SME Diaries: Steering a homeware retailer through a pandemic
In this instalment of SME Diaries, Ms Jaslyn Chan, co-founder of Iuiga, recounts having to adapt the homeware business to the evolving circumstances brought about by Covid-19, and shedding her mindset of uncertainty and fear.
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, Ms Jaslyn Chan, co-founder of Iuiga, recounts having to adapt the homeware business to the evolving circumstances brought about by Covid-19, and shedding her mindset of uncertainty and fear. The pandemic also brought several upsides for her company.
We are still in the throes of the pandemic.
As an entrepreneur, my path is a continuing leadership test — and Covid-19 has taken this to a level that has left many business owners reeling.
Initially, it felt like a punch to the gut to endure restrictions again and again.
But it’s my job to constantly reframe our circumstances and figure out how to use the challenge to benefit our customers.
Navigating the crisis has been tough but also a tremendous learning experience.
I have been mindful not to overreact or underreact.
The pandemic hit retail businesses harder than others.
At times like these, we have two choices: Keep the status quo and hope things go back to “normal”, or do something different.
Many retailers saw their livelihoods threatened as the economy tanked.
At Iuiga, we focused immediately on bringing in key essential products that were out of stock, such as surgical masks.
The shutdowns of many stores also meant a shorter wait to secure the rental of units in prime locations. In 2020, we opened eight more stores in Singapore.
There were several other upsides, including strong growth for our e-commerce business.
Throughout the pandemic, I have had to ensure the safety of our retail workforce, while trying to keep the business going.
We regrouped our retail employees temporarily to help meet spikes in online demand in the warehouse at the height of the outbreak.
This helped to fill pressing gaps and relieve overworked departments.
Operating as a remote team also allowed us to easily hire interns who were of a higher calibre than before.
They helped us advance our website and app development significantly.
Our main challenge has always been cashflow, and one of the biggest crisis-management lessons I learnt during the pandemic is to have a rock-solid balance sheet with cash on hand to weather a crisis.
As Iuiga already combined offline and online buying even before Covid-19, this put us at an advantage to secure funding from investors.
It has been a humbling experience to constantly manage my mindset — moving from anxiety and fear towards one of abundance and possibility.
When the pandemic is over, accelerated digital adoption would have radically changed how we do business.
Customers will have new needs, and businesses must be open to trying new ways of doing things.
This will bring about innovation.
For small businesses, it’s time to take advantage of our flexibility.
I very much still believe in retail and the in-store experience, but the industry would certainly evolve.
We are already witnessing an acceleration of e-commerce.
Retail and e-commerce started as two distinct channels but are becoming one now.
Even with an online-and-offline strategy to tackle the expanding e-commerce space, margins are being stretched thin because of an increasingly competitive selling landscape.
Retailers must find creative ways to offer value that online-only stores cannot, such as integrating digital and in-store experiences.
The future of retail may be more of a convergence of the two than a war between them.
ABOUT THE WRITER:
Ms Jaslyn Chan, 30, co-founded homeware chain Iuiga with four others in 2017. Iuiga started as a purely online business but later established an offline presence as well.
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.