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World's largest pewter maker eyes China expansion

As the world clamors for a slice of the burgeoning Chinese market, Malaysian pewter manufacturer and retailer Royal Selangor believes China holds the key to growth and innovation.

"China has huge potential. We went into [the market] quite early but we are still touching the surface of that potential," Chen Tien Yue, executive director of Royal Selangor Marketing told CNBC's "Managing Asia."

"We are involved in two major events to get our brand out there," he said.

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Royal Selangor recently ventured into high-profile projects including the production of trophies for Formula One races in Malaysia and Singapore. Now the world's largest pewter maker aims to tap the mainland's booming creative sector.

"China is the market to look out for… [the] creative industry is growing tremendously," said Yong Yoon Li, executive director of Royal Selangor International. "We'd like to see more collaboration with the Chinese."

A Royal Selangor pewter gallery at Clarke Quay, Singapore.
Richard I'Anson | Getty Images
A Royal Selangor pewter gallery at Clarke Quay, Singapore.

Staying relevant

Founded in 1885 by Yong Koon – Yoon Li and Tien Yue's great grandfather – Royal Selangor survived two world wars, a number of economic busts and a bitter family feud. Product innovation is the key to standing the test of time, according to Yong Poh Kon, managing director of Royal Selangor International.

The company started out making Chinese ancestral worship items in the 1880s and later expanded to cigarette boxes and vases that appealed to European colonials. In the 1950s it began making souvenirs and corporate gifts after Malaysian independence sparked a tourism boom.

Royal Selangor opened its first store abroad in the 1970s and now has 50 stores around the world in countries including Singapore, Japan and Australia.

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Taking charge at the firm's fourth-generation leadership, cousins Yoon Li and Tien Yue are focused on the young adult market. Apart from attention-grabbing F1 trophies, the pair has steered the Kuala Lumpur-based company into collaborations with designers like Nick Munro from Britain and Freeman Lau from Hong Kong to create a new product mix with a focus on design.

"There are not many brands out there, especially in Asia, with such a long and authentic heritage so that gives us a good base to expand into new markets," Chen said.

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Succession plans

The Yong family aims to extend its 129-year company heritage. To prevent the repeat of a damaging family feud, a six-member family council along with a family charter, were established in 2002 with guidelines to handle potential disputes.

"My father told me to beware of family feuds. If you have family members contesting over the pot, then nobody looks after enlarging the pot," Yong Poh Kon, the third-generation leader of the family business, said. "We are merely stewards of the family wealth [which is] to be enjoyed over successive generations."

While he wouldn't say whether his son or his nephew would eventually be chosen to lead the business, the third-generation patriarch stated criteria and gave advice for his successor.

"It will be based upon the track record of the person and the support he will be able to derive to bring his idea into action. [But most importantly] maintain the family harmony so that everybody feels that they are part of the business... continue this then you are able to have passion to drive the business forward," Yong said.

— Reported by Christine Tan | Written by See Kit Tang