STARTING a business amid a global pandemic is not for the faint-hearted, but local condiments seller Hot Spicy Mama has a secret sauce for success: focusing on digital platforms.
When the home-based business began in October 2020, it sold its wares via group-buy chat groups on WhatsApp, with participants mainly being stay-home mums, said owner Charmaine Koh. Hosts would buy the products wholesale and distribute them to other residents.
But after listing on e-commerce platforms in early 2021, Hot Spicy Mama saw overall sales increase by about 40 per cent year-on-year in January 2022.
“We started to realise it is very important to digitalise – to create value for our customers and also for us,” said Koh.
The e-commerce expansion began with listings on Shopee and Lazada. This was relatively straightforward as those platforms act as a middle-man between the seller and customer, and are able to arrange for last-mile delivery, Koh noted.
But Hot Spicy Mama was only able to go further after getting help from the Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (SMCCI) Digital Transformation Office (DTO) to tap more digital platforms.
Koh initially contacted SMCCI in May 2021 to find ways to reach out to the Malay community. “I sent some of our condiment samples to SMCCI. They were impressed with our product, and started to help me find ways to grow the business,” she said.
“They (SMCCI) invited us to some of their virtual programmes. We learnt a lot from them and realised what was important to our business. They also constantly called and kept in touch with us for updates on our business and whether the DTO program was useful for us, addressing queries on my business needs until now,” Koh noted.
Thanks to the DTO, Hot Spicy Mama was able to list on online grocery store RedMart in August 2021, and is set to list on NTUC FairPrice’s online Marketplace this July, in partnership with third-party logistics provider Business Engineering Asia. There are plans to set up a stand-alone store on NTUC FairPrice’s online Marketplace by year-end, Koh added.
Hot Spicy Mama specialises in ready-to-eat condiments imported from Malaysia. Having started with a single product, crispy spicy anchovy, it now has 7 different condiment flavours, and has added cooking paste, pepper powders, and sambal cookies to its offerings.
Apart from e-commerce sales, Hot Spicy Mama has a distribution model where stay-at-home mothers can sell their products for income. Depending on the quantity ordered, these mothers can earn up to a 20 per cent commission on their sales, Koh said.
“As a stay-home mum myself with 2 kids, I can empathise with how other stay-home mums feel. We make a choice to grow up with our children, to help them get their fundamentals right. But a lot of us also want to work and earn an income,” she said. “Our platforms offer such mums an opportunity to do that, and we would like more mums to join us.”
Beyond its digital origins, Hot Spicy Mama is putting its products on physical shelves. Since January this year, it has distributed its condiments to 56 Shell petrol stations, 8 branches of SunLi Want, 2 branches of U-Mart, grocery stores such as 48 Trading, and stalls in neighbourhood wet markets.
Koh runs Hot Spicy Mama together with business partner Wong Ling Foong, who used to work in the information technology (IT) field but quit after giving birth to her daughter to become a stay-home mother.
Being both an online and offline business, Hot Spicy Mama handles many documents such as delivery orders, invoices, and billing receipts, Koh noted. To make work processes easier and more efficient, the company created its own digital accounting system.
“We didn’t buy any pre-existing software in the market to keep our costs low. We asked some friends with IT backgrounds to help, together with my business partner’s expertise – we developed our own in-house application,” she said.
After 6 months of development, the proprietary software – named ‘Spicy Mama’ after the business – was deployed around July 2021.
“We have a tablet on our hands and a printer in our car. So we can immediately take orders, arrange for delivery, and send invoices to our customers. We can also prepare our statement of accounts faster, it saves us a lot of time,” Koh said.
Moving forward, there are plans to expand the application so that customers can buy Hot Spicy Mama’s products directly via the app, similar to an e-commerce website, she added.
DTO 2.0 for the endemic phase
The DTO has provided more than 130 businesses with digital advisory services and onboarded them to e-commerce platforms, enabling them to continue business operations and expand sales channels during the pandemic, said Emily Liew, assistant chief executive officer of EnterpriseSG.
SMCCI and EnterpriseSG have since launched a second version of the DTO, running from Apr 1, 2022 to Mar 31, 2024. This will support local businesses as the Singapore economy transitions into a Covid-19 endemic phase.
Building on the earlier version, DTO 2.0 will conduct a deep-dive exercise and provide advisory and assistance to companies in digitalisation optimisation; provide micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) with access to digital media production from SMCCI’s new creative studio; and identify and support companies for international expansion, for instance by facilitating partnerships with e-commerce platforms.
“Earlier this year, we supported the expansion of DTO’s scope of services to help MSMEs venture into cross-border e-commerce. What is also new is the course offerings by SMCCI Academy to enable business owners to deepen their competencies in areas such as digitalisation and internationalisation,” said Liew.
This is the first of a 2-part mini series on SMEs who have benefitted from the DTO. Next week, we look at traditional textile business Zee Shan Impex, which ventured into selling fragrances and beauty products online during the pandemic.
Source: The Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.