14 oct bt(online) aficionado pumps up the volume in carsDocument Transcript
The Business Times
14 Oct 2013
Aficionado pumps up the volume in cars
Aficionado pumps up the volume in cars
Russel Wong of Shok Industries turned his hobby into a niche business with export markets, writes
RUSSEL Wong drives a truck named Melody, bought for the sole purpose of housing what he says is
the biggest car sound system in Singapore.
What's more, it consists entirely of his own equipment; the 30-year-old is the owner of Shok
Industries, a car audio products and accessories business which exports all over the world.
Mr Wong sources for original equipment manufacturing (OEM) factories to make products to his
specifications, then looks for distributors to sell these products to.
"I am in a niche consumer electronics market," he says. "This appeals to the American, European and
Australian market as cars there are dirt cheap compared to Singapore prices."
Shok Industries currently has over 20 products in the market from cables to speakers. It exports to
places like the US, Canada, Australia, South America and the Caribbean Islands.
An audio aficionado since his secondary school days, Mr Wong had always dreamed of owning an
He planned how he would get there well in advance, mapping a route through Nanyang
Technological University (NTU)'s electrical engineering programme, followed by a stint at Creative
Technologies, before striking out on his own. "It seemed like the most logical path to take," he says.
Little did he know how drastically off course things would end up.
The car his parents gave him as a university gift, for instance, sparked an interest in car audio
Car audio soon became a serious hobby, with Mr Wong joining enthusiast forums like
mycarforum.com and his first car audio competition. This put him in contact with several local
At the same time, his poor performance in NTU meant that he was not able to enter the electrical
"People are on the dean's list (for good results). I was on the dean's wanted list to get kicked out of
school!" he laughs.
"I lost interest in studying," he continues. "But, you know, you need the degree."
His close contact with the local industry meant that it wasn't long before he got his first sales job
from a local distributor on mycarforum.
By his second year in school, he was missing classes to deliver goods. He flew to the United States to
take courses to learn about the industry there. Entering the industry as a complete greenhorn,
however, wasn't easy.
He recounts his first venture into manufacturing in his final year of university in 2008, where not
only did he not know how to ship his products, they also ended up unsaleable. When he approached
a supplier in China, he only had money to make the male side of a product. But customers wanted
products that came in pairs. "It was a very painful lesson," he sighs.
"Some shops just laugh you off. It was a hard time," Mr Wong says, describing how he would drive
around Singapore to all kinds of car audio shops with a small bag of goods. "This is where I learned
to be humble, and take a bit of humiliation."
In 2009, Mr Wong had his first real failure: a promising deal fell through after three months of
negotiation, sending him back to searching for a job.
However, things started to turn around when he decided to export to the US.
"The overseas market pays you back double," he enthuses. "Though you earn less, you go in volume,
because the market is bigger! And when you sell overseas, it creates a better image for you."
By 2010, Mr Wong had decided to focus on his business full-time, and was selling off his audio
collection to fund his business. That was the year Shok Industries finally took off.
Now he sells across the world to countries like Brazil and Australia. He even sponsors his products to
be used in car audio competitions.
With neither formal business training nor relatives or friends to consult, Mr Wong has made up for
his inexperience with passion. He knows audio brands in great detail, and has visited factories and
big-name players both in Singapore and abroad.
This lets him defy first impressions made by foreign contacts of being an ignorant Singaporean.
"They say, 'Oh my god, this guy knows everybody!'" he laughs.
He was also helped along the way by mentors, including George Woo of SJA Industries in California,
who taught him about manufacturing, and Simon Chua of Pacer Logistics, who took Mr Wong under
his wing when he was trying to export to the US.
Through its ups and downs, Mr Wong doesn't regret the road he's taken. He says he learnt to deal
with failure and make grounded decisions.
He uses Internet payments system PayPal to run his business, and says he likes it for its swiftness
and security in settling overseas payments.
Singaporean entrepreneurs often want to hire a lot of staff and get an office immediately - which Mr
Wong sees as misplaced priorities.
"You need to keep your overheads as low as possible," he says. "Yes, it looks impressive, but every
day, every month, you're losing money. What's the point of the business?"
Shok Industries' products go through a chain of distributors and dealers to get to customers, so
profit margins can be low.
Mr Wong thus does whatever he can himself, such as photographing his products and transporting
Naturally, Mr Wong's business, which requires irregular hours due to its global nature, has since
become his life.
He doubts this will change soon, speaking candidly of how it makes him "not exactly boyfriend
material". Neither does he want any distractions from a relationship: "You lose ideas, you lose
business," he says. He will only settle down if he can find a wife who will accept and support his
"I would say it's worth it because I am achieving a dream," he muses. "I am achieving a dream for
myself, and it's a sacrifice."
Right now, he is setting his mind to keeping his business afloat in a saturated market, and expanding
Asked to share some words of advice, he says that too much emphasis is placed on academics in
"If a person is unable to meet the standards locally, they think it's the end of the world. School is just
a 100-metre race. Life is the journey you take on after that race," he says.
"Thus I want people to know: even though you might not be able to excel in school, always keep
your head high, live life according to how you want it to be lived, not how others should deem life
should be, and follow your dream."