Though I’m a homebody, I do enjoy getting some fresh air outdoors every once in a while. However, I find that a good pair of sneakers or hiking equipment can be rather pricey, and other beginners may feel the same reluctance to invest in what may just be a fleeting interest.
This hesitancy to invest in expensive, high-quality outdoor gear is even shared by those who are more active.
Which is why in 2017, with just a single laptop and a kitchen table as a workspace, Mike Chu took it upon himself to code an online marketplace selling high-quality outdoor equipment at affordable prices.
Today, it’s known to over 260,000 of its followers on Facebook as PTT Outdoor.
An adventure-seeker from young
Even prior to founding PTT Outdoor, you could find Mike going on micro-adventures to escape from classes during his student years. As outdoor gear was out of his budget back then, he soon learnt that not properly equipping himself in the wild could lead to dangerous repercussions.
These experiences never left his mind, so after graduating from university, Mike picked up a job for a while to accumulate savings. With RM8,000 as capital, he then started PTT Outdoor.
The “PTT” in its name stands for the 3 core values within the company: persistence, tenacity, and toughness. These values have driven the team in building PTT Outdoor into what it is today as one of the more well-known outdoor equipment companies in Malaysia.
Throughout our interview, Mike, being the outdoors lover he is, would draw several parallels between running his business and navigating the wild. Here, he likened the above values to the mindset he embodies when scaling mountains and reaching their peaks.
Applying outdoor advice to business practices
There’s a saying in the skiing world, where if you want to avoid hitting a tree, then don’t focus on the trees but the snowy path ahead. This metaphor applies to Mike’s approach in staying ahead of his closest competition for affordable outdoor gear, Decathlon and Sports Direct.
“When we first started, we always considered them as our competitors and that we wanted to be as big as them. But, I soon realised that the market is huge and we can all co-exist without having to compete with each other,” Mike stated.
So, he decided to focus more on the gaps within the outdoor adventure community, particularly on hiking, camping, and trail running. Paying attention to providing quality customer experience was also a high priority as Mike knew it was something his team of 15 could excel at.
This has likely paid off, as the brand’s Facebook reviews have maintained a 4.9-star rating for a significant period of time. Mike also believes that PTT Outdoor’s attention to customer service was a factor that has contributed to the brand’s growth over 4 years.
Back to the topic of competition, Mike added he believes that it isn’t a bad thing, since it pushes his brand to be more innovative and can inspire perseverance within the team.
“Competition is an amazing catalyst to growth if it’s taken well. Even trees in forests compete for sunlight, but they can co-exist as well,” he commented.
In-house stress tests for quality assurance
On PTT Outdoor’s website, it states that all items retailed have been well tested before being put on the shelves.
Mike explained that the brand has its own in-house product testers who will examine the gear in different outdoor conditions.
The samples are provided by PTT Outdoor’s brand partners, who will then mass-produce the products in Malaysia, China, Indonesia, and Vietnam once a green light has been given.
PTT Outdoor has achieved economies of scale, which is why they can sell outdoor gear at more affordable prices.
Did you know: Economies of scale are cost advantages reaped by companies when production becomes efficient. Companies can achieve economies of scale by increasing production and lowering costs. This happens because costs are spread over a larger number of goods.
Thus, when comparing the prices of outdoor gear from PTT Outdoor against Decathlon and Sports Direct, you may actually find that PTT Outdoor’s items are either equal to or slightly lower than its competitors.
Looking at camping tents, PTT Outdoor’s options range from RM169-RM449, Decathlon’s at RM199-RM749, while Sports Direct’s are RM169-RM249. PTT Outdoor’s offerings can be most closely compared to Sports Direct’s, but the benefit you’d find from the Malaysian brand is the availability of more options.
No hurry to expand offline
It’s been 4 years since PTT Outdoor’s launch in November 2017, and the brand doesn’t have any retail outlets but its single warehouse cum showroom in Ipoh. The space is where people can walk in to browse and purchase items.
Furthermore, Mike has no plans to expand further into the physical retail world.
He believes that staying online has provided his brand with more accessibility to customers, no matter the city or state they’re in. It will also aid PTT Outdoor in its future global expansion too, which Mike is hoping to venture into after the brand has secured its roots locally.
“Plus, the online space has ample unexplored opportunities, like Facebook announcing their plan to create metaverse, AI, VR. I mean, you might be able to experience a PTT Outdoor VR showroom in the near future,” Mike imagined.
This strategy has worked, as evidenced by PTT Outdoor becoming profitable in just its third month after launching.
The funds have since been reinvested into improving its product range and quality, making PTT Outdoor a wholly bootstrapped business. Although Mike was unable to disclose the company’s sales numbers, he reported that its Year-on-Year growth stands at 32%.
To grow the brand, Mike will focus on increasing PTT Outdoor’s product range to gradually offer even more options to his customers.
Our goal, since the beginning, has never changed. We aim to inspire adventures for outdoor enthusiasts by providing affordable premium gears with minimal environmental impact. That is our true north within the company.
Mike Chu, founder and director of PTT Outdoor.
Featured Image Credit: Mike Chu, founder and director of PTT Outdoor
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