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Entrepreneur

Made With Passion: How 5 S'porean Companies Overcame The Odds During An Economic Downturn

In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic made huge impacts on both businesses and individuals alike. Many faced retrenchments, layoffs, and even company closures. 

When it comes to running a business, it always involves a lot of effort and keeping it afloat during a pandemic is even tougher.

In addition, the pandemic has drastically changed the way we live and consume various products, bringing about a ‘new normal’ in various aspects of our lives.

However, the silver lining of the pandemic is the various opportunities that it has brought about for businesses to innovate or pivot. 

For example, digital transformation was a huge buzzword last year. Many businesses began taking their operations online, and growing their virtual presence. 

The pandemic also gave some businesses the opportunity to relook at business models to revive their strategies and upskill workers.

Despite the economic perils, these five homegrown companies adapted and adjusted to the ‘new normal’ which led to significant growth.

1. Camel Nuts

Camel Nuts
Image Credit: Camel Nuts

Camel Nuts is a household name in Singapore, and most Singaporeans are familiar with its classic red and brown packaging.

The brand leader for nut snacks in Singapore was established in 1974 by founders Poh Ah Seng and Ong Siew Hua.

They started off as a cottage industry, packing and selling nuts in the backyard of their house with just two staff. Within a few years, they were able to move to a flatted factory unit in Tampines, where they researched on how to roast nuts to perfection.

Today, Camel is the largest nuts manufacturer remaining in Singapore, with a staff strength of 170. It also exports its products to over 20 countries, and has a strong presence in local supermarkets such as FairPrice. 

FairPrice is Singapore’s trusted grocery retailer, offering a plethora of local products like Camel Nuts, with prices matched online and in stores.

However, as with most businesses, Covid-19 brought about some setbacks and challenges for the 47-year-old brand. Since the company imports all its raw nuts from abroad, they were faced with supply issues as the pandemic affected worldwide logistics.

A spokesperson from Camel told Vulcan Post that there were many shipping delays, and they were unable to fulfil their orders in a timely manner.

This was coupled with an unexpected opportunity — they were swamped with a surge in orders, as consumers started stocking up on food products.

“We had to go online, and the response was so overwhelming that our website crashed, which was when we realised that our website was not built for online selling,” said the Camel spokesperson.

This very experience prompted them to grow their online presence such as extending their products to online retailers. As a result, Camel now sees an increase in sales from e-commerce platforms like RedMart and Shopee

Despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic, the company still kept up with its innovation efforts and has launched two new products — Honey Pecans and Ruby Mix — in November 2020. 

2. Faire Leather Co.

Faire Leather Co.
Image Credit: Faire Leather Co.

Faire Leather Co. is a homegrown men’s leather goods label that redefines true value as “functional luxury at a fair price”.

The online brand first launched on Kickstarter in November 2017. It managed to raise over S$406,000, making it the most funded Kickstarter campaign in Singapore.

In under 10 months, it managed to hit S$1 million in sales. Its business continued to do well, but the pandemic turned out to be a stumbling block.

Co-founder Ryan Choy told Vulcan Post that the brand achieved record sales a month right before the circuit breaker, as “things were beginning to take flight.”

All the brand’s plans were disrupted, and the momentum that they had built was quickly reset. It forced them to quickly pivot and diversify their product offerings to combat these challenges.

Previously, its core products were highly focused on work and travel. With the lack of travel and commuting to work due to the pandemic, the brand’s strategy evolved to focus on more lifestyle-oriented products.

For example, it recently launched a brand new stationery set to much fanfare, further exemplifying their ethos of making functionally relevant products.

The company also went through a rebrand with its new website, visual aesthetics and tone of voice. Since Faire is an online direct-to-consumer brand, it has managed to reap great benefits.

“No one could have anticipated the effect that COVID-19 would have on businesses. Thankfully for Faire, our decision to take the business dominantly online has proved to be an important one,” said Ryan.

He added that the company’s total revenue sits at approximately S$2.6 million to date.

3. GINLEE Studio 

GINLEE Studio
Image Credit: GINLEE Studio

GINLEE Studio was established in 2011, and the local clothing brand is best known for its pleated designs.

Over its 10 years of operations, the brand has won various awards and accolades, such as the title of ‘Emerging (Fashion) Designer of the Year’ at the inaugural Singapore Fashion Awards in 2016.

In an interview with Vulcan Post, a GINLEE Studio spokesperson said that the downtime caused by the Covid-19 pandemic was a “great opportunity” for the brand to re-evaluate its systems and “figure out” their next steps.

When physical stores were forced to shut, they had to shift all operations online, which was something they had not prioritised before.

Despite having to quickly navigate the realms of digital marketing, the GINLEE team was “very understanding of the situation” and receptive of using the time to upskill via online training courses.

The pandemic also helped accelerate GINLEE Studio’s path towards sustainability. In fact, the brand has already launched two initiatives to benefit the cause.

The first initiative, called GINLEE MAKE, is an antithesis against the ready-made model of fast fashion and signifies a return to the tactility of shaping materials.

From bags to cushion covers, shoppers get to select their choice of pleats, size and colours and see them being made on the spot.

According to the brand, it hopes to bring back the joy of brick-and-mortar shopping through a sustainable shopping experience via this initiative.

Its second initiative is a Get-Order-On-Demand (GOOD) scheme, where customers are rewarded with a 15 per cent discount on their latest collections if they are able to wait three to five weeks for their items to arrive.

Unlike usual pre-order schemes, customers have the option of taking home their selected item if they need it soon. This promotes slow fashion and allows GINLEE Studio to pass on discounts to customers in the beginning of each season.

It also allows the brand to produce less, and more accurately, eliminates the amount of waste at the end of the season.

4. PAZZION

PAZZION
Image Credit: PAZZION

PAZZION was established in 2002 with a mission to “cater to the modern and sophisticated trendsetter with an uncompromising standard for taste and quality.”

Since its inception, the label has grown its product line-up to include a wide range of footwear, from casual sandals to classic heels for women, as well as bags and other leather accessories.

Within the first few years of entering the market, the brand gained traction with the local customers and expanded quickly to cater to the growing needs of quality leather footwear.

It has since gone on to establish 10 standalone boutique stores locally and enjoys international presence in Brunei, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

In 2019, the brand also made its first foray into the F&B industry by opening PAZZION café at Jewel Changi Airport, which aims to deliver a multi-concept experience to customers.

Prior to the pandemic, PAZZION had been growing steadily with an intention to expand its local F&B footprints and retail presence internationally.

Particularly, tourism was a key driving factor for the expansion as it enjoys overwhelming support from overseas customers. However, tourism were forced to halt due to the pandemic and consumer sentiments fell as well.

Furthermore, during the circuit breaker period, PAZZION retail stores –which generated more than 90 per cent of the company’s revenue — were not allowed to operate.

Unfazed, the company quickly adapted to the situation and strategised to strengthen its online presence, developing new points of sales to ensure business continuity. 

The brand went on to establish three additional online stores in marketplaces such as Shopee, and ran targeted promotions to ease the overstock situation.

PAZZION cafe also onboarded three local delivery platforms to facilitate food ordering.

5. Awfully Chocolate

awfully chocolate cake
Image Credit: Awfully Chocolate

Awfully Chocolate is well-known in Singapore for its decadent desserts and pastries. The brand first started in 1998 from a humble shop in Katong, selling only one type of chocolate cake.

It has since evolved into a multi-faceted business encompassing chocolate and non-chocolate restaurants, dessert cafes, beverages, cookies and gift sets.

With the pandemic, most of its stores had to close as part of cost-cutting measures, leaving only its new Awfully Chocolate +Cafe at Great World City and Ninethirty by Awfully Chocolate flagship restaurant open. 

An Awfully Chocolate spokesperson told Vulcan Post that “everyone had to adapt to keep the business going as best as it could, and they learnt a lot on how much better they could do online.”

Forced to work from home, the brand’s kitchens turned into mini research centres to help drive innovation during the lockdown. This helped Awfully Chocolate develop some gems like the new Baked Chocolate Melt, its version of the perfect molten lava cake.

Emerging Stronger From The Pandemic 

Throughout 2020, we have seen a great display of passion and determination from individual Singaporeans and businesses alike. 

These Singaporean homegrown brands show us that even though the pandemic is a devastating event for businesses, it is not a death sentence.

Instead, the pandemic brought about new opportunities for businesses to capitalise on, with many businesses altering their operations and processes to fit into the ‘new normal’.

Despite facing tremendous pressure and having to identify new strategies, the leaders of these Singaporean businesses were quick to innovate and upskill their workforce.

From diversifying product offerings to moving online, and even embracing sustainability, the businesses have been quick to pivot. 

This brought about even more growth than before, and further cemented the brands’ positions as market leaders in their various industries.  

The grit and determination exhibited by our lifestyle brands mirrors the Singapore Story, where passion is the cornerstone. 

This is why the Singapore Brand Office and Singapore Tourism Board, supported by Enterprise Singapore, jointly developed Made With Passion (MWP), a national brand which promotes local lifestyle brands that embody the Singapore spirit of turning possibilities into reality. 

The initiative hopes to encourage other brand owners and Singaporeans to pursue their own dreams to turn their passions into a reality for a better Singapore. 

The brands mentioned above are just some of the brands under the MWP initiative. FairPrice is also a retail partner under MWP.

FairPrice Finest was established in 2007 to bring the finer things in life to customers at fair prices in Singapore. Spanning 28 outlets across the island, the format is a balance between simplicity and sophistication, value and quality, wellness and indulgence.

With rising aspirations and changing lifestyles of Singaporeans, FairPrice Finest combines the heritage of a trusted brand with the experience of fine living. Delivered by a team of knowledgeable and friendly staff, the concept is brought to life through exciting product offerings and dedicated service.

The MWP brand mark can be found on selected Singaporean brands’ products, packaging and stores, as a symbol of passion — a mark of recognition that celebrates their fervour and dedication.

You can now support some of your favourite local brands here, and be inspired by their stories here

This article was written in collaboration with the Singapore Brand Office.

Featured Image Credit:  Pazzion / Camel Nuts / Awfully Chocolate / GINLEE Studio / Faire Leather Co. 

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