Malaysian entrepreneur brings Hari Raya bazaar experience online to boost local micro-brands

·4-min read
Lowe and his team have taken artisanal bazaars online so Malaysians can continue to get their favourite Ramadan goodies. — Pictures courtesy of Poptron and TheTwoPineapples
Lowe and his team have taken artisanal bazaars online so Malaysians can continue to get their favourite Ramadan goodies. — Pictures courtesy of Poptron and TheTwoPineapples

PETALING JAYA, May 10 — Brian Johnson Lowe loved to frequent artisanal bazaars near his workplace in the days before Covid-19.

The array of items on display always caught his eye but it was more often the people behind the booths who left lasting impressions on him.

Their creativity and grit inspired the 43-year-old Penangite to start Poptron, an online marketplace that connects small lifestyle brands with buyers.

The platform boasts more than 100 micro-businesses and over 1,000 products ranging from handcrafted leather shoes to eco-conscious skincare.

The name Poptron is a portmanteau of the words “pop-up”, “trust”, and “online”, which emphasises their aim to create a close-knit community of micro-businesses and customers.

Lowe wants to help small brands ride out the challenges of the new normal and he took a leap of faith by launching the platform during the pandemic last year.

“(Our launch) was chaotic and a lot of things were unclear but at the same time, some issues were very clear.

“Micro-brands depend on bazaars and during the pandemic, there were none, so their sales took a huge hit.

“It’s not easy to sell online either because social media platforms limit your reach unless you pay them, so I knew we could do something,” Lowe told Malay Mail.

Many of the merchants on Poptron advocate eco-friendly practices, such as slow fashion or sourcing ingredients and materials from sustainable origins. — Picture courtesy of The Totomi
Many of the merchants on Poptron advocate eco-friendly practices, such as slow fashion or sourcing ingredients and materials from sustainable origins. — Picture courtesy of The Totomi

Festive seasons such as Hari Raya are usually a time where micro-brands see a spike in demand and Poptron is committed to giving them the leg-up they need during this period as well.

The platform helps formulate themed campaigns in addition to spotlighting brands on their blog and social media accounts.

Poptron also organised an online Ramadan giveaway this year to engage with their followers and highlight local entrepreneurs who are making one-of-a-kind products.

A unique e-commerce platform

Poptron officially launched in September 2020 and the company plans to expand into other South-east Asian countries later this year. — Picture courtesy of Poptron
Poptron officially launched in September 2020 and the company plans to expand into other South-east Asian countries later this year. — Picture courtesy of Poptron

Last year, Lowe decided to shut down My Performing Arts Agency, a venture he co-founded eight years ago, to focus on bringing Poptron to life.

It was an uphill task and Lowe recounted going through 42 rejections before he finally secured RM4 million in funding from a private investor in Hong Kong.

Unlike most online marketplaces, Poptron does not charge any commission fees and merchants only need to cover payment processing fees if applicable.

Poptron also requires merchants to be registered entities who make their own products, which means you won’t find any dropshippers or resellers touting wares on the website.

Lowe said these measures help create a safe and trusted platform for its users.

“This is to ensure the community that we have is trustworthy and vetted so buyers will be reassured that not only are the products genuine, the people behind them won’t try to scam them either.

“This already sets us apart from most online marketplaces that will onboard anyone who wants to sell anything because they’re aiming for more transactions.”

Poptron houses brands offering unique and one-of-a-kind products, ranging from healthy snacks to natural skincare. — Picture courtesy of Skin Cosmetics
Poptron houses brands offering unique and one-of-a-kind products, ranging from healthy snacks to natural skincare. — Picture courtesy of Skin Cosmetics

Each merchant also becomes part of a tight community as Lowe and his team always make the effort to get to know the people behind each brand and spotlight their products on social media.

“We do this out of respect. We respect and appreciate every single brand that we onboard because we recognise that they do hard work.

“We also have a group chat with all the merchants where we do our best to help each other and create a real community with each other.”

Lowe is also aware of the need to implement eco-conscious and socially responsible values with Poptron as the platform continues to grow.

Many Poptron merchants already hold sustainability and ethical practices close to their hearts and Lowe aims to take this a step further by adopting eco-friendly measures when it comes to shipping.

This can help reduce the strain on the environment especially when demand spikes during peak periods.

“E-commerce has a serious impact on the environment in the form of shipping.

“There are very few shipping providers that have an eco-conscious approach, but we have earmarked some of them and we want to partner up with providers who align with our values.

“It can’t happen at this point yet because we don’t have the scale required to do so but it’s already in our minds and we definitely want to pivot towards that,” said Lowe.

That vision might not be too far off as Poptron has big goals set up for the rest of 2021.

Lowe and his team are currently working on plans to expand their operations into Singapore, the Philippines, and Indonesia later this year.

To find out more about Poptron and its online marketplace, visit its website.

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