household in the Bukit Timah Area just to get our name into the market,” Eric explains.
Things got worse when Vincent decided to further his studies just four months after opening the store.
However, unfazed by these challenging situations, the brothers would treasure every opportunity to engage with their customers. They would share photo-taking techniques with clients and recommend the appropriate camera settings to achieve the best prints.
Over time, word went out about their business and their customer base began to grow. The brothers also recognise that in today’s highly competitive business environment, building good relationships with their customers is more important than ever.
“With so many choices to choose from, the power lies in the hands of our customers today. If you the service provided was bad and do not leave a lasting impression, you will be filtered out,” Vincent advises.
Holding relationships so dearly, it is no surprise that the brothers bond have remained tight since the start of the partnership.
When asked if they felt the business would have been such as success if they went in alone, they both agreed that they would not be where they are today if not for the support of the other.