5 Things You Should Know About Eu Yan Seng

Eu_Yan_Sang_logoWhilst living in Singapore means sunshine and blue skies most days, at this time of year it can also mean prolonged coughs and viruses. Of course, not everyone wants to pop pills to get better – which is where Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) companies such as Eu Yan Seng (EYS) (SGX: E02) might step in.

This 130-year-old, Singapore-based firm’s history goes back to 1873, when its founder, Eu Kong left his hometown in Southern China to seek his fortune in Malaya.

Starting out tin mining in the small town of Goping, Perak, he noticed how the miners turned to opium to relieve their pain and suffering from their harsh work and living conditions – oblivious to the dangers of opium on their health.

Eu Kong introduced them to an alternative – Traditional Chinese Medicine remedies and by 1879, had opened his own “Yan Sang” TCM shop. His business soon comprised tin mines; remittance and rubber planting as well as a further TCM shop.

By 1910, with Eu Kong’s son Eu Tong Sen at the helm the company branched out into other parts of Malaya, Singapore, Hong Kong and Southern China. The company’s name was changed to Eu Yan Sang (EYS).

When Eu Tong Sen died in 1941, he left his businesses to be shared equally between his 13 sons. Sadly, by 1973, most of the businesses had been sold off or liquidated leaving only EYS, with the family owning 75% of the business.

In 1989, one of Eu Tong’s Sen’s grandsons, Richard Eu, joined EYS Holdings in an attempt to keep the struggling family business alive. However, by 1990, when even more family members sold off their shares in EYS, property firm “Lum Chang” made an opportunistic investment and took over the company.

Keep it in the family…

Four years later, Richard Eu and two of his cousins managed to buy out Lum Chang’s shares in EYS Holdings – making the firm a family business once again.

They renamed it “Eu Yan Sang International Holdings” and quickly bought back one of the other businesses “Eu Yan Sang Hong Kong”.

The company turned its focus to modernising its medical hall business and manufacturing modern and convenient ways to consume traditional Chinese medicines and tonics.

But did you know…

  1. The company’s name is Cantonese – “Yan” meaning kind or benevolent, while “Sang” represents birth, life or livelihood. Together, Yan Sang means “Caring for Mankind”.
  2. Following Eu Kong’s death in 1890, his son Eu Tong Sen inherited the family business at just 13 years old. However, he didn’t take the helm until 1898, when he turned 21.
  3. Singapore named a main street in Chinatown after Eu Tong Sen upon his death.
  4. During the 2003 SARS outbreak, Eu Yan Sang manufactured and distributed 42,000 Anti-Viral TCM sachets for free to frontline healthcare workers in Hong Kong.
  5. Richard Eu never imagined himself selling Chinese herbs for a living, believing that the “whole point of studying in London in the Swinging Sixties was to be Mick Jagger”. He has recently finally realised his dream and cut a jazz/blues/rock album, profits from which go to the Rainbow Centre  – a school for children with special needs.

Bricks ‘n’ Mortar

When Richard Eu took over the business in 1993, it had just one store in each of its key locations of Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. However, he held a strong belief that in order for TCM to survive, it must be taken to the “doorsteps of its consumers” and set about opening more “bricks ‘n’ mortar” Eu Yan Sang stores across the island.

Today, the Eu Yan Sang name is synonymous with Traditional Chinese Medicine, with 49 EYS stores in Singapore, with a further 56 in Hong Kong and 93 in Malaysia with practitioners offering diagnosis and advice as well as holistic remedies.

East Meets West

As for the future, Eu Yan Sang believes it can bring Chinese medicine to the Western world, by adding signature Chinese herbs to western health supplements such as vitamins.

The company bought the assets of Australian firm Healthzone Ltd, over a year ago and is infusing the supplements sold under that brand name with Chinese herbs, in order to fight colds and coughs. It also owns the Australian brand YourHealth.

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The information provided is for general information purposes only and is not intended to be personalised investment or financial advice. Motley Fool Singapore contributor Alison Hunt doesn’t own shares in any companies mentioned.