The simple façade of the office building hides the magnificent within. Though the building is located on a quiet street in Klang, yet the same could not be said about the interior. Inside, lively staff are typing away on their PCs while happily chatting, toiling yet another day working at Imperia Asia. The first time we saw Muhammad Tarmizie Bidin, the founder of Imperia Asia Group, we were under the impression that he was some sort of government official, as he came for a photoshoot with a throng of people, escorting him as well as bringing his outfits for photoshoot. Sitting in the meeting room, everything was bare, save for the furniture, as the office has just undergone major renovation recently. The smell of fresh paint still lingers in the air as we were warmly greeted by the cheerful founder and his assistant.
“I came from a broken and poor family. My parents divorce when I was young and I was raised up by my grandparents in Teluk Intan.” Albeit having an average SPM results, Tarmizie is not able to further his studies due to financial constraint. Instead, right after high school, he left his hometown and began his working career by getting his first job at a Top Glove factory as a clerk. After working a few months at the factory, he was offered a job at RHB bank. “It has always been my dream to own a car as soon as I start working, so within four months of working at the bank, I managed to purchase my first car, a Perodua Kancil,” he says with a smile, reminiscing about the past.
Whilst working at the bank, Tarmizie is no stranger to seeing businessmen going in and out of the bank for business. And that is when it struck him that if he stayed where he was in life, he cannot do anything. “My salary was RM 756 per month at the time, after paying for my car loan and family support fees, I am left with nothing for myself.” He then proceeded to meet up with his friend who was selling honeycomb cookies, or known locally as kuih loyang. “I bought 20 packets of the cookies from him and resell it on my own. I managed to gain a bit of profit from there.” Thence, he decided to bring the cookies home and together with his grandparents, they started making it on their own. However, the result was less than satisfying. “The cookies do not taste as crispy and tasty as the one my friend sold. After many trials and errors, we finally nailed it.”
Following the success of making the cookies on his won, Tarmizie went and register for a license with Industri Kecil dan Sederhana Malaysia (IKS) and proceeded to sell his cookies at KLCC, Putrajaya, Petronas KLIA and KLIA. “My business was doing very well, and I sold about 2000 packets of cookies per month, at RM 3 per pack.” It was worth noting that Tarmizie started his business endeavour while he was still working with RHB bank, and he was only 19-year-old at that time. However, as towards the Raya month, his business is steadily getting slower as the demand for Raya cookies exceed the demand for kuih loyang. After only a short stint of six months, Tarmizie has to close down his business. “As I was young and inexperienced, I have no idea how to properly run a business. Furthermore, none of my family members are from a business background, so I have no one to guide me.”
As Tarmizie was stationed at a RHB branch in a Giant mall, every lunch break, he would hang out with his friend that sells jamu cosmetics. Jamu cosmetics is a herbal medication made derived from natural elements, such as roots, bark, flowers, seeds, leaves and fruits. “Never have I imagine that jamu cosmetics are such a hot selling items. Just by selling jamu cosmetics, sales can reached up to RM 1 million per month. There I can see the demand and profits.” Following the revelation, he started selling jamu, although he sold it discreetly. “I got the formula to make jamu from my parents, did a little improvisation on it and sold it. This is officially my first product called Simolex, and it is a herbal product which is encapsulated.” Tarmizie sold his product at a friend’s shop where the product was selling like hot cakes. Each month, Tarmizie received sales about RM 60,000 to RM 70,000 from the sales of his jamu product.
As his success became more and more apparent, so was his friend’s jealousy towards him. “I had a business partner at that time as I was still working full time at the bank. Hence I cannot fully commit to my business. And at that time, the business was registered under his name. After an involvement of a 3rd party, I left my jamu business to my partner and my friend and clean off my hands off that business,” he laments. But as Tarmizie still contain stocks of his jamu product, he went ahead and rented stalls to sell the remaining stocks. “The longer I run my own business, the more invested I am in it.”
Following the fallout with his business partner, Tarmizie went on to sell head scarf in a hypermarket at his hometown. “Head scarves were a hot commodities besides jamu cosmetics. After a year of selling head scarves, I proceeded to expand my products and sold baju kurungs. The sales was at peak during Raya.” Nevertheless, as time goes by, more and more people started running their own business, which increased the competition.
After an encouragement from his higher ups to further his studies, tarmizie enrolled in Universiti Teknologi MARA (UITM) and took up Business Studies. However, as fate would have it, he did not complete his studies as he had fallen ill by the end of the last semester. “My illness got worse to a point that I was unable to talk, and even after consulting multiple doctors, they could not detect my illness.”
In 2012, Tarmizie came to a realisation that he could not save up any money even though his business was doing very well. Back then, he had nine shops, from Melaka all the way to Penang. Coincidentally, he was granted a trip to Hong Kong where he ultimately made up his mind to close down all his business for good. But after a profound discussion with his uncle about his plan, he resigned from his bank job and committed his whole attention to running his business. “I start focusing on making a new product, which is drinks. I called my former colleagues and we brainstormed for ideas. In the end, we upgrade the product, enhanced the formula, make the appearance nicer.”
In January 2013, with his new product, he went to met shop owner who sells jamu cosmetics to park his product there, along with a promoter that he hired. On the first month, Tarmizie made RM 60,000. In spite of his success, history repeats itself. “In business, people are never when they see your business doing well. The owner hold my payment for the product and only paid me RM 18,000. Eventually, my promoter left as I cannot afford to pay them anymore.” After the episode, Tarmizie went on to sell his product on his own and managed to make RM 12,000 by August.
“For some customers, we gave them the product and they can pay us at the end of the month. This is the system we still maintain until now. In September 2013, we rented our first office. Our sales steadily grow from RM 2500 in September to RM 70,000 in December,” Tarmizie says.
With his relentless effort and hard work, Imperia Asia is now a household name in Malaysia. Imperia Asia now has about 500 staff across Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Besides selling a single drink, the company has since expanded to selling three products. “On average, we sell about 600-800 products per day.”
As with many businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic, Imperia Asia saw a dip in its sales. “There was a 30% drop in our sales, but it was not as bad as expected as we had been selling our products online since 2013. Instead, we increased the number of staff.”
After being in the game for so long, Tarmizie said that he is not worried about competitions as to him, being the best among the rest. His secret, he shares, is: “Focus. Second, trust your product. Maintain the quality and give good service to your clients.” He stated that it has never cross him mind to compete with other brand as it is not his benchmark. “My benchmark is I look forward to being above all other competition.”
Many would have think that people would splurge on materialistic need once they have earned their first million, yet the same could not be said about Tarmizie. This is what he has to say when he earned his first million:
“I never dreamt that I will get to earn my first million at all. Because I don’t like to keep the money, I like it spend it on assets. Like renovating the office for staff’s comfort. And I like to keep it for reserve. Doing a business, once you get big money, you have to keep it. Keep it for reserve. Anything happen to your business, you will need to use the money. I will keep the money in a fixed deposit. “
In five to ten years, Tarmizie hopes to expand his business beyond health and beauty industry. Since its inception, Imperia Asia has branched out to many subsidiaries. “I started with Imperia Asia Resources, and everything is under my name. I do not believe in partners as I have been betrayed before.” Imperia Asia has also expanded overseas, mainly Indonesia and the Philippines, under Imperia Asia International. According to Tarmizie, they have several offices in Indonesia, along with 200 staff to man the offices. However, he is planning to put a hold on his business in the Philippines temporarily as the Covid situation in the country is deteriorating. “Another problem with the Philippines is the banking system, which makes it hard to do business there. In the Philippines, there are no interbank transaction, unlike Malaysia. Their banking system is 20 years behind our country. Indonesia also can do interbank transaction even though there’s charges, but not in the Philippines.”