Realising a Big Dream
Years ago, when one man took a step to further his studies in the United States of America and then decided to call it quits after only completing the first semester, it was no doubt a flip-flop decision on his part. But it was also the beginning of greater things to come for Jack Lim, entrepreneur extraordinaire, who has established the Fipper brand of flip-flops through his footwear company, Fipper Marketing SDN BHD in Malaysia and has since expanded into various parts of Asia. The passionate and visionary entrepreneur speaks to us about his humble beginnings, his endeavours and hopes for the future.
Humble beginnings did nothing to quench the spirit of Jack Lim – a man with a mission. He was born in Penang and later moved to Kuala Lumpur at the age of four. “I grew up in a rather modest environment. My father worked as an accounts executive while my mother was a housewife. Life was tough back then but it was also a memorable time for me,” says Lim, the brainchild of the Fipper brand of footwear.
After completing his secondary school education in 1996, Lim got an opportunity to pursue his education in Computer Science in the United States of America.
However, deep down inside him was the passion to be an entrepreneur. “Though I was young and somewhat naïve back then, I was aware that I needed big bucks to realise my dream. I had no idea about the kind of business that I would start but I was pretty determined. Thus, after completing my first semester, I made up my mind to quit school and started doing odd jobs as a first step towards realising my dream,” shares Lim. He went through the mill as a bus boy, a waiter and subsequently became a restaurant manager. Lim believed in going the extra mile in the jobs that he was in and he worked hard to achieve excellence.
As time went by, he discovered that commitment and responsibility is the key to success in anything and everything a person does in life. “Having the correct working attitude is essential for one to succeed,” he says. When Lim returned to Malaysia, he set about realising his dream and not long afterwards, he started his footwear business under the Fipper brand through Fipper Marketing Sdn Bhd.
“Back in 2008, there were only a handful of flip-flops players in the market and among them are iPanema, Riders and Havaianas. But all of them are selling their products at premium prices. I then saw the huge demand for affordable flip-flop footwear. This led me to venture into this business with three of my childhood good friends,” says Lim. Thereafter, they wasted no time in getting to Thailand to source for flip-flops materials and finally, natural rubber was chosen.
Fipper flip-flops are completely made out of natural rubber which is free from biphenol-A, an endocrine disruptor which can mimic the body’s own hormones and may bring about negative health effects for the foetus and infants. The footwear is comfortable, anti-microbial and has anti-slip properties. It is also environmental friendly as it is biodegradable, recyclable and washable.
Lim laments that during the early years not many were aware of the benefits of all natural rubber footwear and did not appreciate it. “We started off by getting the local vendors to distribute our products but that turned out to be our first challenge. Many turned us down due to the low profit margin as we controlled the selling prices for our Fipper flip-flops. But as time passed by, the demand for our products grew and in 2009, we managed to penetrate into the Carrefour hypermarket chain,” recalls Lim. In the following year, he set up the first Fipper retail outlet in 2010 in Sungei Wang Plaza, a large shopping complex in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. Currently, there are some 52 Fipper retail outlets in Malaysia that are also found in East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak.
“Initially, there was only the Fipper’s classic range but due to the high demand we now have more than 20 different ranges with hundreds of colour combinations to choose from,” says Lim.
Fipper has indeed grown dynamically into a brand that has expanded its exposure across Asia within its seven years of establishment and Lim takes pride in it being a Malaysian homegrown brand. “At first, our footwear products were supposed to be known as ‘Flipper’ but I found that to be quite a mouthful. After some thought, I decided to change it to ‘Fipper’ in the hope that it will become a household name for ‘slipper’ one day,” chuckles Lim. He reveals that Fipper has been embarking on an expansion plan to penetrate into other parts of Asia since 2011.
“We try to maintain our position as the leader in rubber flip-flops through continuous R&D and further re-innovations to our products to cater to the demands of the flip-flop lovers of today. We have spent a considerable amount of capital for R&D and our very own Fipper’s mould to yield unique and distinctive products. We subscribe to our motto: ‘In Order to Make Money, We Need to Spend Money’.”
Lim also adds that Fipper’s expansion plans carried out in Cambodia, Singapore, Vietnam, Brunei and Indonesia have been very encouraging. It is especially so in Bali, Indonesia where Fipper has opened eight retail outlets within a year. In view of the great demand, Lim is planning to set up Fipper’s Indonesia corporate office and warehouse in Bali to oversee all distribution channels in that country.
Fipper’s growing success that includes having won The World’s SMEs Best Brands Award for 2013, has not taken away the one quality that has enhanced Lim’s leadership effectiveness in the organisation – humility.
The company allows for, and promotes, creative and analytical thinking as Lim himself strongly believes that it is the only sure way for the company to progress meaningfully. “We encourage our staff to think out of the box and come up with innovative and cutting-edge ideas as their personal growth will spell success for the company as well,” he says.
Lim is also not the type of person who shies away from challenges without putting up a fight. “I would say I have gone through much in life, not fearing failure because it makes me stronger every time I encounter them,” he says with much conviction. This proves most useful to Lim in the business world as there will always be positive and negative comments following decision making. “Nevertheless, I take negative comments constructively and will think long and hard over them. I strive to improve from there.”
Besides his work, Lim has a passion for surfing. “I adore surfing! There is no greater feeling than that of being a part of the ocean. I feel like I’m on top of the world,” he says with a sparkle in his eyes.
When asked about his role model in life, Lim was quick to point out that it is his father. “My father definitely played a major role in my life. His family was a big one and my father was expected to fend for himself during his growing up years. He was perseverant, smart, hardworking and had led a principled simple life,” he says.
“I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I have definitely picked up after my father and I must say that without his guidance and advice, I won’t be where I am today.” Besides his father, Lim is also grateful for the support given to him by his friends and family ever since he began his journey to make his dream come true.
Lim believes that the greatest achievement of Fipper does not just lie in the success of the business itself, but also in the trust and confidence among the very committed teams and business partners who have believed in the dream and come alongside to realise it. Confident and passionate about what he does, Lim aims to emulate the success of Havaianas within the next 10 years.
“From a business perspective, I look forward to Fipper establishing its very own production lines soon and also more extensive regional distribution channels too. Nobody can predict the future but this I am sure – whatever happens, I am ever ready to move forward and keep the fire burning brighter than ever before,” he says with an unmistakeable note of determination in his tone.