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TRAPO is an automotive accessories brand and they produce Malaysia’s #1 best-selling car mat in Malaysia. We had the opportunity to interview the CEOs and Co-Founders of TRAPO, Tzong Lee and Zare Lee.
We talked about how TRAPO began, their company vision, challenges they faced, and what makes TRAPO’s car mats so unique. They also shared some advice on maintaining good car hygiene.
Zare and Tzong are siblings and true entrepreneurs that are paving the way to a more hygienic lifestyle for drivers in Asia.
How did TRAPO begin? Why car mats?
Tzong: TRAPO started in 2016. The story started where we had to travel a lot, we spend roughly 2 hours in the car every day. When it came to cleaning the car weekly, I realised that car mats were creating a headache for all of us. I started to ask around for solutions, asking people whether they know any good car mat brands and no one had an answer for me. I realised that this was a problem for Malaysians.
At the same time, our family business runs a factory so every year we have about 300 tons of foam wastage. Zare and I discussed ways we could use the leftover foam and conducted R&D, and we turned the recycled foam into car mats.
We were just a factory, so we didn’t have any connections in the automotive industry hence it was difficult for us to sell our products. It was 2016 so it was just the beginning of e-commerce in Malaysia. We thought of trying something new by selling car mats online. We knew that car mats are normally considered a “boring” item, so we started to think about how we could make it a success.
Throughout the journey, we were inspired by a popular customisable shoe, NikeID. We decided to customise our car mat and allow customers to pick what they like. This created a unique selling point for TRAPO. We then formed a website and that’s how our e-commerce journey began.
What are TRAPO’s vision, goals and brand values?
Zare: TRAPO’s vision is to be the leading car accessories provider in Asia. We believe in solving problems related to safety and hygiene, while ensuring a comfortable driving experience. We want to bring value to all our customers and that is the most important brand value of all.
The way we solve problems is through innovation. We solve problems that consumers face on a daily basis while driving, such as accidental coffee spills in the car. Our products help to solve these problems and I believe TRAPO is growing quite well during this time.
Can you tell us more about TRAPO’s products? Where are the recycled mats sourced from?
Zare: We source most of our raw materials from our factory, but we are also a true believer in local rubber. Hence, we infuse some local resources into our car mats to bring it to the next level.
We also use two very important technologies in our car mats. One is a patent that is used as an underlay to prevent slipping on car surfaces. It doesn’t hurt your floorboard either so when you take it out, it’s just like new. This tells our customers we are not only solving their problem, but we are solving it innovatively and no one else has ever done it this way.
We also have anti-bacterial technology. We work with a Japanese partner and our car mats kill bacteria so that they don’t have the chance to multiply on the car mats. This kind of technology makes our “boring” product actually very special.
Has TRAPO faced any conflict and how did you overcome it?
Tzong: I wouldn’t call this a conflict but it’s more of a challenge for our growth. In the very beginning when we started this concept of customisation, our biggest challenge was made-to-order. It meant that we needed a group of people to wait for the orders to come in and then make them. I think it was a very bold move on our part as we had zero traction in the beginning.
Customisation usually comes second. Generally, you start off with selling one product and gain traction, then you start to build your team. So that was our biggest challenge as we had to work our way to get the products customised according to the growth.
How we overcame this – as I said earlier, we have a factory, so we needed a solution for that as well. We had multiple potential solutions for the foam wastage problem. We picked the method that we believed in and we repurposed the foam into another product as we wanted to contribute back to the community.
If you were not in the automotive accessories industry, what alternate business do you see yourselves doing?
Tzong: Both of us were born into an entrepreneurial family, our dad is an entrepreneur until today. The entrepreneurial spirit is in our blood so we will just naturally create products that bring value. If we were not in automotive, I believe we would be in the family business and creating household products or toys.
How has the pandemic affected TRAPO?
Zare: Our product is something that people usually only buy when they change their car, and that’s very normal. Average car mat sales (in Malaysia) in January and February last year (2020) were ~50,000 cars per month. When the first wave of pandemic hit in March 2020, the number drastically dropped to 1,300 cars. We lost ~95% of potential customers and it hurt us very badly during the pandemic.
Then, the government suddenly launched an incentive, the SST-free campaign (back in June-Dec 2020). After the first round of MCO, there was a slight uptick in sales in May and June as the government was promoting car sales and we rode on that wave. We opened up 1-2 more stores during that period, such as our recent store in Glenmarie because we saw an increase in car sales.
Unfortunately, in January 2021, we went into another round of MCO and all our stores had to close. Car sales dropped and we moved into the worst wave which is happening now. Our shops have been closed for 2 months and it is a tough period for us. But as a business, we maintain a positive outlook and we are ready and excited to serve our customers better after MCO.
Could you share a few words about the OXTRA range of car accessory products?
Tzong: OXTRA’s name actually came from TRAPO Extra. We have customers asking us, “Since you are solving the car mat problem, what else do you offer?”
Personally, I realised that I have phone holder problems, car charging problems, etc. The key problem is that people don’t know what to buy. We had the idea of starting the OXTRA brand. Similar to the car mats, how can we narrow it down to one product that we believe is the best product to represent TRAPO?
Our vision is to become the #1 best-selling car accessories provider in Asia. Our car mat is still our hero product but now we are looking into other solutions that we can also provide for our customers.
What are your tips on maintaining good car hygiene?
Tzong: The car hygiene concern became bigger during this pandemic. People ask us, “What car products do I need?” Generally, you need to keep your car clean because you spend a long time in the car. There was research that showed that we spend an average of 1.5 hours per day in the car.
The first thing you need to look into is getting a good car mat. It doesn’t mean you need to get a specific car mat, it really depends on your daily behaviour. Where do you usually travel to? Do you buy vegetables and fish frequently? In these cases, it is normal for water to drip onto your car mats and stay there for a week.
The second thing is you need to monitor the air quality. At TRAPO, we offer an air purifier that has a PM2.5 reader to tell you the air quality of your car. In general, make sure to keep the air clean, wash your car often and try not to eat in your car.
Where do you see TRAPO 5 years from now?
Tzong: TRAPO is now offered in countries outside of Malaysia, such as Singapore and Indonesia. We get queries from time to time on whether TRAPO will become available in other countries and that is something we are working on.
On the other hand, when it comes to product innovation, that is something we are always working on. We will continue to innovate and improve comfort, hygiene and safety for all our users.
- Interview was covered and written by Brenda Ho, writer at BestBuyGet.
- Special thanks to Trapo team for their cooperation and time
- This article was not sponsored by Trapo.