Entrepreneur

From Struggle To Success: How These Next-Gen S'pore Entrepreneurs Revived Their Family Bizs

Founder Bak Kut Teh has been around for 42 years, but it may not last much longer if business doesn’t pick up.

Nigel Chua, the second-generation owner, recently made a public appeal for support to “save our brand, the jobs of our employees and our heritage.”

In its Facebook post, Nigel revealed that “business is … really bad” and that they could be forced to close “if the situation doesn’t get better in the next two months.”

Shortly after however, Founder Bak Kut Teh received harsh criticism from netizens for allegedly leading a “lavish lifestyle” such as driving a Ferrari, owning designer watches and living in bungalows and private properties.

While Nigel has stepped up to refute these allegations, we also have to acknowledge that it takes a lot of courage to reach out to customers and admit that their business has been struggling and coming out with an open plea like that.

Following this incident, we got inspired to put together a list of second and third-gen owners who have successfully revived their parents’ ailing businesses.

Stanley Tan, Windflower Florist

Stanley Tan is the second-generation owner of Windflower Florist, which started in 1997.

By 2005, his family business had dwindled down to “single-digit sales” each day, and his parents were forced to turn their seven-year-old business into a gift store.

He realised that the styles his parents adopted were too old-fashioned for the business to move forward, so he started doing his own research by visiting nurseries and speaking to veteran florists.

Windflower Florist shop (now) / Image Credit: Stanley Tan

After completing his National Service, he persuaded his parents to let him take over the business in 2014.

He also travelled to Taiwan and Japan to learn more about floristry and invested in a five-figure sum to bring Windflower Florist’s business online.

The 28-year-old also took to filling Windflower’s Instagram and Facebook feeds with stunning pictures of their bouquets, garnering almost 30,000 followers on both platforms.

His social media marketing efforts eventually paid off. They used to sell only five to six bouquets a month, but that number has since increased by 1,000 per cent after the facelift.

Elizabeth Tan, Heatwave

Back in primary school, Elizabeth Tan spent her after-school hours and weekends helping out at her father’s shoe shop in Lucky Plaza.

When she was studying for her degree, Elizabeth took on multiple jobs and business ventures like selling mobile and credit card plans to support herself.

Elizabeth Tan of Heatwave / Image Credit: LadyBoss Asia

The experience sparked her interest in entrepreneurship and in her father’s shoe business. Heatwave started in 2001 and has gained a long heritage in shoe design and manufacturing.

She saw flaws in her father’s business instantly – it carried too many types of shoes and had no focus for consumers to latch on to.

In her mid-20s, she took over her father’s shoe company, turning Heatwave from a small outfit with two stores in Singapore to an international business with 50 outlets in the region and the Middle East.

Launch of Heatwave Spring/ Summer 2014 Collection in Plaza Indonesia, Jakarta / Image Credit: dada-kimura

She spent two years emphasising best-selling products and refining shoe comfort, as well as rebranding to target working professionals.

Jenny Tay, Direct Funeral Services

Her father is the famous undertaker of Direct Funeral Services, Roland Tay, who is known for arranging free funerals for the elderly and the needy.

He handled the funerals of Singapore’s most high-profile murder victims, including eight-year old Chinese national Huang Na and 22-year-old Chinese national Liu Hong Mei, pro bono.

Jenny and Roland Tay
Jenny and Roland Tay / Image Credit: Direct Funeral Services

Jenny grew up reading about her father through the news, found his vocation meaningful and decided to join the trade after graduating from university.

She saw an opportunity for change in her father’s ailing business at that time. He was going through a difficult divorce with his third wife, who was involved in the business and that spilt drove a wedge between
the staff and their suppliers.

DFS showroom / Image Credit: Direct Funeral Services

Furthermore, there were also deep-rooted problems such as over-reliance on freelance workers, a non-existent roster system, inconsistent service standards and lack of SOPs for religious practices, customer service, warehouse inventory management and more.

She established a structured system in place and took over as managing director a year later.

Thanks to her, she revamped and modernised the image of the lowly undertaker and attracted millennials into what was considered a sunset industry.

After she came on board, cases tripled and they saw an average of 100 to 120 cases a month.

Alvan Tan, Alan Photo Trading

Alan Photo Pte Ltd was established in 1986 by Alan Tan in Sim Lim Square.

Over the past decade, with smartphones rendering compact digital cameras obsolete, the camera shop experienced a dramatic downturn.

His son Alvan Tan, who had joined the company as a retail salesman in 2010 and worked his way up the ranks to manager, knew that he had to pivot the business from the “sunset industry”.

Alvan Tan on the left / Image Credit: OneRiver Media

He quickly introduced videography equipment, a wide range of photography accessories, two photo studios, a makeup corner, a photo printing station and even a cafe to revive the business, while focusing on providing customers with a different retail experience.

Image Credit: Alan Photo

These efforts culminated in the launch of REC by Alan Photo in Lavernder Street in 2016. It was a new concept store that offers quite a different experience from traditional camera retail stores.

Funan IT Mall / Image Credit: Alan Photo

Today, they have two outlets at Sim Lim Square and Funan Mall (reopened in 2019) and an online shop.

Pauline Ng, Porcelain Spa

Founder Jenny Teng always had an eye for beauty treatments, but not so much the business side of things.

She set up her own shop in the heartlands, but as she lacked the necessary business acumen, the SARS epidemic of 2004 “tanked” it.

In 2009, she approached her daughter Pauline Ng — then a fresh graduate from SMU — to help restart the business.

Pauline Ng and Jenny Teng / Image Credit: Porcelain Spa

Together, they co-founded Porcelain Spa in 2009. Initially, they “kept everything simple, sharing an IKEA desk and shelf” and “paid [themselves] peanuts”.

Some of Pauline’s early initiatives were not commonplace back then, such as transparent pricing and leveraging on a suite of tech services. These initiatives ended up causing tension as they were seen as “giving away too much information”.

However bold the moves, she was resolute as they were “instrumental in earning trust”. Since they began working together, they have come to mutually respect each other.

Image Credit: Porcelain Face Spa

By 2013, they had hit the S$1 million mark in revenue and became an award-winning brand.

Now taking the helm as founder and managing director, Pauline runs a tight ship to ensure the values of integrity, transparency and craftsmanship throughout Porcelain.

Meanwhile, her mum serves as the Director Aesthetician. Though semi-retired since 2015, she still leads and trains all Porcelain therapists.

Jimmy Goh, Tankfully Fresh

Jimmy Goh’s parents first opened a fresh seafood stall called Sin Chwee Mini Market in 1990, which later grew into a one-stop trade business that imports and exports fresh seafood.

As more people opt to shop at supermarkets and online grocers, footfall at the stall declined by 20 per cent.

Minister Sim Ann visits Sin Chwee Mini Market / Image Credit: Tankfully Fresh

Concerned about declining sales, his father roped in Jimmy to help digitise the business so as to remain relevant and sustainable.

Jimmy then helped to launch e-commerce arm Tankfully Fresh, which allows customers to order fresh seafood online and have them delivered to their doorstep within the next day.

Jimmy Goh, founder of Tankfully Fresh / Image Credit: Tankfully Fresh

The service helped to complement the physical store and create a new revenue stream for the business.

It started off with one order every two days so they had to ramp up marketing efforts. Business eventually picked up and many vendors have since approached them to leverage on their online presence and sell on their platform.

A Need To Inject Fresh Blood Into Traditional Businesses

With these above stories, they show us that it is very important to update old-school practices and adapt to changing customer needs.

These young entrepreneurs are not only inheriting these companies, but also adding their own youthful ideas to the mix and reviving flagging fortunes in the process.

Young entrepreneurs bring a whole new perspective to their parents’ traditional businesses and in these cases, revived and gave their family businesses a new lease of life.

As advances in technology continue to change the way business is conducted, success in business lies very much in how skillfully one can react to socio-cultural shifts.

Featured Image Credit: Windflower Florist / Direct Funeral Services / Edgeprop / Ladyboss Asia / Tankfully Fresh

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