Our parents and grandparents brought us up on home-cooked meals prepared with the freshest ingredients bought from wet markets.
Now that millennials are starting our own families, we clearly don’t go through this routine as habitually as previous generations did.
But the truth is, we don’t even need to physically visit wet markets to find fresh catch anymore.
You may have read a few stories of new-age fishmongers on our page, as we’re really heartened that more and more young entrepreneurs are passionate to help this old trade stay alive when everything is going digital.
Eddie Seetho founded 9s Seafood to carry on the work that has been running through his family for over 60 years.
Alongside him, six of his friends in their late 20s to early 30s also joined his mission, despite coming from various industries with no prior relation to the seafood business.
We spoke to one of the co-owners, Stella Tan, who tells us why they’re doing this.
Swimming Since The ’50s
In the 1950s, Eddie’s grandfather started out with a simple roadside seafood stall in Chinatown, manned by just two people.
When the business picked up, it shifted into a proper stall in Chinatown Market at Smith Street, and then eventually expanded into three stalls across Singapore.
[At the peak of the business,] it was able to sell close to 2000kg of threadfin a day, which was a remarkable feat for those days.Stella Tan, 9s Seafood
Their reach also widened over time to include supplying to restaurants, supermarkets and hotels.
Later, the business naturally got passed on to Eddie’s parents, and when he was 16, he started dipping his feet in himself.
Some people are clear about their calling early, and Eddie was one such example—knowing that he could see himself in this full time, he dropped out of polytechnic to focus on the business and learn through hands-on experience on the job.
As for Eddie’s friends-turned-business-partners, they came on board because they were inspired by his drive to help the industry evolve.
They had all known each other through playing competitive softball in secondary school, and went on into different jobs including banking, education, and sports coaching.
They may look like quite a motley crew to run a seafood business, but Stella says Eddie’s passion really convinced them that “this traditional trade needs to innovate” or risk dying out.
“The wet market heritage and legacy is precious to Singapore,” she says. “But due to the increasingly busy lifestyles of Singaporeans, we no longer have the time nor inclination to visit wet markets.”
We are reluctant to let this industry fade away, so we want to capture the personal touch that customers experience in the wet markets, and bring that online to today’s consumers.
And well, it also helped that they were all avid seafood lovers.
After the friends united over their new common goal, some such as Stella, who was previously a Ministry of Education (MOE) teacher, even left their jobs to help set up 9s Seafood.
Keeping The Personal Touch In A Digital Space
When they launched 9s Seafood (“9s” sounds like “nice”) in April 2019, they shifted their focus to mainly offering online seafood delivery.
The team provides next-day delivery, available from Tuesday to Sunday.
How it works is that customers place their orders online by the 9.30pm cut-off, and the day’s orders will all be consolidated before their purchasing team heads down to Jurong Fishery Port at midnight.
They then transport the freshly bought seafood to a processing unit to be “prepared according to customers’ requests”, vacuum packed, and finally sent out for delivery.
Convenience like this is always a big plus, but of course, not all customers were used to buying fish this way.
“It wasn’t easy to convince experienced customers to be open to buying fresh seafood online as most preferred to see and touch the products themselves at the wet markets,” Stella says.
Some were also under the misconception that they would be getting frozen instead of fresh seafood.
To instil confidence, Stella says the key is to replicate the rapport that fishmongers traditionally build with their customers.
Since they can’t do it in person, they put their efforts into channels like Whatsapp, to let customers recognise that they’re always available to provide help and answer questions.
They even personalise their service down to each individual’s needs as much as possible.
Cutting salmon into two-inch cubes for a specific dish, or slicing a fish according to exact measurements with a ruler, were some of the requests that Stella recalls.
“While we cannot promise 100% fulfilment, we will always try our best to meet customers’ special requests!” she says.
Through listening to their customers, they also created curated seafood bundles for steamboats, post-pregnancy confinement, and growing children, which turned out to be a big hit.
With this level of service, reviews for 9s Seafood on Facebook have so far been on a perfect 5-star streak.
The Fishmongers With A Beautiful Feed
Many young Singaporeans love eating seafood, but we wouldn’t expect looking at raw, slimy fish to be a treat for the eyes.
Stella knows how much visuals and aesthetics speak to a young audience, and she personally makes sure that 9s Seafood’s product shots and social media feeds are always pleasing to look at (she takes all the pictures and designs each post herself).
The team has also worked with online ordering system Oddle to make their website clean and easy to navigate, so that even the less tech-savvy users can place orders with ease.
“We want to change the perception of raw seafood and wet markets [from something] dirty and gross, to something that is palatable for the current consumers,” she says.
Beyond the visual experience, they use their online presence to educate people about different types of seafood, nutritional values, storage requirements and cooking methods.
It goes two ways, with customers happy to show off what they’ve cooked and share their recipes with one another.
Attractive and timely promotions are another crucial hook in their social media strategy.
For example, their signature promotion offers a special item at just $1 with any other purchase. Stella says this is “hugely popular”, and we’re not surprised at all.
Netting More Customers And Crew
While introducing customers to modern solutions was a challenge at the beginning, it didn’t take them long to turn the tides.
Once, they were only receiving three to four orders a day, but this has grown to a steady 40 to 50 daily orders, just six months after they started up.
“Our team is growing day by day and we have already hired a few more crew members to cope with the online orders,” Stella shares.
Not done making waves, their future plans include bringing in more seafood items from around the world which may bring Singaporeans “beyond their comfort zone”.
“There are also more plans to conduct educational initiatives for the younger generations, but we’re keeping it a secret for now!”
Granted, 9s Seafood is certainly not the first or only one moving into online seafood delivery, but there’s still space for more players to bring this service to the masses.
Looking beyond themselves, they welcome others to enter the trade.
If we manage to sustain this industry, we are hoping that more [young] Singaporeans will be inclined to join our industry and we can grow even bigger and better.
- Learn more about 9s Seafood and check out their fresh catch here! Follow them on Facebook here and Instagram here.
Featured Image Credit: 9s Seafood