Wheel Gallery managing partner Sam Liuson on the business of selling automotive rims and rubber
How did you get into the business of selling alloy wheels for cars?
Like so many stories, I was a just a young guy who was fascinated with cars and driving. Earlier on, when I was in college, our family had an aluminum-casting factory, and we ventured into manufacturing alloy wheels.
The first big brand you got involved in was Silverwind. Tell us about it.
That was the brand of wheels we came up with when we started. I think we did pretty well during that time, but my heart wasn’t in manufacturing and my ideas weren’t appreciated by my boss at that time, so when the opportunity came up some 11 years after that, I resigned from that and started a wheel import business with new partners.
What’s the story behind your current brand, Concept One?
When we put up this new company in 2002, I made sure that this time around, it was going to follow my first concept. And as I realized that talents could only come from God, I named it Concept One, or “Concept from The One.” We then looked for Taiwanese subcontractors to execute our designs and packaging.
You’re known in the industry to be a devout Christian. How important has your faith been in the growth of your business?
When I was a young entrepreneur, I wasn’t as intent with my faith and in my lifestyle as a follower of Jesus. I would adjust with different groups of people and blend in with the different cultures. But as I eventually learned my lessons and was mentored by others, I decided not to be an undercover Christian anymore, and be more intentional and outspoken about my beliefs. This has also changed my lifestyle and defined my purpose. Having said that, as much as I can, I instill biblical principles in doing business, bearing in mind that I am just a steward of what God has entrusted to me in this lifetime. But before you conclude anything, I would like to say that I am still a “work in progress” up to now.
In December 2013, your main showroom on Santolan Road in San Juan was gutted by a fire. How did you recover from this, and how is your business today?
That was the biggest challenge in my whole business career. I was faced with something so devastating and overwhelming that the thought of getting out of this business came into my mind. However, as the events unfolded after that, it became evident that it was just a trial or lesson that I had to go through for me to get to the next step. More than anything, that experience taught me that material things could come and go in an instant. That experience also taught me to depend on God and develop fortitude. The saying that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger is so true. If I did not have my faith to lean on, I don’t think I would have handled that situation well. Today, three years after the fire, we have been restored and have even surpassed what we had before in so many ways. We have also built a new structure at the back where the big fire took place.
As a regular exhibitor at car shows, you famously made a decision to stop using beautiful women as booth babes. What made you do this? And did it affect the ability of your displays to attract crowds?
Well, when I was a younger man and our business flourished, for a few years I copied the culture of foreign car shows, not thinking much about it. Then God reminded me that I didn’t need to use women. As a matter of fact, booth babes actually take the attention away from your products. I have since learned that if you have a good product, it will sell itself.
What do you say to critics who accuse Concept One of merely copying wheel designs from more established global brands?
There are times when we imitate and make the item more affordable, and there are times when we innovate with our own ideas. We are just as guilty as any watchmaker or ramen outlet that sells almost the same items with a little twist or tweaked recipe. But yes, as I have had more and more experience, we’d rather be innovators and blaze our own trail.
Other than Concept One, what other wheel and tire brands do you carry?
We are also the Philippine distributor of TSW wheels, Black Rhino wheels, Fifteen52 wheels, Klutch wheels and Saffiro tires.
Speaking of Black Rhino, this seems to be your hottest brand right now. What do you think is spurring the increase in sales of off-road wheels and tires these days?
We first noticed the trend when the country experienced the worst metro-wide flooding caused by typhoon Ondoy. It affected the market so much that clients who used to drive in with European cars started shifting to SUVs—successful entrepreneurs, top-management executives, celebrities and politicians alike. Seeing the market trend, we started promoting SUV and pickup wheels and tires for guys to spruce up ordinary-looking vehicles. Not only that, but we also went a step further by promoting the 4×4 lifestyle as much as we could for people to actually use their off-road vehicles for fun. By God’s grace, we have been able to catch the market’s attention, and developed it to what it is today.
What is the next big thing from Wheel Gallery?
I think the next big thing would be wider wheels and tires. I think the matte-finish trend will continue. If you noticed at the recent car shows, there were more SUVs and trucks than sedans. Whatever it is, rest assured that we will continue to bring in good-quality wheels and tires, and back them up with warranty and excellent after-sales service. I love it when customers are happy with the products we sell, because we’re in this industry for the long haul.