City & Country: Daring to dream

Along Jalan Berangan in Changkat Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur, is a row of shophouses. If you were to stroll along the undulating road, you would notice a guesthouse near the end of it.

No 41 Berangan opened its doors in March 2009 as a test bed for three friends — Masila M Ariff, Zulkifli Mat Jusoh and Evelyn Robijns — who were making a foray into the hospitality business.

The three shared a dream of one day venturing into the hospitality business and, ironically, the opportunity appeared during the global financial crisis.  “I think the timing was perfect because during the crisis, travellers were looking for budget and value-for-money accommodation,” Zulkifli says.

Masila (left), Zulkifli and Robijns have even bigger plans in storeThe guesthouse is managed by  The Berangan Sdn Bhd, which was established in 2007. A year since its opening, the average occupancy rate is 75% on weekdays and 100% during the weekends.
“This is our test bed before venturing into more high-end projects. Rather than going straight into something high-end that demands a larger investment and more risk, we decided on  a trial with 41 Berangan,” Masila tells City & Country.

Masila and Robijns were in the advertising industry while Zulkifli was in marketing. Masila and Zulkifli were once colleagues at Bates and AMC Communications, while Masila and Robijns used to work together in Leo Burnett.

The three found and acquired the shophouse in Changkat Bukit Bintang five years ago. In 2007, they founded The Berangan Sdn Bhd to operate the guesthouse and also to expand the brand.

However, it was only during the crisis that things started moving.  Zulkifli was head of marketing in a multinational firm but in November 2008, his department was closed down.

“I decided then to pursue my own dream at 41 Berangan. Things happen for a reason, not by coincidence ... that is what I believe,” he says. “It was a turning point for me.  By December, I was busy working with contractors and shopping for bed sheets for the guesthouse.”

The guesthouse records full occupancy during weekendsMasila and Robijns, who decided to opt for early retirement as business directors in Leo Burnett, joined Zulkifli.

Masila had been in advertising for 15 years, serving in AMC, Leo Burnett and then Bates. “My original background was accountancy. I’ve always loved numbers,” she  says.

“Evelyn [Robijns] is a Belgian and used to work with me in Leo Burnett. All of us have combined our creativity, marketing skills and experience to build The Berangan brand,” Masila adds.

While Masila and Zulkifli oversee the management side of the business, Robijns who is currently residing in Mumbai, India, takes care of the corporate identity as well as acting as custodian for The Berangan Group via net meetings and Skype.
One of the rooms at 41 Berangan
“We are in constant communication, giving feedback and suggestions. Evelyn also travels frequently and is able to study and evaluate what is happening in other markets,” Zulkifli says.

“Berangan means dreaming in Malay. And since the property sits on a road called Berangan, it made sense for us to work with the ‘dream’ theme,” Zulkifli says, explaining the name of the guesthouse.

Before its transformation into a guesthouse, the property was leased for two years and was left vacant for another two years, says Zulkifli, adding that  they have spent more than a quarter of a million ringgit to do up 41 Berangan.

Now looking spanking clean and fresh, 41 Berangan, originally built in the 1970s, exudes a homely feeling when one steps into it. The 11 air-conditioned rooms range from RM80 to RM200 a day.

In the small courtyard next to the shop are two containers that have been turned into rooms with attached bathrooms. “There was a foreigner who loved to stay in this particular room; he loved to hear the sound of the rain falling on the roof,” Zulkifli recalls.

Interestingly, the company also owns a 3-bedroom duplex apartment in Kenari Court, Pandan Indah, Selangor. When there is a big group or when there are insufficient rooms at the guesthouse, the trio will suggest that guests stay at the apartment.  

There seems to be no stopping the Berangan brand. Zulkifli points out that 41 Berangan is already in the 2010 Lonely Planet’s hotels & hostels listings. At the time of this interview, the guesthouse was also ranked No 3 in the “Kuala Lumpur Specialty Lodging” category on travel guide and research website, 

Meanwhile, Masila and Zulkifli have injected their inherited land in Hulu Langat, Selangor, and Pasir Mas, Kelantan, into the company to be developed into a campsite, a homestay and bungalow villas.

“We are planning to have a campsite on a 4.5-acre site in Sungai Tekali and bungalow villas in Sungai Lui and Hulu Langat,” Zulkifli explains. The plan is to open the campsite by midyear, with 10 containers on it. There will also be a building that serves as a meeting point.

The bungalow villa project in Sungai Lui is still in its preliminary stages and will only take off after the campsite project. Homestay accommodation is planned on the 5-acre site in Pasir Mas. “We are looking for support from the government and the Tourism Board for our expansion plans,” Zulkifli says.

The partners are also thinking of opening a boutique hotel in the city’s Golden Triangle.

Acknowledging the competition, Zulkifli says budget hotels complement each other.

“Sometimes we run out of rooms, especially on weekends, and we call them to check whether they have a room. The challenge is basically trying to satisfy guests and to maintain the place,” he says.

Another interesting fact about 41 Berangan lies in its use of recycled materials, such as bed frames. “We believe in recycling, like turning the container into a cool room. We also designed our bed frames from recycled paper. Not only is it eco-friendly, it is also economical,” says Zulkifli, adding that they have received enquiries from abroad to supply its container room. The company is also studying requests to manage holiday homes, he reveals.

This article appeared in City & Country, the property pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 804, May 3-9, 2010

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