Monday June 18, 2012
Best foot forward
By NEVASH NAIR
Photos by SHAHRUL FAZRY ISMAIL
Two friends pursue their love for futsal, turning it into a thriving business.
FOR some football fans, the love for ‘the beautiful game’ goes beyond the football pitch or futsal court. It’s a case of football becoming a ‘dream’ job and a central part of their lives.
Take for instance, the Kuala Lumpur-based duo of Azhan Ismail and Raja Riznal Raja Abidin, who can’t get enough of the game. Maybe, playing professional football is a pipe dream. But there are other ways to indulge in this sporting passion.
Azhan and Raja Riznal have turned their passion of futsal into a lucrative business that is now thriving with the indoor sport’s growth in Malaysia.
Futsal is a variant of football that is played on a smaller pitch and mainly played indoors between two teams, each with five players.
Futsal’s name is a portmanteau of the Portuguese futebol de salão and the Spanish fútbol de salón (colloquially fútbol sala), which can be translated as ‘hall football’ or ‘indoor football.’
As the story goes, Azhan and Raja Riznal were futsal buddies and kept complaining about the apparel and equipment that they were not getting in Malaysia.
“We knew there were better shoes and balls — but we were not getting it here,” said Azhan, Futsalworks Sdn Bhd’s executive director.
“We had to shop online for brands that made apparel specifically for futsal and we had to wait for them to send it to us from the US or Europe,” he added.
Constantly frustrated, the two friends decided to pursue their passion. In 2009, they started an online retail outlet that brought in brands that were not commonly known to Malaysians.
Azhan and Raja Riznal teamed up with two other friends and incorporated Futsalworks and the initial plan was to be online entrepreneurs.
With a start-up capital of RM12,000, Futsalworks ventured into the sports retail business without any experience in the field.
Azhan is a qualified chartered accountant while Raja Riznal was a marketing communication manager with an oil and gas firm. The latter now handles all marketing and communication duties for Futsalworks.
They started by approaching companies such as Penalty, a sporting goods company established in 1970 in Sao Paulo, Brazil — manufacturing shoes, apparel, balls and sports accessories for indoor football.
“Penalty was one of the pioneers in futsal apparel and they were going through a re-branding process with some fresh investors. We approached them to be their distributors in the region and it has been a fruitful relationship ever since,” explained Raja Riznal.
Penalty is the leading brand in futsal apparel in Brazil, sponsoring the Brazilian futsal first division while Kelme (another brand carried by Futsalworks) is popular in Spain.
The futsal factory
Futsalworks secured a deal with Penalty and the company began selling their goods via Facebook, Mudah.com and other online retail channels.
“In the early days, we did not have a showroom. The goods were housed at our homes and each time a customer wanted to view an item, we would arrange for meetings at petrol stations and show it to them from my car booth,” said Raja Riznal.
Business grew via word-of-mouth and Futsalworks were getting queries on a daily basis.
We started a website with an investment of RM8,000 for customers to do online purchasing. Once customers banked in the money, we would send them the items via PosLaju,” he added.
However, this system could not cope as their clientele grew. Futsalworks decided to streamline their online purchasing system by engaging IP88 — an online payment service and solution for stores to accept comprehensive online payment options such as credit cards, local direct bank transfer and e-wallets.
The company now also has a showroom in Damansara Perdana as there was a growing demand for a place to view their goods. One of the store’s essential products is Penalty’s Max 1000 ball, regarded as the best futsal ball in the world. This unique eight panel ball is the offical match ball for both the Brazilian and Spanish Professional Futsal leagues.
Committed to keeping the cost of products low, Futsalworks has opted not to open a store in shopping malls or in downtown Kuala Lumpur.
As the business grew, so did Futsalworks. Today, their monthly operation cost has risen to RM10,000 as they hire four full-time staff.
According to Azhan, Futsalworks now has customers from Australia, Indonesia, Philippines, Brunei and Singapore and on a monthly average makes RM150,000 in sales.
The company also has six retail partners in Perak, Negri Sembilan, Johor and Pahang. By the year end, Futsalworks aims to have one retailer in each state.
“We have set stringent rules for those who want to be our retailers to ensure positive brand positioning. There is a floor price for all our products and retailers must have a physical store. We also do our bit in supporting them by ensuring that they always have stock,” said Azhan.
Despite having more than 31,700 fans on their Facebook page, Futsalworks believes traditional forms of advertising are still important to help the business grow. The company has three buses wrapped with their advertisements. One of it is an express bus that travels to Singapore regularly. Besides this, Futsalworks also plans to increase its profile in print media.
The company is also a sponsorship partner in the Kejohanan Futsal Institut Pengajian Tinggi (IPT) 2012 (Institute of Higher Learning Futsal Tournament).
“We have allocated RM100,000 annually for advertising,” said Azhan.
The non-Malay market segment is a thriving one as it makes up for 30% of the total players in Malaysia.
Azhan further explained that the non-Malay market segment is familiar with mainstream brands that are popular in the football scene, but not brands that are popular in futsal.
“There is a need for us to tap into the non-Malay market segment,” he added.
According to FIFA, futsal is the fastest growing indoor sport in the world.
Based on research by Futsalworks, there are approximately two million players in Malaysia. This figure is expected to grow within the next five years as new players enter the fray.
As for Futsalworks, they plan to be a one-stop futsal centre.
“We have books and DVDs that we will be importing and we want to provide a comprehensive service to the futsal community.
“Be it from starting up a futsal centre to providing qualified coaches, we want it all to be under one roof,” said Raja Riznal.
Currently, Futsalworks carry brands such as Kelme and XMunich from Spain, Penalty from Brazil, Pan from Thailand, Agla from Italy and League from Indonesia in their stable of goods.
The company sponsors rising stars such as national futsal players Ali Mahat, Ahmad Fawzul and Lovlytha Jelus and works closely with Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) to help grow the sport in Malaysia.
The future also looks bright for the futsal industry with the backing of the government.
The government has embarked on a programme called 1 Mukim 1 Futsal, to help develop the sport further.
As of June 11, the top five futsal teams in the world are Spain, Brazil, Italy, Russia and Portugal while Malaysia is ranked 70th in the world.