Unique Gas Solution Pte. Ltd. (UGS) entered the commercial market for LPG services at a time when Singapore’s food and beverage (F&B) sector was on the rise. Within 20 years following its establishment, UGS went from a local LPG provider to a leader in Singapore's commercial LPG industry. By differentiating its corporate identity through dynamic branding and quality service, the company showed how an SME with a robust business strategy can make rapid progress in only a few years by successfully exploiting its intellectual property (IP) assets and strategic branding initiatives.
Located in the Republic of Singapore (Singapore), UGS is a supplier of products and services based on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) – a flammable mixture of gases used as fuel in private residences and in the commercial sector. As an energy solution partner, UGS's services include supplying LPG, installing necessary piping and equipment, and providing maintenance and support services to its clients in the commercial and industrial sector.
Since its foundation in 1993, UGS has developed a dynamic branding and commercialization strategy, which has been supported by an active IP assets portfolio. As a result of a boom in business and increased recognition, founder and managing director, Mr. Thomas Tan skillfully maneuvered UGS from residential homes of Singapore into the commercial sector of the country in 2000.
Now, UGS is a key supplier of LPG products and services to the foods and beverages (F&B) sector of Singapore. Via the IP system, the company has protected its intangible assets and corporate reputation, differentiated its goods and services from those of competitors, and ensured its current and future avenues for expansion.
UGS was established as Unique LP Gas Services in 1993 by Mr. Tan, an entrepreneur who founded the company. In the first two years after it was founded, UGS was met with relative success in Singapore's residential market for LPG goods and services. This early success allowed the company to expand its service provision via a purchase in 1995 of Ready Gas Company, a provider of natural gas also in Singapore, thus acquiring its clientele of 2,000 household customers a month. In only two years following this acquisition, UGS's clientele had grown to 8,500 household customers a month.
In 1996, this small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) expanded its services by establishing a subsidiary known as Unique Gas Trading. Unique Gas Trading to service new clientele in the F&B sector, which includes restaurants, coffee shops, and bars in prominent locations in Singapore.
Mr. Tan was far-sighted and could see residential demand of LPG would shift to the commercial sector as more housewives going back to work would have less time to cook at home and thus shift their demand to outside eateries.
By supplying both the residential and commercial sectors, UGS saw annual growth in sales volume of 75 percent between 1997 and 1999. This dual market strategy continued for another four years until 2003 when Mr. Tan sold off ULPGS. Through Unique Gas Trading Mr. Tan decided to concentrate on the commercial sector, which resulted in the company doing business primarily within Singapore's F&B market and industrial market.
By 2009, a large section of the F&B market in Singapore drew their LPG supplies from UGS. By then UGS had partnered with three major oil & gas companies in the LPG industry in Singapore: ExxonMobil, SingGas (formerly Shell Gas), and SunGas (formerly BP Gas). These strategic partnerships secured UGS its reputation of no downtime when it came to its LPG supply services.
In addition to focusing on industry, in 2009, UGS revamped its brand image and commercialization strategy – indeed, up until this point, the SME had not placed a priority on brand development.
To better reflect the company's hallmark services UGS decided to re-brand its corporate identity and changed its name from Unique Gas Trading to Unique Gas Solution. Another major change involved was to adopt a new logo: an image of four petals in a pattern of a cross that is, according to UGS, evokes an image of safety, positive growth, continuity, transparency and integrity. According to the company, the re-branding reflects its desire not only to differentiate itself from its competitors but also its plan to keep future avenues for expansion into other types of energy sectors open.
To translate this major change in brand image at ground level, UGS decided to completely overhaul of its human resources (HR) department. To this end, UGS relied on the Capability Development Grant (CDC), a subsidy by the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), Singapore that provides strategic consultancy support to develop SMEs in the country.
While working with consultants provided by the CDC scheme, UGS was able to establish a more professional HR practice, such as detailed job descriptions for key positions and developed standard operating procedures for hiring staff. Prospective employees are now recruited and vetted via criteria standardized hiring system, which ultimately saves UGS time and money. In large part due to these new recruitment procedures, UGS was able to secure quality staff, thereby enhancing its corporate identity.
Improvements to the company's HR department ran parallel to changes in UGS's operational processes and procedures. For example, by developing a customized gas monitoring system, UGS can assure LPG customers that their gas supply would be replenished before it is exhausted, thus eliminating any sort of downtime for gas supply services. This commitment to reliable customer service is captured in a company slogan: "No Gas Disruption, Safety and Business Continuity."
In addition, UGS has also put in place other measures covering staff training, the implementation of back-up systems to streamline operations and continuity of critical business services even in major incidents and disasters. To better manage customer data, orders and billing the company's customer-facing employees rely on hand-held personal digital assistants (PDAs) which can be managed on site and in real time.
In respect of safety, a barcoded tag has been affixed to every tank allowing UGS to ensure the tank is original and untampered. The barcoded tag also enables UGS to track the length of time a cylinder has been in use so as to provide more concise recommendations for replacement or removal. Such digitization efforts have resulted in improved efficiency and in cost savings, for example, paperwork has been reduced by 90 percent since its introduction.
Significantly, many of these important changes have been recognized by national and international industry standards and certifications.
In 2008, UGS attained its first certification ISO 9001:2000 from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), a multinational standards-setting body. UGS was the one of the first in the LPG industry in Singapore to receive ISO 9001:2000 which ensures that UGS's managerial systems allow for a non-disruptive and effective delivery of services.
UGS is known for its very high safety standards. UGS's LPG services adhere to the norms established by the Singapore Civil Defense Force, a licensing body in the country that regulates the use of flammable products. To better educate its customers about these LPG regulations, UGS introduced a new mascot, MR UGS, which represents its diverse categories of clientele designed as gas cylinders. MR UGS helps convey the company's personality and is expected to further strengthen its position as a leader in the commercial LPG sector of Singapore.
In 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016, UGS was recognized as a Singapore Business Superbrand by Superbrands Ltd., an independent arbiter of international brands. Furthermore, UGS was the first and only company in the LPG industry to receive the international quality Business Continuity Management System accreditation, which qualified UGS for ISO 22301:2012.
With its brand identity secured and its corporate structure enhanced, UGS continues to raise brand awareness via a robust advertising campaign. To this end, the company has relied on advertising in major newspapers in Singapore such as the Straits Times, Business Times, and the Lianhe Zaobao (the country's largest Chinese language publication) as well as in related industry magazines.
Revamping its corporate identity was no easy task, and UGS has protected its investment in its branding campaign and commercialization strategies by relying on the IP system. For example, the company made sure to patent its customized gas monitoring invention as well as register a trademark for its company name and four-petal logo.
In 2008, UGS applied for a trademark for UGS at the new logo at the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS). The trademark and logo were registered with IPOS the same year.
The next trademark UGS registered was of a brown gas tank featuring UGS's four-petal logo and the words "UGS energy solution partner", applied for and registered in 2016.
UGS, moreover, filed for a patent for a "system for monitoring of gas supply and method of operation thereof" with IPOS. The patent was granted in 2013 and the abstract and drawings submitted to IPOS are as follows:
There is provided a system for monitoring supply of liquid petroleum gas. The system has at least a first source of liquid petroleum gas, a vaporizer, a first piping assembly connecting the first source of liquid petroleum gas and the vaporizer, a third piping assembly connecting the vaporizer and appliance of end user, pressure sensors arranged to detect gas pressure in the system, a control panel connected to the pressure sensors and adapted to perform one or more predetermined actions in response to signals received, the signals corresponding to pressure detected in respective locations in the system. The predetermined actions include an action of generating a message to be sent to a designated electronic device supervised by an attendant.
In addition to trademarks and patents, UGS also owns the domain name www.ugs.com.sg where users can play the game "Making Gas Safe an Efficient" and learn how to stay safe and save costs on LPG with MR UGS, the newly introduced mascot.
UGS's brand development and commercialization success has benefitted from IP management advice and support provided by experts from IPOS and facilitated by the Singapore MTI under the Intellectual Property Management for C-Suite Seminar (IPMCS). IPMCS was a joint effort between the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and IPOS to promote IP utilization awareness among C-suite or C-level managers (or the most senior executive level managers in a company, e.g. CEOs) of small businesses.
Furthermore, the SME was encouraged by IPCMS to seek expansion beyond Singapore to ASEAN and other markets. As the Executive Director, Ms. Jessica Ang, said in 2012, "The consultants at [IPOS] told us that, ‘Hey, maybe you can package, get a trademark or patent and then go overseas to market it. It was something I didn't think about." In fact, in 2017, Ms. Ang met with Mr. U San Myint, Deputy Director General of the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration of the Republic of Myanmar to discuss opportunities of investment.
Through a corporate overhaul and continuous efforts to broaden its market access through efficient and innovative energy solutions, UGS has developed its market share by gaining a foothold in Singapore's growing F&B scene.
These changes have increased brand equity for the company and improved service delivery on a number of fronts: speed, safety, security, transparency, accuracy, productivity, efficiency and cost savings. In other words, UGS has not only enhanced the company's corporate identity and operational efficiency, it has also improved its capabilities to compete against rivals based on quality rather than on (often volatile) gas prices.
Thanks to UGS, prominently located F&B businesses throughout the country can continue to enjoy professionally delivered LPG services from one of the Singapore's superbrands.
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