True success story of Lee Thiam Wah and 99 Speedmart
What does a wheel chair and a grocery store have in common? Enter Lee Thiam Wah, a wheelchair-bound mini-market entrepreneur who defied all odds to become the most successful retail chain store owners in Malaysia. Dubbed Malaysia’s “King of Mini-Marts” for his business empire of 99 Speedmart supermarket chain with over 800 store outlets nationwide, Lee Thiam Wah was struck with polio since young and had to be confined to a wheel-chair for life! But he had a lifelong dream…
99 Speedmart proprietor and co-founder Lee Thiam Wah pictured here with his wife at one of his many shop outlets nationwide
Born and bred into a poor family, he lived life with little luxury. His dad was a construction worker while his mom was a street hawker. Coming from a family of eleven children, he barely finished primary school and had to contend with basic education. Yet, he strived to better himself and to continue learning on his own initiative. He borrowed books from neighbours and sold snacks on the sidewalks to earn a living. Having a never-quit attitude drove him to improve his life circumstance. He worked tirelessly day & night to save up money to start a grocery stall.
His maiden venture into sundry goods and household merchandise took off with positive and encouraging response from the general public. Learning through experience from customer feedback and also studying his competitors, his business grew and flourish over time. Lee later sold his fledgling business for a handsome sum of RM88,000 and started his first mini-mart. According to him, the real challenge lies with competing with the likes of contemporary Chinese medicine halls as well as modern international hypermarkets in terms of pricing and range.
Soon after changing his mini-mart’s name to 99 Speedmart in 1999, he continued to build his empire with the opening of 175 outlets in Klang. Lee later took his business nationwide to include Sabah and Sarawak. By June 2016, 99 Speedmart had launched its 800th outlet in Taman Pahlawan, Melaka. During a Forbes interview in 2010, Lee’s retail empire had a turnover of RM150 million annually with some 2,000 employees. Today, 99 Speedmart employs more than 6,000 workers, has a fleet of 100 lorries and six distribution centres all over Malaysia.
It has been an inspirational, thought-provoking and heart-warming tale of rags-to-riches, and also a real-life Malaysian success story. The secret to Lee Thiam Wah’s stunning success lies with having unlimited passion, unconditional persistence, and unwavering perseverance. His awe-inspiring story also proves to others that physical disability or personal handicap should never be seen or perceived as an obstacle or stumbling block towards attaining your goals & dreams as well as successes in life.