SME Diaries: The pandemic threw our carefully laid plans out of the window. We changed course to survive
Mr Vincent Wei and Mr Sven Yeo, co-founders of agri-tech firm Archisen, describe how Covid-19 disrupted their carefully crafted plans for a flagship product. They quickly adjusted the firm’s strategy and devised new types of salads after realising more people were eating at home in the pandemic.
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 Vincent Wei and Mr Sven Yeo, co-founders of agri-tech firm Archisen, describe how the pandemic disrupted their carefully crafted plans for a flagship product. They quickly adjusted the firm’s strategy and devised new types of salads after realising more people were eating at home in the pandemic.
In April last year, shortly after Covid-19 hit, Archisen had just started to sell vegetables under our flagship brand Just Produce.
Initially, the plan was to supply the vegetables only to hotels, restaurants and cafes, but because the pandemic happened right after we launched our brand, sales were affected.
When news of the coronavirus broke, our hearts sank because of the speed and impact of this black-swan event disrupting our carefully crafted plans.
We knew that many of our business assumptions and plans were no longer valid, and months of work went out of the window immediately.
Similar to the various stages of grief, we came to an acceptance of the situation as pragmatism and resilience kicked in.
The clock was ticking and the pressure was real.
We knew that we had to adapt to the situation quickly, or we would not survive.
The team gathered and took a long, hard look at the situation.
We realised more people were eating at home during the pandemic and swiftly adjusted our business strategy to focus on building retail distribution channels and branding.
We devised new types of salads that would appeal to consumers.
As it was a new market for us, we had to experiment with different salad mixes, and learn and make adjustments along the way.
This ability to adapt allowed us to survive, and even thrive, today.
We started distributing our salads and vegetables directly to consumers through various online platforms and have seen consistent growth in online purchases.
One of our newest innovations, launched in the pandemic, is Just Harvest.
It allows vegetables grown in our farm to be nurtured in a climate-controlled environment on the premises of restaurants.
The system comprises specialised equipment and can cost up to S$5,000 each, which can be a significant investment for businesses.
Many restaurateurs are already under pressure and, while the idea is exciting to them, they face the uncertainties of the pandemic.
After speaking to many of them, we came up with a leasing programme where they can pay a modest fee instead of buying the whole system.
As a show of support, we also waived their leasing fees for several months.
Some of the lessons learnt from this ordeal as business owners are to keep close tabs on the situation to anticipate changes and to plan for various scenarios.
This would allow us to think clearly and make decisions on the fly as events unfold.
If an approach does not work, we should always be agile and ready to pivot rather than stick to what we were doing, hoping that things would turn for the better.
In the long term, we hope to seek out partners to build more farms to boost Singapore’s food resilience.
We are also looking to work with other local farms to build up the domestic market and replace overseas produce.
We also plan to launch a greater variety of vegetables in the post-pandemic world with the support of trade agency Enterprise Singapore.
ABOUT THE WRITERS:
Mr Vincent Wei, 37, and Mr Sven Yeo, 36, are co-founders of Archisen. They started the agri-tech firm in 2015 to apply technology to farming, so as to help modernise the agriculture industry.
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.