Back in 1985 when it first opened, Pioneer Road North Industrial Estate was home to small businesses that plyed their trade in compact 200-square metre workshops. Today, the estate houses more than 100 workshops offering motor, metal and machining services. What is interesting is that as Singapore prospered, many of these small businesses grew with our nation, with some moving to bigger premises in the vicinity to support their expansion. Two SME bosses share why Pioneer Road North Industrial Estate holds a special place in their hearts.
Carport Pte Ltd: Thirty years in Pioneer Road North Industrial Estate
Mr Lim Kian Heng, the founder and owner of Carport Pte Ltd at Pioneer Road North Industrial Estate is an inspiring example of the Singapore dream. Despite receiving limited formal education, Mr Lim’s first turning point came when he enrolled in the PSA heavy duty diesel mechanic scheme in 1975. The course helped him learn the basics of mechanics, which enabled him to start his own motor repair vehicle business.
We saw many factories opening in Jurong Industrial Estate then. These factories and the ships at Jurong Port and the shipyards required supporting services, so we were a one-stop shop that supported the development of the larger Jurong estate.
The second turning point came when his friend helped him pay the deposit for renting a workshop at Pioneer Road North Industrial Estate in 1985. “We were among the first to move in,” he recollected. “We saw many factories opening in Jurong Industrial Estate then. These factories and the ships at Jurong Port and the shipyards required supporting services, so we were a one-stop shop that supported the development of the larger Jurong estate.”
He illustrated with an example, “When the ships arrive at the nearby shipyards, people from our estate will be there to check on the spare parts or maintenance services that these ships need. If they need something like engine maintenance or hydraulics and I can’t provide it, my neighbours will take the job.”
The proximity to customers has helped his business to grow because of the synergistic ties they share. “My customers can send their vehicles in the morning and collect it in the evening as they’re only 10 minutes away. We’ve become a support centre for the companies around us. We support them and they support us,” Mr Lim added.
In 1994, Mr Lim, together with other business owners in the estate, started a trade association for the estate called the Pioneer Road North Trade Association (PRNTA), which now has about 60 members representing more than 50% of the businesses at the estate. JTC regularly consults with and seeks the inputs of PRNTA on improvement initiatives for the estate.
For instance, part of the estate’s recent refurbishment and redecoration works included better lighting, road improvement works, as well as new canopies for the workshops. During a feedback session with JTC representatives, Mr Lim shared that the businesses needed financial assistance to help offset the costs of constructing the canopies for the workshops. After some discussion, JTC agreed to co-share the cost for lessees.
What is striking about Pioneer Road North Industrial Estate is its strong community spirit. PRNTA organises recreation activities for the estate to promote social bonding, such as celebrations for the annual Dumpling Festival, Dragon Boat Festival and Chinese New Year lo hei. Regular karaoke sessions are also popular with the community. Mr Lim remarks fondly, “All the businesses work in harmony. We have very few arguments and the kampong spirit here is very good.”
Looking back on the past 30 years in the estate, Mr Lim candidly described the place as one that saw him start with a “$400 Nissan pickup to a $400,000 Mercedes”. During this time, he has seen many of the businesses expand their operations as well, citing Aik Cheong Metal Engineering and Chinese Garden Electric & Electronic as examples. “Yet many chose to remain in the vicinity due to the strong customer base and familiarity with the area,” he shared. “I am grateful to JTC for their assistance all these years, allowing me to successfully grow my business.“
Acez Instruments: Strengthening Their Business Networks in Jurong
Mr Henry Yeo, Managing Director of Acez Instruments Pte Ltd, started the company in 1985 as an instruments trading company and grew it into a leading one-stop solution provider of instrumentation and equipment relating to measurement, control and calibration of temperature, humidity and pressure.
Acez Instruments is among the businesses that have expanded significantly from its days at Pioneer Road North Industrial Estate. Today, Acez has three separate companies under its brand, namely Acez Sensing Pte Ltd (Engineering & Manufacturing), Isolab (S) Pte Ltd (Calibration & Testing services) and Acez Instrument Pte Ltd (Trading & Distribution).
Mr Yeo recalls his early days in a HDB industrial unit along Ubi Avenue 3, starting his business by flipping through the Yellow Pages and magazines for clients. Back in the 1980s, they were still using telex and he would send messages to German and UK companies to try and get them to appoint Acez Instruments as their authorised distributors.
In 1993, Mr Yeo decided to move his business to Jurong and operated from a terrace workshop in the Pioneer Road North Industrial Estate. “We wanted to be close to our customers, and Jurong was a more customer-friendly location,” Mr Yeo recalled.
The estate is reputable for being a non-stop business hub supporting the Jurong Industrial Estate and shipyards. There is a beneficial cluster effect which attracted the businesses here.
Being at Pioneer Road North Industrial Estate enabled Acez to target the ship supplies market due to its close proximity to Jurong Port. Mr Yeo explained that Acez’s products could be used within many parts of the ships, for example temperature gauges for the water system and air-conditioning systems, and instruments for monitoring the right temperature and humidity for cargo. “We work with the ship chandlers who source for ship supplies from us,” Mr Yeo said.
Mr Yeo recalls that he was drawn to the estate because of its reputation as a bustling marketplace. “The estate is reputable for being a non-stop business hub supporting the Jurong Industrial Estate and shipyards. There is a beneficial cluster effect which attracted the businesses here,” Mr Yeo added. “The customers know it is open all the time, even on Chinese New Year and they are assured that any emergency purchases at the estate can be fulfilled.”
He also vividly described the days of bringing his Japanese and German business associates to Jurong Hill to have an aerial view of Jurong and Jurong Island. “They saw the rate of our industrialisation, which boosted their confidence.”
Within a short span of two years, Acez’s business expanded further and they took up three additional workshop units in Penjuru Close Industrial Estate in 1995. In 2014, Acez decided to consolidate their operations under one roof in their current facility at Joo Koon, an eight-minute drive away from Pioneer Road North, for greater business efficiencies.
“One of the first things we did when we moved to Joo Koon was to look for potential customers within a two-kilometre radius as the proximity allows us to provide our clients quick turnaround services,” he shared. This strategy added companies such as ACP, Honeywell, Schenker and CWT to their client list.
Looking back at how the company remained in Jurong despite moving several times to support its expanding operations, Mr Yeo concluded, “The networks that we have built in Jurong for 25 years have supported our business growth well. With this, we believe it will bring us towards reaching our vision in providing accurate measurements and solutions for a green and productive sustainable world.”