Prior to co-founding dessert shop Sugar And I, Ilyas had a two-year stint at MMC Gamuda in which he worked as a mechanical and electrical engineer. His job included overseeing the drawings and submissions for the scheduled MRT 2 train.
However, he was not content with his day-to-day job as he had plans and visions to become an entrepreneur.
So, on the side, he decided to work on growing his sister’s home-based bakery into a proper brick-and-mortar business.
The other half of Sugar And I is Ilyas’ sister, Sharifah, who discovered she had skills in baking when family and friends began seeking various types of desserts made by her.
After baking and selling from home for a while, the duo saw the potential in taking the business farther.
Hence, in 2018, Ilyas left his full-time corporate job and partnered up with Sharifah to officially launch Sugar And I.
Creativity comes from within
Currently, Sugar And I serves various types of desserts and pastries—bomboloni, Japanese cream puffs, cinnamon rolls, and assorted cookies.
Sugar And I’s market validation process is fairly simple. The team makes different types of pastries and desserts and then they distribute them to their friends and family.
Occasionally, the team would even call in their most loyal customers and have them taste the pastries and desserts. Then, they would ask for their feedback and make improvements from there.
In fact, their famous bomboloni were derived when customers randomly inquired about their thoughts on making bomboloni.
“When there are more than three requests for a product, we would take it as there is a demand for it,” explained Ilyas.
Besides taking inspiration from external parties, Ilyas and Sharifah encourage their internal team to come up with new dessert flavours too.
You could say that they’ve gamified the process a bit, by turning it into a competition of sorts.
Employees will conduct their own R&D process, coming up with potential new flavours that might attract customers. Then, the entire team will get the opportunity to taste each other’s creation and provide feedback.
There will usually be about 10 new flavours that are produced by the employees, but only five will be chosen for the next phase of the competition. Each employee that comes up with the best flavour gets an RM100-200 consolation prize.
Their most loyal customers will then be called in to taste the new flavours. Sometimes, the team would even make an Instagram post inviting people to come and taste their newly curated flavours.
Armed with customer feedback, the team will make improvements to the existing product. In total, it takes Sugar And I about two to four weeks to complete a new flavour.
It’s a rather complicated process, but it constantly challenges the team’s creativity and excites customers, so clearly somethings working.
Started from home, now they’re in three different locations
As it is with most businesses, the biggest challenge that Sugar And I faces is managing employees. Everyone is unique, hence, not the same management style works for all.
The solution that Sugar And I adopted was to introduce structure and scope into the business. In terms of ensuring quality control, the team introduced a set of SOPs that employees are required to follow diligently.
With the implementation of this structure and scope, Sugar And I have expanded their reach to Mitsui Lalaport, KL, and Mid Valley Megamall. This has helped with easing delivery charges for the residents in those areas.
“Most of our target market is based in KL, so when they order from KL, the delivery charges alone can go up to RM40-50,” shared Ilyas.
Creating and utilising blueprints has helped the team narrow down the crucial aspects of running Sugar And I, and Ilyas and Sharifah hope that their blueprints can smoothen the process of opening future locations.
“Before we open up 10-20 stores, I think it’s very important for us to try and see whether it’s possible for us to expand the business and scale-up,” said Ilyas.
The Subang Jaya outlet opened its doors in September 2018 whereas Mitsui Lalaport and Mid Valley Megamall’s outlets were opened in January and March 2022, respectively.
As the brand has expanded its reach to two new locations, the pastries and desserts are made and produced in a central kitchen, which allows for smoother quality control.
There were several opportunities that presented themselves when the outlets were launched. For instance, Ilyas and Sharifah shared that many people enquired about the possibility of franchising Sugar And I.
Though it wasn’t their first option for the two new outlets, they’re not dismissing the idea. Should the team decide to franchise though, the plan is to get people who are familiar with managing businesses.
“To start off everything, we do have plans on controlling most of our outlets because of quality. We would also like to ensure that everyone is at the same level,” shared Ilyas.
Raising the bar for themselves
At a time when dessert shops are aplenty, both online and offline, we wondered how Sugar And I stays relevant. Having creative flavours are one thing, but ensuring visibility is another.
Sugar And I keeps their strategy relatively simple though, through influencer marketing. “The most effective and cheapest way to raise brand awareness is to just put our product out there,” explained Ilyas.
The team also enrolled themselves in courses and engaged with social media experts who currently run the brand’s advertisements.
With such marketing strategies, SOPs, and blueprints in place, it’s likely not a far-fetched ambition that Ilyas shared when he mentioned he wanted to open 25 outlets in five years.
“The plan is to have three central kitchens, particularly one within the Klang Valley, one in Penang, and one in Johor,” shared Ilyas.
Additionally, he has plans to launch studio kitchens for the general public to upskill their baking skills. The team also wants to create new flavours for their bomboloni that Malaysians have never tried.
Moving forward though, the main focus would still be on making bomboloni, cinnamon rolls, cakes, and more, all of which Sugar And I have established as their strengths.
Featured Image Credit: Sugar And I