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Mano Plus, Penang. Repurposing localities to match its identity

Remaining independent is at the fundamentals of Mano Plus. Social media presence is how it grasps audiences to its environs. The products displayed are produced in Malaysia

Located across two locations in Malaysia, one being situated in the heart of history and culture – the state of Penang – is Mano Plus. Established in the year 2018 in Lebuh Pantai, Jessie Ng was the first of her kin to push forward a concept store in the Penang Island area. Located in Georgetown, alongside cafes, bars and museums, Mano Plus is an integration to the locality, serving items sought after by its customers. It was after the establishment of the first store that Ng pushed forward to homogenize the Mano Plus brand in the area of Kuala Lumpur. The second store, founded in 2019, is located at the heart of the city in GMBB Tower, a contrast to its predecessor. Maintaining a stance on carrying sustainable items, Ng avouches that the philosophy for Mano Plus has not changed since its founding days. Ng being based in Kuala Lumpur was a reason for expanding its vines to GMBB Tower, where the owner of the space intended on shifting the area to one fixated on the arts and culture. The journey begins upon graduating from her degree in Marketing at the University of Toledo, Ohio. Ng then came back to Kuala Lumpur to resume her role in her family’s furniture design store. It was in the year 2007 that Ng broke away from her familial business and founded a store under her vision, ‘Timeless Design’. The thesis of the business was sourcing minimalist, wooden based and modern-classic furniture for the local market consumers in Kuala Lumpur. «The store was then extended to Penang. I had a business partner who was assisting me in handling the store there. That was how I became acquainted with the landlord of the Mano Plus lot in the area». The owner of the space and his family had bought over a significant number of properties across the Penang Island area. «The street Mano Plus is placed on is equivalent to Wall Street. Banks, international and local are on the same street as us. The building has historic value, dating back to the colonial period of Malaysia». 

Mano plus’ costumer experience

The lot that the store is located on is wider when compared to other shop lots across the Penang Island. When the store was made available, the landlord had invited Ng to take over the space, where she set it up as a concept store. While Penang is abundant with cafés and souvenir stores, the owner of the lot and Ng agreed on forming a retail outlet that sets itself apart through the curation of items sold. Being settled in a heritage area, tourists from cruise holidays flock to the store as the port is located at the back of the shop lot. «Tourists who come in want to bring back a piece of Malaysia with them. Hand crafted items and gifts are made within the confines of the country». Emphasis on customer experience is at the heart of Mano Plus. The word ‘Mano’ in Italian brings about the meaning of hand. When brought together with the word ‘Plus’, it brings about the expansion of the brand; a multiplication of Mano Plus’ identity. Offering up the space in her furniture design store in Kuala Lumpur was how Mano Thinking came about. This followed suit after Mano Plus was set up in Penang. Mano Thinking was the first magazine library in Kuala Lumpur that was open to the public for free. Ng believes this is her duty and role to play in disseminating and utilizing the Mano space to give back to the people. «We repurposed Timeless Design. The ground and first floor comprise the furniture store. The second and third floor gives space to Mano Thinking and Mano Kitchen. The latter is a space where individuals can flock to have discourse on cooking and experiment cooking dishes themselves». 

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MANO PLUS, MURALES

The interiors at Mano Plus

Travelling back and forth between countries in the South Asian region, Ng drew design aspects from a plethora of retail outlets like Aēsop, whose identity varies from store to store. It was from this the ideation to start a concept store came from. «In standardizing, customers can anticipate the layout. This can become a bore. We don’t want that for Mano Plus’ customers». The store in Penang varies from its sister store in Kuala Lumpur. Carrying the same items at heart, they contrast in design. With the island being a prime flocking area for tourists, local and international, this urged Ng to formulate and diversify her business portfolio. «Besides being presented with an opportunity to start forth Mano Plus, it was driven from the inherent fact that Penang is filled with tourists». With the rising use of e-commerce in the day-to-day life of a regular consumer, Ng was driven to co-exist online and offline as a concept store. Items being sold in the store are easy to carry out in bags, prime in aesthetic design and are derived from independent-businesses. Food, books, magazines and wearables coincide with other concept items. When Ng describes the space being taken up by Mano Plus, she states that the area has become an assemblage for a variety of characters. «The internal area was preserved by us when we were renovating the space. We made the space such that as you drift from one area to the other, every inch of the store is open for exploration». Windows and the set of staircases in the store were not changed, being kept preserved from the previous tenant. The top walls and the first floor are left unpainted unlike the ground floor– creating a sense of history lingering in the store; a vacuum through time. The area offers an abundance of space, stretching out across seven thousand square feet on the ground and first floor. Spotlights are used to focus on items in the store aided by a natural skylight from the original structure of the building on the ceiling. This allows light to flood into the store. Shelving is practical, custom made by a local designer with the bottoms of each shelve allowing stocks of items to be kept away. «I was involved with the design of the shelving units being used in the store to hold the magazines and books. It was made to cajole a customer into picking up and purchasing a book». The first floor is where another outlet of Timeless Design is at. Contracting the designer to create chairs to entice customers to sit and read. This keeps them at ease in the store, allowing for them to enjoy their time at the space and even using the furniture when events are held here at the store. «There have been book launches, kid’s workshops, soap making workshops, Jazz musicians hosting live shows and talks alongside other events».

Mano Plus’ collaboration with Georgetown Festival

Remaining independent is at the fundamentals of Mano Plus. Social media presence is how it grasps audiences to its environs. The products displayed are produced in Malaysia. «While it is a normalcy in Kuala Lumpur for the existence of abundant concept stores, in Penang, we rolled the ball to the movement. As such, Mano Plus has spurred the budding of a variety of concept stores since our opening». To become a select, concept store and setting themselves apart is by consolidating brands across state borders into the items sold here. Examples of items include hand crafted chocolate made by her peers. Ng states the brands and magazines that are sold here need to have a sense of originality and authenticity to its identity. «We do not intend on carrying brands who outsource their goods from other countries and for them to stick their labels on the items. That is not what Mano Plus stands for». There was an urgency to sustain and resuscitate the depleting fondness to book reading. «When we started out, the book business was disappearing. It was integral for us, as a concept store, to include a space for coffee, books and other items». On Sundays, local events take place on the streets of Lebuh Pantai. Hosted by the governing bodies of Penang, encouraging local traders in food, creative arts and hand craft items to share and sell goods as a means to support themselves. «It takes place every Sunday from eight in the morning till twelve in the afternoon. Streets are blocked out for pedestrians to walk on the streets. This brings customers to us». Mano Plus remains as a tableland for micro brands and is open to carrying a multitude of concept items that can be sold to its customers in either location. Locality exists in the store. Batik printed fabric is sold here that is made by the artists in the area. Mano Plus was in a collaboration with the Georgetown Festival which is a tribute to the arts. «The arts are strong here. A number of photographers who have removed themselves from the Penang area still find themselves back here. We work with them and give them freedom to utilize the store». Magazines vary– lifestyle, travel, home living and food are some genres that exist on the shelves that are vetted by Ng herself alongside the concept items. «The prices of international magazines have been rising due to the decay in the exchange rate. It has to be chock full of content to be sold here. I have no issues in carrying local, independent magazines. We carry titles like Musotrees and Process». Ng shares that one of the brands, ‘Langit’, which translates to sky in the Malay language, are a non-profit brand run by University Students that grows and sells rice, where the profits are redistributed to the indigenous people in Sarawak. «We assist growing brands who do not have an online presence to platform them and sell items here at Mano Plus».

Mano Plus’ low-carbon impact

Customers abroad reach out to Mano Plus, from countries like Singapore, Australia and Canada, intending on purchasing concept items. In the near future, Mano Plus is stretching out its reach once more in the greater Kuala Lumpur area to a repurposed former cinema known as REXKL. «Unlike the space in GMBB, while it is in the heart of the city, it is hard to reach. REXKL is in the center, nearby Chinatown. We are certain that this would amount to exposure for the items we carry and for our brand image as well. The design of the store will vary from its predecessors, in a way to fit to the building’s identity». Remaining a concept store, the outlet in REXKL will not sell every one of its items due to the size of the area. Expanding their entity as a concept store, Ng shares the intention to curate and create a set of store brand items for their customers. Mano Plus sustains their low-carbon impact by showcasing and selling items that are healthy for the earth. «We are one of the few retailers to sell Freitag, bags made from cargo canvas. We have a number of customers who seek out these bags». Post pandemic, Mano Plus is looking forward to hosting events across their stores, being led by future industry creatives and leaders. 

IMAGE GALLERY

Mano Plus
10300 George Town,
Pulau Pinang, 
Malaysia

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