Swee Lee CEO on revitalizing Singapore’s music scene

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THE SWEE LEE STORY

For the uninitiated, Swee Lee was founded in 1946 as a supplier of brass and woodwinds to the British military band. When the rock ‘n’ roll era took hold of the country in the 1950s, she began selling instruments such as guitars and drums.

Over the decades, Swee Lee has become the go-to store for musical instruments. Kuok himself bought his first guitar from Swee Lee. “It was a Fender Stratocaster, and I still have it today,” he recalls.

While the brand name was “a name a lot of people recognized,” not everyone had fond memories of Swee Lee, Kuok said. On the one hand, there was a perception that its products were expensive. The business still operated on the traditional model of high list prices, with discounts given in-store. Also, people were getting more and more accustomed to buying instruments online and an e-commerce platform was missing from Swee Lee’s business model.

Kuok saw an opportunity to turn things around and acquired the company in 2012. He was only 23 at the time. “Looking back on it, it was crazy. I was so young and wildly confident thinking that we would be able to make it what it is today,” he laughed.

But a plan was in motion. “There were small businesses in Singapore that were growing because an established company like Swee Lee was getting a bit sleepy in terms of the business model,” Kuok reflected. “There are incumbents and start-ups, aren’t there? What if you could think like a start-up, but own it? What if you could take a company like Swee Lee that’s been around for decades and make it more consumer-focused, introduce e-commerce, expand it in the region? »

Ten years after the acquisition, Swee Lee now stands as Asia’s largest music retailer, with e-commerce as a key pillar of the business. Additionally, Swee Lee’s retail footprint in Singapore has expanded to three stores in the country, selling a wide range of products including musical instruments, headphones, speakers, vinyl records, apparel , bags, shoes and more.

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