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SME Diaries: I feared for the future of my snack firm, but the pandemic also brought upsides

In this instalment, Mr Zac Chua, who started snack company The Kettle Gourmet, describes the initial hit his business took after workplaces and borders shut because of the pandemic, and how his move to focus on individual consumers instead of businesses paid off.

SME Diaries: I feared for the future of my snack firm, but the pandemic also brought upsides

Mr Zac Chua (pictured) started snack company The Kettle Gourmet in 2017.

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 Zac Chua, 30, who started snack company The Kettle Gourmet, describes the initial hit his business took after workplaces and borders shut because of the pandemic, and how his move to focus on individual consumers instead of businesses paid off. 

2020 was life-changing. 

When workplaces and borders closed because of the Covid-19 pandemic, it didn’t bode well for me and my snack company The Kettle Gourmet. 

I was worried because it was my first time experiencing a “black swan” event as a business owner. 

I have business dealings with the tourism industry and overseas suppliers, and 65 per cent of my business is corporate.

With offices and eateries shutting, our business-to-business sales were hit by 30 to 35 per cent.

With no crisis management experience, I thought I was doomed to failure. 

I was extremely scared. Would my company survive? What about my team? How long will this pandemic last? 

The uncertainty caused a lot of anxiety and nervousness.

As I look back on the past two years, there were surprisingly good things, though, that came from this pandemic. 

Being stuck indoors during the circuit breaker in 2020 meant that people who were working from home were using their devices more than ever. 

We switched from targeting businesses to individuals. 

The most surprising upside was when our online sales more than doubled in 2020.

This more than compensated for the losses we shouldered when offices and tourism shut down. We were fortunate enough to be able to retain all our staff — 14 at our Malaysian factory and 10 in Singapore.

To keep the business going, I took the opportunity to work on our business foundations. 

We started livestreaming daily on e-commerce platform Shopee. This turned out to be surprisingly effective, with takings from the medium forming about 8 per cent of our revenue.

We also collaborated with FairPrice Finest and entered all its supermarkets, in hopes of reaching out to more consumers. It was our first time in retail, and I’m glad I took the leap of faith because it eventually yielded results.

The pandemic has humbled me a lot.

In a short space of time, I saw first-hand how my friends shuttered their food-and-beverage businesses one by one, and suffered great mental and financial stress. Some even lost their family members to the coronavirus. 

The pandemic was a litmus test of several things:

  • Business war chest: How much reserves you have makes the difference between business survival and bankruptcy. Scary but true. I use a rule of thumb of three to six months of liquidity, assuming zero revenue.
  • Innovation and flexibility: It is about being adaptive enough to pivot one’s business. Those resistant to change will eventually fail. A mentor once told me: “There’s no such thing as a sunset industry for business; only businesses that fail to innovate.”
  • Character of the boss: Should I continue to fund my team who has mouths to feed, or “heck it” and shut down the company, then restart after the pandemic? 

My hope is that we business owners can continue preparing for black swan events such as another pandemic. 

Although my business is in a much better place, Covid-19 has taught me never to take anything for granted.

ABOUT THE WRITER: 

Mr Zac Chua, 30, started snack company The Kettle Gourmet in 2017 after building a sizeable portfolio from investments during his university years. His company produces locally inspired popcorn in flavours such as nasi lemak, kaya butter toast, chicken floss and chilli crab. 

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.

Related topics

SME Diaries SME The Kettle Gourmet business food popcorn

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