Robert Liong – Mapping the Future of a Fragrance Empire
Most of us are familiar with perfume brands such as Casablanca, Bellagio and Regazza that widely available on the shelves of your traditional and modern retail outlet across Indonesia. You might even watch the TVC of these brands that feature foreign talents on your local network. However, you probably be surprised to learn that these perfume brands are locally produced by PT Priskila Prima Makmur, one of the largest perfume manufacturing companies in South-East Asia, with two production facilities in Kapuk Muara, Jakarta and Sentul, Bogor.
The company was founded in 1980 by Liong Juen Fat, a man who was passionate about perfumes and scents. He named the company Priskila after his wife, the love of his life. It was also the year when his son, Robert Liong, was born. Priskila started from its humble beginnings as a small-scale manufacturer with a retail outlet in Pasar Pagi (Morning Market). “I presume, it was the year my Father realised he had to start his own company to have a stable life,” says the 38-year-old Robert Liong.
For years, his father would head before sunrise to the traditional market where he ran the small retail outlet selling perfumes and cosmetics. He opened early to ensure customers would visit his shop first and closed after normal business hours. Afterward, he did the production at home and managed his paperwork until dawn.
“If you are passionate with what you are doing, it’s like when you fall in love with a person. Each and every day your mind will focus on it”
“About 30 years ago, we lived in a 90 square metre house in Muara Karang. The small house is where it all started. The living room was the production area and the garage functioned as the warehouse. My playground was a home-industry scaled perfume factory. I used to help the workers to fold and pack the perfumes into the boxes. That’s where I grew up. It was a home full of memories,” recalls Robert.
At the age of 13, his father would take him to the shop where he learns about inventory and purchasing for daily operation, as well as managing bank transactions. “So more or less I learned the business process since the very early days. Thus, it’s in my DNA to become a businessman,” says Robert.
The company was registered as a limited liability company in 1990 and started the export business during the Financial Crisis in 1997. In 2002, Priskila initiated a partnership with modern retail outlets nationwide as they continue to develop and expand the product line to adapt to changing trends and taste. Since 2004, the company started their own distribution channel nationwide. Then in the late 2000’s, Priskila launched their premium line products with Bellagio Homme in 2008 and Regazza Femme in 2010. During this period, the company also started to partner up with personal-care product manufacturers across the globe to expand its business.
While in college, Robert admitted that he was not the most brilliant student, but he managed to pass his grades and graduated from Monash University, Australia with a Bachelor of Computer Science Degree. In 2002, he joined the company as a full-time professional, and with his knowledge, he revamped the business system. He analysed the staff daily routine and discovered ways to improvise with the help of a computer program that he designed. However, as the business grew larger, he took action for the company to apply the ERP system and partnered with Metrodata to implement an integrated system that able to generate a report in a single click.
Today, Robert and his brother, Ronny Liong are the 2nd generations running the company that controls two state-of-the-art production facilities with the total size of over 850,000 square metre, and a distribution network that expanded across the archipelago with offices in 19 cities, as well as export business to Africa, Middle East, and ASEAN.
“We have our own slogan 'Work, Work Hard, Work Smart'. There is no other way to reach success, the only way is to keep working, even if sometimes we failed, don't give up, get up and work,” says Robert with passion.
Maintaining Business Continuity
Specialises in toiletries, personal care products and cosmetics for the premium mass market, Priskila is a domestic market leader that able to compete with international brands. The company continues to innovate and satisfy their customers by maintaining a fresh product range and constantly improving the distribution network to reach consumers more effectively.
Its pioneering product Casablanca, made for the mid-range segment, is inspired by French perfume fragrance. Even though Casablanca is Priskila's longest-running brand, the company continue to innovate and rejuvenate the products. In order to attract various market segments, the company produces eye-catching product designs. For its premium brands Bellagio and Regazza, the concept is simple yet luxurious, while its mass-market brands Camellia and Marie Jose carry bright and colourful prints.
To compete in the international brands the company have to maintain quality and reputation on the consumer’s eye. “It’s all about quality, in general people understand the value of a product based on their experience and willingness to spend on the specific product,” says Robert.
According to Robert, the positioning of Priskila's products are executed soundly. The company continues to explore and expand their product range. Recently, they launched hair care products such as pomade, and a full range of cosmetics products such as lipstick, mascara, compact powder, bb cream and make-up remover. The market responds to the new products has been positive and the company is extremely satisfied. As for the fragrance range, in the near future, the company is planning for new launches to grab the Millennial market, which is a new challenge for Priskila.
Looking Into The Future
Travelling is one of the ways for Robert to find inspiration for his products. He loves to see the latest trends in the cosmetic industry. Every year, he would attend exhibitions, and even when he is on vacation abroad with his family, he spares his time to see the perfume and cosmetics products in the shops or any retailers that he comes across. “If you are passionate with what you are doing, it’s like when you fall in love with a person. Each and every day your mind will focus on it,” says Robert.
Although he is satisfied with what he achieved, he admits that his journey is far from over and he will not stop. According to Robert, staying in comfort zone is worse than failure. In the next 5 years he is planning to expand not just in the cosmetics business, but also entering the hotel industry that should be completed before 2020 in Semarang and Bali. Currently, he is also conducting a feasibility study to develop a hotel in Jakarta.
Spirit of Nationalism
In commemorating the Indonesian Independence day, one should acknowledge that Priskila's products and brands are important ambassadors that elevate the nation’s pride on the international stage. Robert has managed to bring his father's company for the future.
Reflecting the meaning of independence for the new generation, Robert stressed that the word Merdeka (freedom) doesn't imply that a person is free to do whatever they please. According to him, it is a word that people often mislead, as often when someone refers to Merdeka, it means that their boss or parents are not watching, thus people tend to be unproductive.
“The real meaning of Merdeka is when you able to spend your time wisely for something useful, yet you enjoyed it. When you’re an entrepreneur, every day is free. How you handle and manage your time, the end results will explain,” Robert concluded.
Cycling is one of Robert Liong's favourite sports because it involves wheels, good for the heart, and give him the opportunity to see the city at a slower pace. Since 2010, on average he cycles about 50 kilometres every week, and sometimes he participates in bike trip overseas.
Besides Perfume and cosmetics, Robert Liong's other passions are watches and supercars. For watches, he collects brands such as Rolex, BRM, Valbray, Panerai, Audemars Piguet, Cabestan, FP Journe, Ulysse Nardin. But nowadays he only focuses on one brand, Richard Mille. While for cars he noted that each brand has its own characters, and it all depends on the occasion. He enjoys driving Mercedes-Benz AMG, Porsche, Ferrari, McLaren, but nothing beats the sound of Lamborghini and the power of Bugatti.
Travelling is part of Robert Liong's lifestyle, especially the last three years. He spends time outside of Jakarta, either for work or leisure. His favourite destinations are Bali and Milan.