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Banking on a passion for jewellery

Pawnbroker ValueMax aims to grow here and in Malaysia following its October IPO, reports LEE U-WEN

Mr Yeah: There are plans to open a flagship store in a central location in Singapore later this year comprising a pawnshop and a retail outlet for pre-owned jewellery. - PHOTO: ARTHUR LEE

YEAH Hiang Nam is a much busier man these days. There are noticeably more meetings to attend, more research analysts contacting him as well as having to entertain constant requests from journalists asking for interviews, he says.

Not that the 65-year-old managing director and chief executive of ValueMax - one of the oldest and most established pawnbrokers in Singapore - minds at all. He knows it's all part of the territory after his company went public last October. ValueMax is only the third pawnbroker to list in Singapore and the first to list on the Singapore Exchange mainboard.

The offering of 138 million new shares at 51 cents each was around 6.3 times subscribed, a sign of strong investor interest in alternative finance providers here.

When asked why he felt it was the right time for a listing, Mr Yeah says he wanted to boost his company's profile and image as he seeks to expand ValueMax further in the coming years, both at home and overseas. "(The IPO) is a strong platform for our next stage of growth. Our business is a cash business, so the IPO provides us with an additional source of funding for our pawnbroking, jewellery retail and gold trading businesses."

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ValueMax has come a long way since its first outlet was opened in 1988. The group has been profitable since 2004, the first financial year following its incorporation the year before. ValueMax has seen revenue rise 27.8 per cent since 2010. In 2012, it posted revenue of $509 million and profit attributable to owners of the company of $14.3 million.

Mr Yeah says that the company is always on the lookout for suitable locations to open shops or acquire businesses. It recently secured a pawnbroking licence for its newest outlet at Serangoon Road - its 18th branch to date. There are plans to open a flagship store in a central location in Singapore later this year, comprising a pawnshop and a pre-owned jewellery retail outlet. It will target different market segments, including the wealthy.

Mr Yeah has long made it a point to ensure that each of his pawnshops has a modern look and feel like that of any other jewellery shop out there. This has helped bring in more customers including younger ones like those in their 20s and 30s, be it to pawn their items or simply to browse the many brightly lit displays of pre-owned jewellery.

"Our pawnshops are all renovated and have a friendly atmosphere. The jewellery that we sell has been re-conditioned to look as good as new, so we do have a lot of walk-in customers who just want to come and see what's on offer," he says.

ValueMax also operates five outlets in Malaysia through its associates, with at least three more pawnshops set to open soon. Malaysia remains a feasible place to expand in because of its larger population and much higher profit margin compared to Singapore, says Mr Yeah.

Even though the ringgit has weakened considerably of late, the stronger profits and lower operating expenses and salaries still make it good business sense to grow ValueMax's presence across the Causeway, he adds.

The sprightly grandfather of six says that jewellery is his passion and he remains fascinated by it. "I've been in this line for so long - since the late-1960s when I first worked in sales at a jewellery store. I love jewellery and I'm constantly fascinated by it," says the man who was named Entrepreneur of the Year by the Rotary Club of Singapore and the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises in 2010. "Doing business is my passion and my interest. I like to go to auctions whenever I can. It's always a new learning experience to meet new people and get to see new products and items. Sometimes, you can get to see rare and exquisite jewellery or family heirlooms that have been around for generations."

Away from the office, Mr Yeah enjoys hitting the golf course whenever he has the time, especially on weekends. "I've been playing the sport for nearly 30 years now. It's a great way to exercise and keep fit. I also enjoy gardening because it involves having a lot of patience and consistency."

In the stock market last Friday, ValueMax closed down one cent at 49 cents.