Austen Wong & Kevin Wong
Director & Asst. to Director of Woo Hing Brothers Watch Merchant (PENANG) Sdn. Bhd.
by Jeremy Tan
EVOLVING over the years but staying true to its core expertise, Woo Hing Brothers Penang has forged a truly timeless reputation as a choice purveyor of quality timepieces in the heart of George Town.
First established in 1950 along Campbell Street, one of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed city’s oldest commercial precincts, the family business is now in its fourth generation and attracts a loyal yet discerning clientele.
Austen Wong, who now runs the company as director, has been at the helm since 1978. Son Kevin came aboard a year ago, and together, they constantly explore new business avenues and tap into different markets to keep the success going.
According to the elder Wong, the name Woo Hing Brothers has a long heritage in the Malaysian watch-retailing scene. It all started in the early 1920s when his grandfather started a small shop in Johor amidst the booming luxury import industry.
An unfortunate fire accident saw the business relocated to Singapore by the 1930s, which significantly broadened its client base. Two decades later, his father Wong Siong Toon, along with three brothers and a sister, were running the business and capitalised on an expansion opportunity in Penang. The rest was history.
“Our business was primarily wholesale at first, but eventually focused on importing a range of low to high end luxury watches, purpose-built stopwatches and fine writing instruments.”
“We retailed for many Swiss-made watch brands and had the fun experience of selling and tuning imported, ornate grandfather clocks from Germany and Italy.”
“Over the decades there was a gradual transformation of the business and in 2008 were-invented ourselves as a boutique for two of the world’s most coveted luxury watch brands, Rolex and Tudor.”
“This showroom has been our base since day one, even before Malaysia gained her independence. The building, built much earlier, survived the Japanese occupation and has seen at least three renovations. We will continue to build on these foundations well into the future,” Austen says.
When he first took over, Campbell Street was full of family-run retail and wholesale businesses, dealing in medicine, jewellery, textiles, footwear, general merchandise, watches and more. While some of those still remain today, many have since been replaced by cafes and boutique hotels as the lifestyles of Penangites become increasingly sophisticated.
“Concentrating on our primary expertise has been key to our longevity. Diversifying never felt the right tactic. We know what we do best and stick to it”
Kevin, who ‘grew up’ surrounded by clocks and their chimes, is delighted to return to his roots and carry on the family legacy. He left for Melbourne, Australia, for studies a decade ago, and subsequently worked in human resources before deciding to take up the mantle here.
“When you’re overseas, you begin to appreciate things you have at home more, and not many have the option of a family business to be involved in. With it being successful for three generations already, you wonder what else you can contribute.
“While I’ve been around clocks and watches all my life, since I entered the business, I’ve developed a deeper passion in their intricacies. Quality timepieces are well crafted works of art that not only help you tell the time, but also reflect your personality.
“Some enjoy the finer things in life and are able to do so, and we take pride in catering to their needs,” notes Kevin, now 28.
“Our lives revolve around meaningful activities – ranging from leisure to family and work. One thing constant across all those is time, and watches remind us of the precious moments we spend on them.”
– Kevin Wong
Though larger watch outlets and chains are prevalent across shopping centres nowadays, he finds the more personalised experience accorded to customers that comes with being a standalone entity, highly rewarding.
“We seek to build long-term relationships with our clientele. We are able to engage with them personally, address their points of view, and help them make the right choices. Most importantly, they walk away happy.
“Even if they do not purchase anything during their visit, we try to ensure they leave getting something, even if it is as simple as a better understanding or appreciation of their favourite timepieces,” Kevin adds.
Woo Hing Brothers Penang’s offerings encompass a vast range of the two brands’ luxury pieces, and cater to various preferences.
Visit their boutique at No. 96 Campbell Street, George Town, 10100 Penang, Malaysia, anytime between 10.30am and 6.30pm from Monday to Saturday (closed on Sundays and Public Holidays). For more information, you may call 04-2615287.