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FCUKIN FLAVA: WE BEND, WE DON’T BREAK
Fcukin Flava was started in 2013 by Ibnul Faridh Abdul Ghaffar, 33. Hailing from Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia; a state of about 1 million people, Farid began life in the vaping world as a shop owner reselling all types of vape products to the local vape scene. Seeing the growth and support garnered from local vapers for Malaysian made juices, Farid was desperate to make the foray into brewing. Calmly and diligently spending months in his DIY garage-lab and learning from other more experienced brewers, Farid worked hard to hone his brewing skills. The very first Fcukin Flava logo and label was designed by his wife, Zaza who is also a graphic designer. Soon, the Fcukin Flava brand was born with the launch of 3 fruit flavours - Fcukin Munkey (honeydew), Freezy Grape (grape) and Yummay Guava (guava). Local vapers raved about their juices and the momentum was accelerating. Back then, fulfilling even a relatively small order of 5,000 bottles was quite a struggle for them. From mixing, bottling and labelling - everything was painstakingly completed by hand.
“We had limited resources back then. It took us hours, even days and it was back-breaking work. But now, things have changed and we have proper machines thankfully; to do some of the heavy lifting.”
Today, the production capacity of Fcukin Flava is approximately 10,000-15,000 units a day and about 80% of their e-liquids are sold to the overseas markets in Europe with the remainder being sold in Malaysia. With a staff size of 30 people and sophisticated machinery, it’s a testament to how much they’ve grown as a company.
Early on, Farid instinctively knew that going overseas was the best way for the Fcukin Flava brand to multiply in size. There are many countries around the world; some larger and some smaller than Malaysia, with a bustling and enthusiastic vaping community. These markets were also keen for quality juices by brands producing exciting new flavors.
“We were making high quality juices and we believed in our brand. We knew that if we believed in ourselves, people overseas would see that too; and be confident in us and our manufacturing capabilities. ”
Farid also describes his experience of seeing many ‘hit-and-run” entrepreneurs that were keen to simply stick a label on a cheap bottle of poorly made juice and sell it to the unknowing vaping public for quick cash. Worse, some unscrupulous sellers were also very quick to produce imitation products based on their brand that looked eerily close.
From those experiences in the early days, Fcukin Flava were very careful and took steps to trademark their products and implement security labels on their products so that anyone could check for its authenticity. Protection of their trademarks was not only a wise business step, but an advantage when marketing overseas as it demonstrated that Fcukin Flava was in it for the long-term. Unwavering and holding strong to his principles, Farid set-out to maintain the reputation of Fcukin Flava for the long-term.
FLAVOR CREATION: PROUDLY MALAYSIAN MADE
Flavor creation is an art form itself. Thanks to Malaysia’s reputation as a food haven that is culturally diverse yet inclusive, there exists an endless inspiration for flavor. Being a cultural melting pot with influences from chinese, malay, indian and western communities, the Malaysian tongue is very open and accepting to a wide range of tastes which influences flavor creation. In conceptualising an e-liquid, Fcukin Flava takes great pride to scrutinize every detail from concept to sample stage; a process that typically takes months, sometimes years to execute.
“I believe that being in Malaysia, with our adventurous tongue accustomed to a wide range of tastes, we have the best testing bed in the world for flavors. For sure, we have to modify some things like the sweetness or cooling notes for certain overseas markets but the core flavor notes are always tested and decided here. We know that if the flavor can succeed here, 90% of the time, it can succeed elsewhere too. “
Their wave of optimism bore fruit when Fcukin Flava took the major step of touring Europe’s largest vape festivals in 2015. From France, UK, Belgium and other countries, they partnered with their overseas distributors to showcase the Fcukin Flava brand and product line-up to resellers and the vaping public.
“We are thankful to have great distributors with in-house teams that are on the ground to handle the logistical issues of those events while we support them with merchandising and other advertising efforts.”
Like any product launch in the consumer segment, generating buzz is a key step in launching products. The team at Fcukin Flava takes great care and pride to present the brand appropriately in their unique style to consumers. From the design, layout and product placement, the team is always ready and on-hand to give feedback and assistance. The team tries to cover all aspects of the advertising space - sponsorships, merchandising, magazines, digital media etc. Typical of consumer brands, advertising and promotion expenditure takes a significant chunk of the yearly budget. They see it as a necessity to support their branding efforts.
Immersing themselves in the experience of food, drink and lifestyle in the European markets also helped Farid to better understand the general vaping culture and habits of people over there and to appreciate their different taste buds. More often than not, dozens of samples are sent between countries, tried and tested, until the product is perfected for that particular market. For 2019, Fcukin Flava has launched a new line of flavors called Lady of Death that emphasis their creamy repertoire - Berry Cheesecake Crunch, Strawberry Lemonade, Strawberry Ice Cream and Coffee Macchiato.
All relationships go through hell but some relationships get through it.
Expanding a business overseas can be a tricky thing. Once agreements are inked and the real-work begins, numerous things can happen that changes the dynamic of the relationship. Exporting for over 6 years, Fcukin Flava has a wealth of experience to share. For example, when working with distributors, the team prefers to deal with distributors that exclusively distributes their juices. By making distributors work solely with them, they can ensure that full attention and focus are given to marketing their products and working towards certain volume targets.
Like in any relationship, trust is earned when action meets words. For this reason, Farid sometimes includes a trial-period to give new distributors time to build the foundation needed for a long-term, win-win relationship. They take great effort to investigate problems and issues that their distributors sometimes face and try to provide assistance along the way. Challenges and problems are all part of doing business and sometimes, agreed terms will go unmet. If this happens, one possibility would be to terminate the relationship and for both parties to move on. But in the spirit of cooperation, Farid finds it more beneficial to uncover and solve the underlying problems that may lead to a better outcome for both. In any export oriented business, the challenges faced can come from a variety of angles. For instance, supporting distributors with documentation for product testing purposes or supporting distributors with digital marketing and branding assets are all part and parcel of exporting and expanding a brand overseas.
In retrospect, having this attitude and approach has served them well. The partnerships developed and forged over time is something which money cannot buy. These relationships are part of the reason that enabled Fcukin Flava to ship over a million units in 2018.
For the foreseeable future, Fcukin Flava maintains that they will keep manufacturing their e-liquids in-house and intends to keep their brewing operations under tight control. Although they observe that some brands have begun to outsource their manufacturing to other countries to solely focus on branding and distribution, they don’t feel an urgent business need to do so and choose instead to be made in Malaysia.
“We take great pride in being Malaysian made. We have the people, talent and cultural understanding. We groom people internally so they can grow with us. Perhaps yes, it may be cheaper to move elsewhere. But the people, culture and problems there are also very different.”
In seek of future growth
For 2019, Farid is focusing his team towards key markets in South America including Columbia, Peru and Chile. Just like in 2015, they are planning for a whirlwind tour of the region. It’s definitely new territory for the team and they’re excited to try and replicate the success they’ve had in Europe. Volume wise, they’re looking optimistically at improving on their 1 million units a year target.
Unsatisfied to be stagnant, the team are also undergoing a period of internal change. In light of their expansion plans, a new CEO has also come on-board to implement better controls, systems and processes to manage this period of growth. He’s introduced free lunches, tea-time breaks and more staff hangouts as a way to bring his 30-strong team closer together as one big, united family. Vacancies are also open for new hires for key positions. The support and working culture between all staff are crucial to keep Fcukin Flava alive and running smoothly for the long-term. Their hustling yet relaxed and open company culture shows exceptional promise for them to undertake this shift.
As Farid expands Fcukin Flava to different markets, he is keenly aware that the reputation they have groomed over the years can quickly crumble if not managed well.
“We Bend, We Don’t Break” is Fcukin Flava’s internal company motto. How fitting a phrase for this remarkable Malaysian brand.