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SME Diaries: How Covid-19 affected our catering business and made us change course in more ways than one

In this instalment, Mr Foo Zhi Yang, 30, the second-generation owner of a catering firm, recalls how the pandemic upended the company’s business, which revolved around corporate events. The firm began targeting health-conscious individuals, and also trained employees to take on different roles. This created a new revenue stream and put the company on the road to recovery.

SME Diaries: How Covid-19 affected our catering business and made us change course in more ways than one

Mr Foo Zhi Yang, 30, is the second-generation owner of Liang Food Caterer, which employs seven full-time local employees.

Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which form 99 per cent of businesses in Singapore, have felt the impact of Covid-19 keenly. TODAY’s Voices section is publishing first-hand accounts from SME owners and managers on the highs and lows of running a business in the pandemic.

In this instalment, Mr Foo Zhi Yang, 30, the second-generation owner of a catering firm, recalls how the pandemic upended the company’s business, which revolved around corporate events. The firm began targeting health-conscious individuals, and also trained employees to take on different roles. This created a new revenue stream and put the company on the road to recovery.

For the longest time, I considered food-and-beverage (F&B) to be one of the safest industries to start a business in, since food doesn’t just connect people as a universal language, it is also a necessity.

However, I got a rude awakening in 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic brought about unprecedented challenges, especially when buffet and large-scale catering services could not take place. My company, Liang Food Caterer, was vulnerable due to its entrenched service model of wholly catering to business clients.

With employees working from home and events dwindling to zero, our catering business came to a standstill. We hardly received any enquiries and sometimes had zero orders for the week. Our revenue dropped by approximately 80 per cent for the first time since 1988.

Closure looked like a possibility. However, I couldn’t bear to let my employees go, many of whom have stuck by us for years. I was determined to keep the family business going.

I was fortunate to come across the Service Industry Transformation Programme (SITP) by Workforce Singapore and the Singapore Productivity Centre in September 2020 which helped us relook our business models.

In June 2021, we launched a new e-commerce touchpoint, Liang Gourmet, targeting health-conscious individuals amid an increased demand from people working from home. This created a new revenue stream and helped bring in roughly 10 per cent of our sales revenue.

Reaching out to a new target segment was a steep learning curve for us but the programme’s facilitators helped to ease the transition.

We were also guided on developing SOPs (standard operating procedures) and training plans as we redesigned existing employees’ roles. For example, our delivery drivers took on responsibilities in preparing bentos in the kitchen.

With the successful launch of Liang Gourmet, we also recognised the need to improve our marketing efforts and increase our brand awareness.

Hence, we took on a second SITP project to equip our employees with digital marketing knowledge. Now, my administrative assistant can help with content curation and launch digital marketing campaigns.

We are still in the process of recovering lost revenue. With the recent easing of safe management measures, our priority is to restore our key revenue stream from business clients, while focusing on expanding our consumer clientele.

With more enquiries and orders now, business has improved over the past few weeks with revenue reaching close to 35 per cent of pre-pandemic days.

Our focus over the next few months is to embark on more aggressive marketing given the fierce competition in this saturated market.

This includes establishing a physical presence through mobile kiosks, and strengthening our capabilities by upskilling workers and hiring new staff in business development and marketing roles.

I am also open to considering those who are now in short-term Covid-19 support roles or back-to-work women, who have an interest in this industry.

We are also looking at expanding into healthier and green offerings, such as plant-based meals. 

While challenges such as the manpower crunch and increasing fuel and electricity costs remain, I am hopeful that these gradual steps will prove successful in our recovery process.

ABOUT THE WRITER:

Mr Foo Zhi Yang, 30, is the second-generation owner of Liang Food Caterer, which employs seven full-time local employees.

If you are an SME owner or manager with an experience to share or know someone who wishes to contribute to this series, write to voices [at] mediacorp.com.sg with your full name, address and phone number.

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SME Diaries business catering F&B Covid-19

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