THE early bird gets the worm, so the adage goes. In Khoh Kim Lians case, starting work at three oclock in the morning ensures she gets the goods ready for her customers as soon as they wake up for breakfast.
That has been her schedule for the past 40 years and in that time, Khoh, who sells doughnuts and curry puffs from stall M54 at Jalan Othmans main market in Old Town, Petaling Jaya, has become a fixture in the area.
The business, which was started by her husband Hee Chin Tan in the early 1960s, also supplies doughnuts and curry puffs to canteen operators in nearby areas.
Khoh had been earning her own wages from washing and ironing clothes before she gave it up to help her husband.
When I first started assisting my husband, it was difficult for me to wake up in the early hours of the morning to prepare the doughnuts, recalls Khoh, now 65.
The enterprise became a family business of sorts when her 14-year-old daughter Hee Hui Hwa started to help the couple run the stall.
I used to help even during my schooldays, and by the time I reached 16, I became my mothers assistant, says Hui Hwa, now 38. Now we run the business together as my father is too old.
Income for mother and daughter is not that bad considering that Hui Hwa is able to earn at least RM1,000 a month from the business.
The main advantage for her is the fact that she is free for the rest of the day to take care of her son since the stall is open only until 10am.
Hui Hwas main task is to drive her mother to the market everyday, although she does help to prepare and sell the doughnuts and curry puffs.
I have no problem helping my mother as we work well together. She knows how to manage the business just as well as my father, she says.
Through expertise acquired over the years, Khoh is able to make as many as 600 doughnuts and curry puffs each day. Most of the customers come very early in the morning, often dropping by on their way to work to buy the snacks for breakfast.
We do have our regular clientele, which include office workers and schoolchildren, but the customer base has not increased in a big way over the years, says Khoh.
Many of the customers are faithful clients who had been patronising her stall since they were schoolchildren.
Some of them would acknowledge me and remark the doughnuts taste just as good as when they were youngsters, she says happily.
The business has never suffered losses, but over the years it has been facing stiff competition from another stall also located in the same market.
Khoh says the doughnuts there are cheaper than those that she makes.
However, I cannot reduce my price as this would affect my overhead expenditure, which has increased, laments Khoh.
This competition also makes it difficult for us as the flour and oil prices have gone up over the years but the doughnuts and curry puffs are still sold at only 40 sen per piece, she says.
When my husband started the business, they cost only 5 sen per piece, she adds with a sigh.
She does her best to reduce wastage when preparing the doughnuts and curry puffs, but she never compromises on quality.
I am quite particular in using fresh oil to fry the doughnuts as I want the quality to remain consistent, she says.
Running a small business has a downside, Khoh admits, revealing that her side income of supplying doughnuts to schools around the Petaling Jaya area has slowed down in recent years.
Canteen operators want to buy the doughnuts at a lower cost price than 30 sen per piece that we offer, she says.
We also deliver the sncaks to schools for free so it is quite unreasonable for us to lower the price.
The stall is open for business every day except on the last Monday of the month. This is the day-off that has been stipulated by the MPPJ for all stalls in the market.
Lately, it has been a hassle because the authorities want to increase the rent and electricity bill. Its going to be more than double the amount it used to be, says Khoh.
They think that we make a huge profit from the business but this is not the case especially for me.
Despite the difficulties, Khoh plans to keep the business running for as long as she can afford it.
It keeps me occupied, she says.
I have run the business as a small venture for a long time and it keeps me active. I cannot imagine staying at home.