Wars and pandemics – Kuckreja & Co survived it all

If there is one thing Mohanjit Kuckreja has learnt throughout his 30-odd years in the business of sports, it is the ability to quickly evolve.

As such, it is no surprise that his outfit, Kuckreja & Co, turned 74 yesterday. The company has withstood the test of time – from World War II, May 13 riots to the economic downturn in the 90s.

“If you look at our history, you would realise that we have been sensitive to the demands of the market and quickly evolved. This was happening since the days of the company’s founders,” said Mohanjit.

Founded by Mohanjit’s father Tarlok Singh and uncle Teja Singh, Kuckreja & Co started out as a general retailer selling various products for the British soldiers based in Kluang, Johor.

After WWII, when they were forced to shut, Kuckreja & Co ventured into the retail and wholesale of sporting goods. And there was no turning back since.

“At one time, we brought in brands like adidas, Puma, Yoneyama (now known as Yonex), Gosen and Mikasa. Gosen badminton strings were very popular at one time,” added Mohanjit who turns 58 on Oct 15.

The business shifted its operations to Kuala Lumpur in 1990 and went on to expand its influence throughout Southeast Asia.

Mohanjit credited his brothers Sohinder Singh and Surjeet Singh for their roles in expanding the business.

“The company grew and we expanded. My brothers were part of the company’s history. While I obviously didn’t experience WWII, I witness two major economic downturns, one in the 80s and the other in the late 90s.

“Surprisingly, we didn’t suffer losses during those two episodes. Although the economy wasn’t rosy in the 80s, the government spent money on sports. In fact, our sales at that particular period were really good as we were selling products to schools. There was always a budget for school sports.

“The same thing happened in 1998. When (former Prime Minister) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad pegged the ringgit to the US dollar (at a rate of 3.80), we weren’t affected and once again, schools had budgets for sports.”

But Mohanjit said he saw a downturn in 2013.

“Schools’ budget dropped by 50 per cent. Basically, schools weren’t spending on sports. Not like they used to.”

His son Rajpal Singh, who joined the family business in 2013, brought a new dimension to the company – by going online.

“Rajpal wasn’t fond of wholesale. He was more into online. The online business was at its infancy then and he came in at the right time.”

That marked another milestone for Kuckreja & Co.

Rajpal also started reaching out to international schools.

“We have upgraded the products in many ways. We have evolved from low-end market to mid-end market. Low-end is always price-sensitive. For the mid-end market, there is always brand loyalty and marketing, the right type of design and packaging, plays a huge role.”

Mohanjit highlighted that carrying international brands like Grays and Gilbert had helped them elevate their standing.

While the company seems to be unbreakable as evident through three generations, Mohanjit admitted the Covid-19 pandemic is an “eye-opener”.

“The only time we were forced to shut our doors was during WWII. Now, we are experiencing a total shutdown.

“We are lucky to have presence online as at least we are generating income via Internet sales but I admit it isn’t enough.”

Mohanjit admitted the Prihatin Economic Stimulus Package announced recently did not benefit him much.

“The only good thing I can see is the moratorium for loans. At least those servicing loans will have room to breathe for six months.”

Will Kuckreja & Co survive another 74 years?

Mohanjit remains bullish.

“The sports industry in Malaysia is good but there has to be a level playing field. Right now it’s still based on who you know and skin colour instead of quality. If such an attitude persists, then we will not go anywhere. But changes will not happen overnight, perhaps it may take one generation to see progress,” he added.