Today, it is common to see delivery drivers leaning against their motorcycles playing with their phones on the street. However, in the Hong Kong of the past, it was not uncommon to see sifu (literally “master”, a Cantonese colloquial term referring to technicians in general) delivering one or, more often than not, more of some blue liquified petroleum gas (LPG) cylinders with just a bicycle in the past. Talking about balance!
This could be just some good old memories in the case of Sze Wo Chaan (“SWC”), as the industry leader has stopped delivery by bicycle quite some years ago. “We don’t want to overload or risk the safety of our sifus,” explained Joyce Lee, Managing Director of Sze Wo Chaan Gas Service Company Limited and Crown Gas Stoves (Holdings) Company Limited. “Many of our sifus are, you know, getting on in years.”
And there couldn’t be a better phrase than “people-oriented” that encapsulates SWC’s philosophy.
|Established in 1976, Sze Wo Chaan Gas Company Limited became a distributor of Shell Hong Kong in 1986. The company specialises in one-stop LPG retail, delivery, installation and maintenance services, as well as (central or pipeline) gas engineering for both household and commercial sectors, gas appliances retail and wholesale business, and LPG (dangerous goods) logistics management. With a philosophy of “Running business with heart” and “Putting customers first”, over the years the company has introduced innovative operation and management. It has proactively expanded horizontally, the like of acquiring Crown Gas Stoves (Holdings) Company Limited in 2014 and the launch of kitchen cabinet and bathroom design business, leading this tradition industry to keep up with the time.
Sze Wo Chaan has also been collaborating with Caritas Hong Kong and Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui, to name a few, to carry out various community projects. The company has garnered numerous awards such as the Certificate of Excellence in the Community Engagement Award and Caring for People Award categories at the HSBC Living Business Awards 2016, Outstanding Social Caring Organisation Award at the 2015 SERA Social Caring Pledge Award Scheme, and Certificate of Excellence (small-sized organisation) at the HKMA Hong Kong Sustainability Award 2022.
For the past two decades, SWC has acquired more than 20 gas companies and boosts a substantial retail and wholesale network of gas service. There are three main scopes of businesses, namely cylinder LPG, piped LPG and kitchen stove appliance. The company has more than 40 employees in total. Getting bigger in scale, the offerings are also becoming more diverse, innovative and technologically advanced – all for customer experience.
“Safety always comes first in our products and services,” remarked Joyce. “Upholding and maintaining the standards we want necessitate us to do everything ourselves. “From household cylinder LPG, retail, logistics, installation, repair (metering and billing in the past), laying pipes for commercial clients such as developers or tea houses, to barbeque stove, mosquito killer, heat lamp for clubhouses, or even industrial forklifts – the company provides end-to-end services all by themselves. This keeps the industry standard and optimises customer experience.
SWC adapted computerised operation as early as in 1992, using a Maintenance & Repair Management System (RMS) to record and manage the data of customer contact information, purchase history, expiry date, LPG readings and repair / maintenance records. In 2004, the company introduced a call centre to combine frontline customer service system and a newly developed wireless fleet management system, offering real-time customer service. “I’m lucky to have a friend who so happens that is an IT developer and helped design a remote ordering system, and later an RMS mobile app for us.”
Joyce continued, “Blessed with innovative technology, our staff could manage and report on all delivery, installation and maintenance status and situations, while the customers enjoy ultimate convenience paying via the Octopus cards connected to our app. We the company are also benefited from clear, systematic accounting and customer data management.”
It’s understandable that the supplier counterparts focus on sales. Afterall, businesses have to be profitable. Nevertheless, SWC sets sights afar – not only on computerisation, systemisation, KPI (key performance indicator) development, but also community care and environmental protection in early days – making the company an industry pioneer in sustainable development. “To be frank, we didn’t know so much about CSR (corporate social responsibility). At that time, ESG (environmental, social and governance) had not yet been a trend.” Joyce recalled. “Back in the day, many elders were still using kerosene stoves for cooking and often caused fires. I personally witnessed one of the fires, where a senior was rescued and taken out from the site…”
“And so I went to a (Caritas) community centre with a proposal. I suggested that we (SWC) would give out free, safe LPG cooking stoves to the elderly and low-income families qualified by the centre, replacing their kerosene stoves! That’s how our community collaboration started.”
The collaboration gradually grew into development of several community projects later, including “熄熄相關”, an extended community program from a scheme called “和氣慳財計劃” collaborating with Caritas Sai Kung, with SWC providing free or discounted LPG cooking stoves and free maintenance service to low-income single parent families and the elderly, as well as paying regular visits to the elderly to teach them safe ways to using the cooking stoves.
Following the ethos of “Service from the Heart”, SWC has been recruiting people with disabilities starting from 2008, a time when equal opportunity employer was, as Joyce described it, simply “rare” in Hong Kong – at least in this traditional industry. “The remote ordering system means a colleague can take calls anywhere – perfect for the disabled who are home-bound! We then hired three people with disabilities through Caritas Hong Kong and DAH Life Education Corporate Training.” Through the placement scheme, SWC was co-awarded with the two organisations the “Social Caring SMEs” and “Outstanding Partnership Schemes” awards in the 2008 Caring Company Awards.
“Our (disabled) staff are stable (in performance and employment). They’ve been working for us for more than a decade already,” added Joyce. “We welcome all potential candidates, no matter of what age, types of disabilities, race, or ethnicity you are – we did hire ethnic minorities. As long as we can communicate with each other and you get hold of the way to use the system. We have a colleague at his 70s!”
Nowadays, environmental protection has become mainstream. In this era which promotes clean energy and low-carbon electrification, Joyce admitted that the LPG industry is likely to “fade out eventually” in the market – and that’s exactly why SWC is stepping up even harder to transition and embrace the challenge. “We won’t know if LPG as a type of energy will fade out in five, eight or ten years, so we spare no effort in equipping both ourselves and the team when there’s still time for the upcoming transition and transformation. We go out to learn the new market, new rules, and come back to educate our team.” Joyce said, in a tone full of optimism. “You won’t know how thing turns out, but I’d rather face it proactively than just sit there and wait.”
SWC has always been keen on nurturing young talents, too. The company has participated in the Resources for Employment and Academic Development of Youths (READY) scheme of Child Development Initiative Alliance (CDIA) to offer summer apprentice opportunities since 2003, while high school career talks and a diploma course in gas services engineering are held jointly with the Vocational Training Council (VTC).
“Doing takeaway delivery (an increasingly popular career choice among the young people) may give you freedom for now – but it could only last this long conversely, you can master a skill here with longer-term income stability.” The open-minded director said, with a grin, “You don’t even necessarily have to work for us after graduation or apprenticeship! One of our apprentices moved to Australia after his working holiday – you earn additional points as engineering is counted as one of the ‘specialist’ qualifications (for immigration application).”
Joyce also has lots of ideas on environmental protection. “Baguio approached us initially looking for sponsorship,” recalled Joyce. “After some discussions, we conceived the iRecycle programme, which we helped them to collect recycled plastic and glass bottles at the door, along scheduled routes of our fleet. We also suggested and used an LPG sensor scale (a scale specifically used in the industry for monitoring LPG usage) to keep track of the weight (number of bottles to be picked up), picked them up when it’s reached a certain amount, then recorded the amount with our system and shared the data to Baguio. In this way, we could ensure the optimal efficiency in both operation/logistics and carbon footprint control.” It sounds like a simple sponsorship turned into a project that involves extra costs in labour, time and effort? “We just do what we can!”
For businesses that truly embrace conscientiousness, it is neither for acting decent nor for any reward. That’s exactly what SWC embodies.
Sze Woo Chaan Gas Company Limited is the award winner of the Certificate of Excellence in the Community Engagement Award and Caring for People Award categories of HSBC Living Business Awards 2016. The Living Business Awards was established in 2004 and organized by HSBC. Partner organizations include The Hong Kong Council of Social Service, Business Environment Council Limited, and Policy for Sustainability Lab (under the Centre for Civil Society and Governance at The University of Hong Kong). The Living Business Awards aims to promote and encourage local SMEs to integrate ESGs and the SDGs into their daily operations, thereby enhancing their competitiveness and productivity.