The chief operating officer of Hap Seng Consolidated Bhd — also the chief executive of the group’s automotive division, Hap Seng Star Sdn Bhd — on launching Malaysia’s first Autohaus with Mercedes-Benz, a one-stop shop that showcases exclusive merchandise, accessories and selected vehicles from the star of Stuttgart, as well as his professional journey with the luxury German carmaker.
Options: Hap Seng Star has grown to become one of Mercedes-Benz’s largest dealers in Malaysia. How did the company achieve this?
Harald Behrend: The mutually beneficial cooperation with Mercedes-Benz Malaysia has driven the expansion of Hap Seng Star to become one of the largest dealer groups for Mercedes-Benz passenger vehicles in the country. In our continuous growth and expansion efforts, we strive to provide best-in-class customer experience and maintain operational leadership in the market. Our commitment and accomplishments as a dealer partner for Mercedes-Benz have naturally helped our business to expand.
The new Hap Seng Star Autohaus is a major milestone. How does it fit into the larger strategic plan for the company?
Our aim is to further enhance our sales and service for the future, focusing on customers’ needs by creating a fascinating ownership experience, starting from the point of sales to after sales through a combination of continuous service improvements, operational and equipment upgrades as well as digitalisation. It is also our intention to introduce new international features such as the Mercedes-Benz accessories and collection boutique to the Malaysian market.
The retail space is almost like a one-stop shop for all things Mercedes-Benz — car showroom, delivery centre and merchandise boutique. Was this the plan when it was designed, and is it very different from Autohauses in Germany?
It was planned, as the objective of a fully dedicated and full-fledged boutique in the Autohaus is to enhance our customer satisfaction — a one-stop shop for owners with fully integrated facilities. We want to increase our market share as the new format concepts open up new customer groups while also responding to the differentiation between the products and services we offer to Mercedes-Benz customers.
How were the locations for the next two Autohauses in Setia Alam and Klang chosen?
At Hap Seng Star, we aim to create dynamic, convenient and attractive facilities that offer our customers extensive sales, financial services and after-sales support. The location for the Setia Alam and Klang Autohauses were strategically chosen after thorough studies on demographics, population and household income growth; sales forecasting; as well as infrastructural analysis of the location. These two new dealerships allow us to provide better service to our existing customers staying in the surrounding vicinity and also win over new fans of the brand.
What do you like most about the new space? And what has the feedback been like since it opened?
There are so many things I like about this new KL Autohaus, but what I love most is the level 3 showroom with an integration of personal contact and digital elements, which give customers a luxury experience with a modern touch. With a new lighting and colour concept, we created a very cosy atmosphere where our customers feel welcome and [might] stay for coffee or a snack. The accessories and collection boutique is another one of my favourite spots where customers can spend their time browsing the vast collections. I am proud that we at Hap Seng are the first to bring this new concept to Malaysia.
Sales and footfall in the showrooms have definitely seen an increase since KL Autohaus opened in Menara Hap Seng 3. Customers have been fascinated and delighted with the new design of the showroom and the wide range of accessories they found in the boutique, which includes casual business bags, T-shirts, polo shirts, caps, jackets, elegant watches, suitcases and golf bags.
Have you started shopping there yet? What are some of your favourite Mercedes-Benz merchandise?
I have personally been attracted to a number of merchandise in the boutique and have bought polo shirts and caps as well as small suitcases and golf bags for family and friends.
You spent 24 years with Mercedes-Benz. What brought you to Hap Seng Star?
I met some people from the top management of Hap Seng Group during my time in China and South Korea and I noticed that they shared the same passion for excellence as we did at Mercedes-Benz. So, when I was offered [the chance] to take over the responsibility for the operations of Hap Seng as group chief operating officer in 2013, it was an easy decision to join. One year later in 2014, I additionally started leading the automotive division as chief executive. Over the years, it has been great to see that our employees are passionate on every level, from the sales team to human resources, and the workshop to the marketing team. It’s a company where you can really make a difference as an individual.
What does quiet time look like for you and your family?
We love cycling and hiking, and skiing in wintertime. For skiing, Hokkaido is our favourite destination as you can find some of the best powder snow in the world. In addition, my wife and I are keen scuba divers. The best location [to scuba dive] in Malaysia is Sipadan, where the marine life is absolutely amazing. In Peninsular Malaysia, Perhentian and Redang also have nice dive spots. Unfortunately, our son is too young to accompany us on our dives, but he is a very good skier.
Before the borders closed, where was your favourite holiday destination?
My family prefers quiet destinations. Therefore, we generally pick an island to visit. In Malaysia, you are spoiled for choice as there are so many beautiful places.
This article first appeared on Nov 2, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.