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SME Diaries: My spice shop relied heavily on walk-in customers. Going online has got us through the pandemic

In this instalment, Mr J Jeyaseelan, 33, who is a third generation business owner, recalls how the pandemic initially took a heavy toll on the family spice shop. Going online to sell his spice blends was not quite the same as his wet market shop but sales gradually rebounded. 

SME Diaries: My spice shop relied heavily on walk-in customers. Going online has got us through the pandemic

The writer at his second outlet at the Fairprice outlet at Parkway Parade mall.

J Jeyaseelan

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 J Jeyaseelan, 33, who is a third generation business owner, recalls how the pandemic initially took a heavy toll on the family spice shop. Going online to sell his spice blends was not quite the same as his wet market shop but sales gradually rebounded. 

I run a third generation business. My grandfather arrived in Singapore as an immigrant in the 1940s. He ran several businesses, but his passion lay with spices. 

He eventually got my dad to take over the family business, and ultimately me. I trade spices and craft special spice mixes according to customer preferences. 

My base is inside the wet market at Block 294 Yishun St 22, infamous for stifling crowds, snaking queues, overwhelming smells and the country’s freshest produce. All of this changed when the pandemic hit.

When the Government upgraded the risk alert level from yellow to orange in February 2020, masses came in unprecedented numbers to snap up things they didn’t need. My shop (where I sell other groceries besides spices) was swept clean. It took us two long days to restock. 

But as the days went by, our morale plummeted.

When the circuit breaker was imposed, our shop, which is 90 per cent dependent on walk-ins, was barricaded at the front where people had to place their orders. My spice mixes were reliant on showmanship and visibility, both of which were gone. 

I worked 16 hours a day, up from 12, but my sales dropped by 70 per cent at one point.

We had to think quickly. We had to go online. 

I crafted a Facebook post to share a childhood memory of me seeing my father’s passion at work along with a photo of the spices and was pleasantly surprised that it went viral.

We received over 1,000 enquiries within three days, and my family members rallied together to respond to all of them. 

My passion for writing and expression helped me in quickly pivoting the business on the digital front, including launching a new website and a Facebook page which now has almost 5,000 followers.

Facebook and the other digital platforms do more than just boost your profile. When used correctly, they can spread positive messages. 

I think of Facebook as another shopfront. You can "build" these stores in various "neighbourhoods" and reach niche audiences with the support of your community. 

Our digital presence also allows us to sell online, helping the business to get back on track.

With that, I decided to expand and set up a second outlet in January 2021 at Parkway Parade mall.  

The influence of the pandemic is permanent, and it is striking that people have started using “pre-Covid” and “post-Covid” as time markers. 

I am glad my business has managed to weather the crisis by adapting. 

However, I still believe there is no direct replacement for what I do in person. There is no experience like smelling the market, taking in the colour of the spices, or hearing the juxtaposition of Cantonese and Malay. 

When you go online you can only see chilli powder. When you come to my shop, you can feel its heat, see its scorching red colour, and take in its exuberant earthiness. There is simply nothing else like it.

 

ABOUT THE WRITER:

J Jeyaseelan, 33, is a third generation business owner of the company Jeya Spices. Having expanded to two outlets with more on the horizon, his passion lies in expressing his love for spices in his fresh and innovative spice mixes.

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SME Diaries career digitalisation business

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