Durasafe: From Humble Canvas Store to
Leading PPE Retailer
June 12, 2018 | Singapore | OSEA2018 Industry Insights
How did Durasafe manage to rise from its humble beginnings at the now-defunct Thieves Market, to a thriving safety workwear empire with regional and award-winning stores? Durasafe’s Managing Director, Jefferson Soh, tells OSEA more.
It all began when Jefferson’s father, Mr. Soh Kim Tow, emigrated from China to Singapore after World War II in 1947. “Like thousands of other impoverished Chinese immigrants, my father had hoped to seek a better life in Singapore,” explains Soh. “For a couple of years, he worked as a coolie loading and unloading gunny sacks filled with commodities such as spices, sugar, and rice near the Singapore River.”
A company was born
However, it’s true that tough times never last, but tough people do. “In 1952, my father used his savings from his hard work to start Yew Lian Canvas at Sungei Road’s now-defunct Thieves Market,” shares Soh. The humble shop sold and recycled second-hand canvas from the British Army. Business got brisk in the sixties when Yew Lian Canvas managed to supply hatch tarpaulins and canvas to merchant ships through Tong Hin (1959), a pioneer ship chandling company. Yew Lian Canvas expanded and became the biggest canvas company in Singapore. In 1978, the company was officially incorporated as Yew Lian Canvas Pte Ltd.
The business started to decline, however, due to improved hatch covers and the standardized usage of containers on-board ships – less canvas was required to cover hatches and cargo. The container shipping industry continued to grow exponentially in the 70s and 80s, pushing the canvas business to the brink of oblivion.
Change or die
“I was a computer system consultant when I took over the business in 1993 with a challenging task to turn the ailing business around,” shares Soh. “I capitalised on our existing customer base and started to supply coveralls and safety shoes to ships, initially through ship chandlers, and gradually to ship management and ship owners. Every ship needs coveralls and safety shoes for her crew, and soon I was supplying gloves, eyewear and other personal safety products to the shipping, oil and gas industries as well.”
Thanks to Soh’s astute business acumen, the company was revitalised and became a complete PPE supply company and moved to bigger premises at Shun Li Industrial Park in 2000.
A refreshed look
In 2004, the company was renamed to Durasafe Pte Ltd. It also boasts a new logo and mission statement: “No One Gets Hurt”. The logo features a round emblem and Green Cross, which is synonymous with safety.
The canvas business officially shuttered its doors in 2008, and Durasafe continued to grow to become the largest safety product stockist in Singapore with more than 5,000 products. New products are also constantly added to the company’s inventory and include the following: Dropped Tool Protection, Safety Gates, Safety Cabinets, Spill Control, Life Saving Equipment, Anti-Piracy Products, Insulated and Hand Protection Tools.
Milestones and the future
Here’s a look back at what Durasafe has achieved over the years, and the company’s plans for the future:
- In 2012, Durasafe opened its first retail store at Westech, offering the latest and most fashionable workwear. The retail store went on to win the Red Dot Award for Best Interior Design – one of the world’s most prestigious design awards.
- Durasafe was also the first in Asia to open a [email protected] Retrofit Centre in Singapore, providing retrofitting of hand tools for dropped tool safety.
- In 2015, Durasafe opened its first overseas branch in Vietnam. Fronting the office is a retail store featuring the latest safety products and workwear.Durasafe welcomed its Suntec City store in the same year, selling both safety products and sportswear. It is a new concept that has been generating a lot of buzz in the retail industry.
- In 2017, Durasafe launched its online store and mobile app, with more than 10,000 safety products and sportswear featured.
- In 2018, an innovative safety vending machine was launched at Durasafe Suntec, providing 24/7 convenience for customers. This vending machine will be showcased at OSEA2018.
- As part of the 40th Anniversary celebrations, Durasafe is moving to a 38,000 square feet centralised office cum warehouse at T-Space in Tampines. The new premises will sport a bigger showroom cum retail space for safety products and sportswear.
- In 2019, Durasafe to open a bigger retail store at Jewel Changi Airport. This will be our flagship store, and will feature the best premium brands in sports. Think activities like running, cycling, swimming, triathlon, skiing, surfing, diving, skateboarding, and rock climbing.The Jewel outlet will showcase an innovative Magic Mirror that allows customers to browse, try and compare different outfits or sunglasses and save these images into their mobile phone for future purchase In addition, there will be a cold room that allows customers to test out cold-weather apparel in below freezing conditions.
- In 2020, Durasafe to launch a new mobile showroom that is capable of supporting customers at their outdoor safety or sports events, or other public events.
Meet with Durasafe at OSEA 2018 from 27-29 November 2018! Booth 1G3-01, Marina Bay Sands Singapore. View the full list of exhibitors here.
Click here to view OSEA’s exhibit/visitor profile.