Entrepreneur

A Thorny Situation: 4 Female Friends Opened A Durian Stall, But Lost S$100K Due To COVID-19

Durians are pretty much a love-or-hate affair.

While some think that the smell of the tropical fruit is pungent, there is also a group of others who think that its creamy, bittersweet taste is heavenly.

For these four Singaporeans — Emily Tan, Vivian Khor, Fion Wang and Gina Chee — they are all die-hard durian lovers.

This bunch of 30-year-old friends have known each other since secondary school, and have bonded over their common love for durians.

They would often gather for ‘durian parties’ and would continually explore different durian stalls in a bid to find the best in Singapore.

Going Ahead With Zero Experience

“When we were younger, we could only afford to share one box of durian from the supermarket,” recounted Emily.

“As we grew older and had more spending power, we would always hunt for good durians to eat but most of the durian stalls are located really far from where we stay, so we thought we should open a store central to our homes.”

They didn’t blindly nosedive into the durian-selling business though.

They would sit at various cafes for four to five hours each time, discussing and analysing if they should even embark on this venture.

All four of them had zero experience in running a business, and hail from different corporate backgrounds.

Vivian is a real estate agent, Gina is a wealth manager, while Fion is a personal assistant in a logistics company.

Emily on the other hand, is the only one out of the four who took the leap to quit her job — a five-figure job in the finance sector — to run The Durian Gang full-time.

“(I’m) the person most of our customers will see daily!” she quipped.

On Being Female Durian Sellers

the durian gang
Image Credit: The Durian Gang

It’s definitely a rare sight to see women selling durians since it’s such a male-dominated industry, and it’s not surprising to know that they faced doubt and criticism along the way.

It has definitely been a steep learning experience working in a male-dominated industry, where most sellers are older uncles. When we were initially prepping for our shop, many of the contractors disregarded us and would only seek out other males in the shop, despite them not being the bosses.

A lot of contractors thought they could cut corners because they were dealing with “little girls”. Our customers also viewed us as “part-timer cashiers” and did not take us seriously. Overtime, we were able to convince them that we know what we are doing and we are serious about our business.

– Emily Tan, co-founder of The Durian Gang

Gender discrimination aside, the four said that they have received tremendous support from their family and friends, who would place orders from them and recommend their business to their social network.

When asked how their stall is different from other durian stalls, Emily said that they want to establish it as the “new-age durian stall”.

“As women in a male-dominated industry, we understand how intimidating it can be for ladies, or even the younger generations like us, to walk into a durian shop and the fear of prices being jacked up just because durian sellers think women are easily fooled.”

“We hope The Durian Gang can be the first of many to break this stereotype. Customer satisfaction is our top priority.”

COVID-19 Took Place In Its Infancy Stages

the durian gang
The Durian Gang store / Image Credit: The Durian Gang

The four women opened The Durian Gang at Jalan Jurong Kechil in December last year.

Three months after their store opening, COVID-19 happened.

“Our business was badly affected because of COVID-19 as we didn’t have enough time to build on our reputation and customer base yet,” lamented Emily.

They made up for it by ramping up their social media presence. They actively posted promotions and even started weekly Facebook Live sessions to help boost sales.

But in this competitive durian industry, word of mouth is still the strongest, noted Emily.

During circuit breaker, they had to unfortunately close their newly-opened shop as part of the government’s safety regulations to curb the spread of COVID-19.

They had started the business with an initial capital of S$150,000 but due to circuit breaker, they “blew through S$100,000 in three months”.

“We had to change strategy and focus on online orders — that’s how we managed to turn the business around. Right now, we (sell an average) of around four to seven baskets of durians per day.”

the durian gang
Deshusked durians / Image Credit: The Durian Gang

Following their pivot to sell dehusked durians in boxes to cater to delivery orders, they also had to step up their efforts to assure customers of their durian quality.

According to Emily, there have been complaints that other sellers in the market sent our frozen durians, or did not even send out any durians when customers order online — this has made customers wary about ordering delivery from them.

What we did to counter this issue was that we had to make extra efforts in doing strict quality checks for our durians and also give better customer service.

We actually have a very strict quality control system in place. There was once we threw away more than 20kg worth of durian flesh as we didn’t feel it was up to our standards. We sincerely only want to provide the best possible durians for our customers.

– Emily Tan, co-founder of The Durian Gang

Currently, The Durian Gang is looking to “fully stabilise” the business before they embark on other ventures.

However, Emily shared that they are looking to offer durian-related products like mochi, ice cream and pastries next.

When asked to impart a piece of business advice, she said that it is better to be “over-prepared” before starting a business rather than be under-prepared.

It is extremely important to do as much research as possible. With that being said, we also learnt most about the business as we were doing it.

There will be a lot of trials and errors, and that’s the fact about starting a business as newbies — you learn as you go.

– Emily Tan, co-founder of The Durian Gang

Featured Image Credit: The Durian Gang

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