Expanding business opportunities

Dare to innovate: (from left) Agrovella Ventures founder Liang Chan Ning, Leong Shir Mein, Adel and (standing) Geob International founder and CEO Geoffrey Tan.

KUALA LUMPUR: Entrepreneurs are known for their uncanny ability to recognise business opportunities even when it simply means rejuvenating old, much-used concepts.

When Adel Ishak learned that a group of food vendors needed to discard an old food trailer, he figured he could revive the food peddling business, but with a fresher context.

Discussions between Adel and a friend, Adi Ong, led them to buy a brand new truck that would sell Italian and French dishes − from pastas to omelettes − at budget rates.

Little Fat Duck Sdn Bhd, which the 26-year-old and his partner started in June, is one of 20 business finalists vying for prize monies of up to RM600,000 at the Alliance Bank SME Innovation Challenge 2014, which also provides business coaching and workshops.

“There’s nothing new to the food truck concept. The ones like Ramly Burger and asam laksa vendors are very common. But locals have not seen the other varieties which are very popular overseas such as in San Francisco and London,” Adel said.

Currently, Little Fat Duck operates one food truck in SS15, Subang Jaya, from 8pm to midnight and will be starting up a food kiosk at 1 Utama next month. A second food truck is in the works.

“I was surprised how networking with other finalists in the the SME Innovation Challenge programme has complemented our business, given the diversity of the contestants. We are working with (agriculture producer) Agrovella Ventures for fresh tomatoes and herbs for our pastas, (online recruitment company) MauKerja.my posts up our discount coupons, and we are looking to collaborate with errand runner GoGet.my,” he said. “Alliance taught us to synergise.”

A portion of pasta at Little Fat Duck sells for RM5, but most customers top up their orders to RM15-RM20.

The truck’s team of seven serves up some 200 orders daily – resting Tuesdays – to young working adults, college students and families.

“Rainy days are bad for us,” Adel said. “We don’t sell hot drinks either, for logistical reasons, so our drinks sales falter, too.”

“Generally, consistency is our main issue for the food truck industry here. Malaysian customers want you to be there, unlike US customers, who follow food trucks closely on social media; when there’s an ad hoc announcement to open at a different venue at a certain time, people would show up there.”

From the finalists’ time with Datuk Wira Ameer Ali of Mydin Holdings Bhd at a business strategy walkthrough at Mydin, Adel learned the importance of product placement.

From that, Little Fat Duck will be posting up larger food photos on their truck to appeal to its customers as the dishes are small.

“Ultimately, our association with Alliance Bank has given us credibility with our customers as well as corporate clients,” Adel said.

From the publicity, Little Fat Duck has since taken on corporate catering gigs on the side, “as long as it does not interrupt our daily sales at Subang at night,” Adel said.

Being creative and flexible are crucial points for these finalists.

“When you’re responsible for your own business, you have to find creative ways to close the deal,” Delivereat Sdn Bhd co-founder Leong Shir Mein said.

It was that innovative streak that led the 29-year-old and her husband Tan Suan Sear, a former engineer, into providing delivery solutions in the food and beverage industry.

Delivereat is essentially an online platform that promotes those businesses, takes orders, delivers the food, manages customer service including food quality feedback as well as provides consumer behaviour data.

“This is information that restaurants may not necessarily have,” said Leong, who had realised the limitations in the food and beverage industry while meeting merchants in her last job in advertisement sales.

Based in Penang, Leong knew the wide variety of food posed tough competition between businesses.

“(Businesses) always said it was expensive to advertise in the mass media. With so many restaurants so far spread geographically, they could not reach a wider clientele,” she said. “Delivereat is a cheaper advertising platform with a measurable conversion rate. We could make things convenient for customers, what with the city traffic.”

A team of 30 – about two-thirds of whom are delivery staff – work at Delivereat.

In aiming for a global audience, Delivereat intends on changing the way consumers purchase food.

Delivereat just launched DeliverMart – same-day grocery delivery, parcel and document delivery during off-peak hours − to provide a more comprehensive service to its customers.

These operations would be easily duplicated across the nation, and then overseas.

“We learned from Datuk Ameer’s ability to scale up to go global from a mere local outlet. That inspired us. Learning to think beyond Malaysia will require a change in mindset,” said Leong.

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