‘Corn Man’ shares secrets to success


To be successful across many markets, Kwok believes one’s business model must be transferable, and flexible enough for some localisation.To be successful across many markets, Kwok believes one’s business model must be transferable, and flexible enough for some localisation.

Nelson’s, owned by Nelson Franchise (M) Sdn Bhd, is undoubtedly one of Malaysia’s most successful homegrown brands. Nelson’s yellow-and-green logo and corn-y goodness can be found in 16 countries, where it has almost 1,000 outlets.

Nelson’s founder and managing director, self-labelled ‘Corn Man’ Dato’ Nelson Kwok, shares the five P’s that underpin Nelson’s success: “The first P is Product. Do you have the right products? Is the packaging unique? The second P is Pricing. It is affordable? Third P is Place – location, location, location. Fourth is People, the consumer and management team. Fifth is Promotion programme.”

He stresses the importance of the five Ps: “You cannot be short of one. The most challenging, of course, is having the ‘People’.”

In an interview for Talking Heads, a series on Malaysians who have successfully ventured overseas produced by the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU), Kwok shares his experience expanding Nelson’s from a single outlet to what it is today.

Nelson’s started in 1985 but for the first decade, it stayed pretty much a local player in the Klang Valley. It was only when it embarked on a franchising model that its business expanded rapidly, first to the rest of the country, and then abroad. Franchising, Kwok discovers, promptly overcame the manpower and capital constraints that had capped Nelson’s organic growth. Nelson’s franchising model is that of single-unit franchisee, whereby he works only with one master franchisee per country, except in huge countries like China. In Malaysia, it works with state master franchisees.

Nelson’s very first franchised outlet was in Penang 1997 and the success of that outlet drew the attention of individuals wishing to set up their own outlets in other parts of the country. The first Nelson’s outlet overseas was in Indonesia.

Kwok views the 10 years he spent as hands-on operators as critical. He believes it is the daily grind, the experience facing numerous challenges and learning from mistakes that formed the foundation of a sustainable profitable venture that is Nelson’s which he now shares with others via a franchising model.


Success in Saudi Arabia

Surprisingly, Nelson’s most successful market is Saudi Arabia, home to an impressive total of 500 outlets! Kwok recounts how it all started almost two decades ago when a Saudi man visited his outlet in Sungei Wang.

“He couldn’t speak English so we were talking using body language! He was a tourist to Malaysia, had tried our products at Sungei Wang and liked it. Slowly, he brought along family members who could speak English. It took about 1.5 years to close the deal.”

“That’s one thing I always highlight to people who want to expand overseas. You must be patient. Do not rush things. When they come to see you, it doesn’t mean you’ll close the sales the next day!” he says. The briefest period Nelson’s had taken to close an overseas deal was four months, he adds.

Kwok also believes on the importance of travelling to the market one wishes to expand into to better understand the potential market’s culture, the regulations, the behaviour of the consumers etc before appointing a franchisee or business partner.

“Doing international trade is not an overnight affair. You need to take time to find the right partner… Your instincts will tell you if that person will be a good partner for you. And of course you have to ensure that he’s capable financially. Does he have the interest to run the business, preferably hands on, and does he have the local knowledge and network?”

To be successful across many markets, Kwok believes one’s business model must be transferable, and flexible enough for some localisation.

“You must accept changes to suit the local tastes. Here, we flavour our corn with butter or margarine. In Saudi Arabia, they add in lime too because they’re used to that kind of taste. If it goes well with them, I say why not?” he shares.

Nelson’s key product is corn, which it supplies to its franchisees from its own farms in Malaysia. Other than that, the franchisees are free to localise content to lower costs, Kwok says.

Kwok encourages Malaysian entrepreneurs, especially business model owners, to travel extensively and to take part in exhibitions such as international franchise shows. “Having an international network is important. And you can build that through international exhibitions and by joining a trade association.”

He urges entrepreneurs to join local NGOs and trade associations. “Don’t just know how to do business and forget about contributing, taking part in the NGO or in the trade association. This is networking and will be very helpful for your business expansion overseas. By being part of a trade association, you’ll get instant recognition as a proven business in Malaysia.”

Malaysia, with its population of 30 million, is a small market. “Until a time, you have to go out,” Kwok says.

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