As befitting a man in charge of helping others store their belongings, Mr Heng Tze Kiang’s desk is exceptionally neat. A computer and a lone document’s tray, sparely filled, are the only items visible. Everything else seems to have been stored away.
“If you think I’m neat, you should meet my wife,” smiles the General Manager of StorHub. “I learnt how to organise and put things away at home from her. She has a box for everything and each box is labelled.”
Relying on a Store of Experience
The Real Estate graduate from the National University of Singapore (NUS) did not plan on a career in the self-storage business. Even going into real estate was pure serendipity.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do then,” Mr Heng confesses.
His first job was at UGL Premas, a real estate services company he stayed with for the next 12 years. The time he spent in the company, which saw him being posted to Qatar and then to Shanghai to head the operations there, provided a valuable store of experience. By the time he took over the helm of StorHub in 2011, Mr Heng was well-versed in many aspects of the business.
“My previous postings gave me a well-rounded learning path. I was involved in running the operation and facilities, marketing, and business development. All these complement what I now do at StorHub,” he says.
The challenges of the new job, however, were still many.
“The self-storage business is different. It is not really real estate; neither is it retail. It has more to do with B2C (business to consumer) than B2B (business to business). Learning how to appeal to a wide general public was a steep learning curve for me.”
Endless Possibilities in Store
Another challenge his new post presented came two years later when StorHub, a pioneer in the self-storage business in Singapore, capped its decade in the country by acquiring Big Orange, another self-storage company in July 2013. With that, StorHub added four facilities to its portfolio to make it the largest self-storage business in Singapore. It now has 10,000 storage units across 11 facilities spanning over 1 million square feet. StorHub, a wholly-owned subsidiary of CapitaLand Group, manages an asset portfolio of S$170 million and has businesses both here and in China.
“The acquisition was a strategic move. With it, we were able to double in size and become number one. But it also meant that we had the challenge of merging the two different working cultures,” says Mr Heng.
However, six months of talking to the staff, laying down clear expectations and targets, and mapping out standard operating procedures have reaffirmed StorHub’s customer-oriented stance.
“What made it all the more challenging was that during that time, I just got married,” shares Mr Heng, who tied the knot a year ago with his girlfriend of nearly two decades. “I had to forego my honeymoon.”
Today, StorHub boasts a brand new logo and an updated website to reflect that customer-centred focus.
“We are not just about selling space. At StorHub, we journey with you from beginning to the end. We want to make storage space an extension of your lifestyle and home.”
His eyes glisten with excitement when he cites the many possibilities storage spaces provide: a personal gym, a hobby room, a playroom, and even a place for entertainment like a games room for kids.
“We want to create more awareness of the possibilities. Being the largest, we can provide different space options at competitive prices.”
Expanding the Store Abroad
The business has expanded into China as well. StorHub has a facility in Shanghai with plans for more.
“China is where we were when we started introducing self storage to Singapore 10 years ago. Over there, businesses use our services as StorHub gives them the flexibility to scale their space requirements up or down without incurring too much cost,” shares Mr Heng.
Mr Heng is optimistic about StorHub’s China operation.
“We are the first to be so highly visible and accessible. We are right next to an expressway. We also own our buildings which gives us greater credibility and stability in terms of our offerings and prices.”
Managing the Store and More
Taking care of operations in Singapore and China mean that Mr Heng is out of the country up to a week every month. To manage business on both sides, he relies on an open, communicative style of leadership.
“My door is always open. My staff can come in and talk to me anytime. I always remind them that they are free to challenge me but they also have to substantiate their views.”
“I will not expect them to do things I won’t do and I see myself as part of the team. I have learnt the value of leading by example during my OCS (Officer Cadet School) days while doing my NS (National Service),” he says.
A Store of Precious Memories
He also attributes much of who he is to his upbringing.
“My parents taught me to be open and honest, and to value hard work,” Mr Heng shares.
His father was retrenched by his company after 20 years of service because he did not have a university degree. Mr Heng, then in his teens, had to help the senior Mr Heng in the trading business that he set up from scratch.
“My younger brother and I would help him pack chocolates in his small warehouse on weekends. My mother, who was a homemaker, chipped in, too, by doing the administrative work and the accounts for the business.”
The family business eventually prospered. When he turned 21, his father gave him a watch which he treasures till this very day.
“Most of the things I store are in my memory, like the holiday we took as a family to Germany, Switzerland and Austria,” he says.
Other happy moments he has stored in his memory are of the time spent with his wife.
“Our shared interests in music and, in our younger days, joy rides in my car,” lists Mr Heng. “And now, our cooking sessions on weekends.”
Mr Heng is a self-taught chef inspired, he admits, by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.
“I find it fun and therapeutic to cook. My mom used to kick me out of the kitchen so I became very curious about cooking. I think being able to cook is part of the reason my wife agreed to marry me,” he says with a grin.
In life as in work, Mr Heng has everything stored in its proper place; and a proper place in store for everything. This is certainly a fine place to be for the man who plans to revolutionalise the self-storage business in the region.