With a click of a mouse, you can buy things online. But now, thanks to the vision of three young entrepreneurs, you can also buy authentic luxury brands from a mobile boutique housed in a 40-foot truck.

OVER two decades ago, designer brands were associated mainly with celebrities, royalty and the wealthy. The middle class eyed them with envy while the lower classes were happy just to have clothes to wear.

Fast forward 15 years, and you see a growing number of the middle class showing off their Louis Vuitton bags or trotting around in Chanel apparel. Designer brands have become more affordable as people find the extra cash to splurge on themselves and on their kids.

Surely you must have seen a toddler in a Baby Dior outfit as mummy carries a Prada bag while showing off her kid at the shopping mall?

When Singaporean entrepreneur Samuel Lim, 32, started Reebonz.com (pronounced as ribbons) in 2009 with brother Daniel and another partner, Benjamin Han, his aim was to make luxury shopping affordable and convenient.

The timing wasn’t exactly great. Singapore was then at the height of recession but the trio did some research and brainstormed. Eventually, they came up with a concept that would enable them to ride out the storm and create an impact. They combined two upcoming trends ­– consumer appetite for luxury goods and the increase in e-commerce activity.

Their online portal was born, and it would lead, further down the road, to a new innovation – a mobile boutique in the shape of a truck.

“The Asian’s desire to own a luxury product is massive. We have to capture this buying psychology and make luxury products accessible to everyone. Like AirAsia’s tagline ‘Now Everyone Can Fly’, we want everyone to be able to own at least one luxury item and for them to say that they bought it from Reebonz. I believe we are the first in the region to launch such a site,” says Lim, the company’s chief executive officer.

The portal is a member’s only shopping site that offers 100% authentic luxury items and services at a discount of 30% to 70% off retail prices. The popular brands that they carry include Prada, Gucci, Coach, Burberry and MiuMiu while other goods comprise health and wellness products, food and beverage items, invitations to exclusive events and vacation packages. Prices range from RM100 to RM13,000, while the products are targeted at those in the 25-35 and above 45 age groups.

“Sales events” are held for short periods of time, usually lasting between two and three days, and are open to members only. Joining is free but you have to be invited by an existing member. And for now, shipping is free. Yes, the price you see listed is the price you will pay at check-out. There are no additional fees or charges levied.

“In terms of products, we only have 20 to 30 of the same item and we want to have a ‘sold out’ component flashing on the items so people know it’s limited. We will soon be introducing beauty products such as Shiseido and Estee Lauder,” says Lim.

When members receive their purchases, they think they’re receiving a gift because it comes in a beautiful package with ribbons. Hence their tagline, “Unveil the surprise”. And contrary to what non-members think, Lim says the products are not just from seasons past but also those from current seasons.

From a team of 18 when they first started, Reebonz.com now has over 150 employees. Through word of mouth, membership is increasing and now stands at 500,000 with 80% of them females and 50% Singaporeans.

Lim refuses to reveal figures as far as revenue goes but his smile gives him away. He admits coyly, “Let’s just say business has grown more than 100 times in the past two years. I’m happy.”

Lim says he was inspired by how two individuals built a business empire when he read Jeffrey Archer’s novel Kane And Abel when he was 13. He knew then that he would be an entrepreneur someday. Lim was a nominee at the 2003 Spirit of Enterprise award. He was only 24 then but already running a successful business with eFusion Pte Ltd, delivering products and services in the areas of mobile messaging (SMS and MMS-related content and applications).

In an interview in 2003, Lim was quoted as saying, “I do not see money as the sole purpose for going into business. It is more of my aspiration and dreams to lead a company that made me pursue this path since young. I am also very clear about the reasons I am in business for myself. I can help and contribute more to society by building a business and creating jobs for people.”

With Reebonz.com however, his business is different.

“I know nothing about fashion so I have my buying and sourcing team to scout for items. They source directly from the brands and the distributors,” he candidly admits. “I’m more interested in building a successful brand. Right now, we only have international brands but in future, we hope to have local brands as well. There are many designers out there who are equally good but lack distribution outlets.”

The portal was introduced to Malaysians in March this year and, believe it or not, Lim says Malaysians are the top spenders in terms of sales generated per customer, as compared to members from Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Indonesia, China, the United States, Australia, Taiwan, South Korea and the United Kingdom.

“In a year or two, I’m sure Malaysia will be our biggest market. In fact, out of the top 20 Malaysian spenders, four are men. However, men are not impulsive buyers and would prefer that women shop for them. Their favourites are wallets, bags, belts and watches.”

Reebonz.com currently accepts payment via Paypal, and offers Malaysians interest-free instalment payment schemes via credit card from 11 participating banks. It also offers a 14-working day return policy. Delivery takes between three and five days, subject to customs clearance. So far, returns have been minimal, much to Lim’s delight.

Since the dot com company is doing well, Lim has decided to innovate further and recently unveiled another surprise for his members – the Reebonz Mobil, a 40-foot truck akin to a mobile boutique. Launched in Singapore two weeks ago, the boutique-on-wheels stops for three hours at different locations and stays for a week before hitting the road again.

“The best way to capture the attention of consumers is to create a sense of urgency. To achieve this, Reebonz Mobil itself becomes a ‘limited edition’ retail unit that pops up at a location for just a few hours. When people first saw it, they all whipped out their handphones to take pictures. They didn’t know what it was!” Lim chuckles.

“We are delighted to be one of the first in the fashion industry to introduce this brand new shopping platform to Singapore. The container is a convenient way to see, touch and make luxury purchases on the spot. We want people to go in for the experience more than anything else.”

There are 150 items on sale onboard the truck and at any one point, the container can hold a maximum of 20 people. Inside, it comes equipped with iPads, iPhones and computers. Instead of shopping at various boutiques and wasting time, shoppers can now step inside Reebonz Mobil and find a plethora of luxury labels in one location.

Stocks are replenished thrice a week. Products include bags and small leather goods such as wallets, key holders, bags and accessories. For the launch, limited editions of Vintage Chanel and Louis Vuitton merchandise went on sale and were snapped up within minutes.

Reebonz Mobil will make its way to Malaysia in September, before continuing its journey to Thailand and other Asean countries. So, look out for a black truck with a huge display banner.

For more information, check out www.reebonz.com.



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