Yap Leng Kuen Series | HareNet

A line of business born out of Mother’s Love

She was shopping for baby products for her three young children when it suddenly occurred to HareNet Marketing co-founder Ammie Chong that these could be a line of business too.

“Seeing myself buying and discovering new baby products for my children inspired me to venture into the baby product business,’’ said Ammie.

That was nine years ago; in 2014, her company was appointed exclusive distributor of Akarana Baby & ab New Zealand products from Auckland-based Akarana International.

With its philosophy of ‘love knows no boundaries,’ Akarana Baby itself was born with a purpose to bring love and strengthen the bond between parent and child.

In Malaysia, sales of Akarana baby products at HareNet have recovered 90% of the pre-Covid-19 level.

“Our organisation is pretty lucky that we have been on the e-commerce platform for several years now,’’ said Ammie.

Helping to cushion the impact from the pandemic is the cashflow from an IT-related business within the group; this has been quite resilient even in the current economic slowdown.

But Ammie is quite concerned over consumer spending in the next few months; the additional Bantuan Prihatin Nasional  2.0 may not help much as the moratorium on loans had ended on Sept 30, and consumers are expected to be cautious with spending.

While the volume of online sales continues to rise, based on data derived from HareNet’s various online stores, it comprises mainly small ticket items.

“Big ticket items are still important for us, especially those sold at the numerous physical stores,’’ said Ammie.

Ammie has noticed that customers these days seem to prefer buying products for indoor rather than outdoor use.

For example, a baby lounger or convertible high chair within the Akarana range, sells better than a stroller or car seat.

In view of the current pandemic, HareNet has introduced an organic kids respirator mask for children, to keep specks of dust and pollutants out of the way.

The mask also offers comfort, thanks to the built-in exhalation valve and soft elastic ties; it can be used along with a disposable PM2.5 activated carbon filter for strong protection.

Customers these days also prefer lower prices in the mass market; HareNet’s products are now made in China when it used to be imported from South Korea. Costs then were 2.5 times higher, compared to those made of similar quality in China.

The company uses a customer-focused pricing strategy where it gathers feedback from customers first on how much they believe the product is worth. It will then try to meet these  expectations.

Malaysia will be the focal point to spearhead the Akarana baby product business into other markets.

“We have an online store in Singapore, and are looking to expand to Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines and Brazil in the near future,’’ said Ammie.

This will be via e-commerce partnerships as digital commerce continues to grow at a rapid rate.

HareNet made its first foray into retailing in 2011; with the experience gained from working with an established brand owner and also manufacturer, it had quickly moved into the distribution business.

The company has hundreds of physical sales points throughout Malaysia; its retailers comprise mainly established baby chain and departmental, as well as independent baby specialty retail stores.

Akarana baby products are sold online in top e-commerce websites in Malaysia, including Shopee, Lazada, Zalora, Vettons and others.

At departmental stores, they can be purchased at, among others, Parkson Elite, Robinsons, Metrojaya, AEON, Sogo and The Bay Departmental Store.

Baby chain stores include Happikiddo, Mamours, Anakku, The Baby Shop, Tai Yaan Babyland and several other baby specialty stores throughout Malaysia.

“It’s an interesting industry as we have seen mother and baby products continue evolving over time; any parents-to-be will certainly be fascinated by it,’’ said Ammie.

As an example, while Gen X babies had used a shadowy foam mattress with pillow for lounging, Gen Z babies will have better, specifically made loungers like the Tuhinga organic baby lounger, which is more comfortable and safer.

As these lucky babies get to enjoy better, environment-friendly products, parents themselves too would want to give their little ones a happy and wonderful babyhood.  

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Yap Leng Kuen had a respected career as a senior business editor and widely read columnist speaking plainly, for the leading local newspaper. She continues to write Plain Speaking for The Star Online.

I am delighted to share her view points and insights, here.

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