When the first movement control order was implemented to curb the spread of Covid-19 last year, videographer Gregory Cheong lost his only source of income.
“My work depends on being able to go out and shoot videos. As long as I can carry a video cam and click it, then I can earn an income, ” he says. “But during the MCO, there was zero income because there were no events or weddings. People had started to ask for refunds and there were many cancellation of services, ” says the 41-year-old who lives in Petaling Jaya.
“And, even if there were events, it was risky to take on those jobs during the pandemic because that’s how clusters start – through mass gatherings of people, ” he says.
Although there were stimulus packages from the government, they were only for a certain segment of society such as the B40 community, so Cheong, who who has been running his videography business since 2008, didn’t receive any assistance as a businessman.
He admits to feeling frustrated and helpless when he found himself suddenly without any means of earning an income to support his family.
“It was very difficult to survive and I had to find a way to put rice on the table, ” says Cheong who has a family of six comprising his wife and their four children aged 19,16 and twins who will turn seven this year.
Furthermore, his wife, Elsphy Wong, 40, also wasn’t earning as she had been helping him with accounts and administration for his videography business.
Cheong reveals that a major concern during that time was also his children’s education, especially his twin daughters since kindergartens were closed.
That sparked off his first new “business venture” – homeschooling.
“Their kindergarten stopped operating during the MCO but was still charging fees even though they weren’t providing any online classes. So, I decided to take my daughters out and homeschool them myself. When the other parents heard that I was homeschooling my daughters, they were interested to find out more and I volunteered to teach their children too, ” he shares, adding that he taught the children English, Bahasa Malaysia, Mandarin, Mathematics and Science online.
Cheong ended up with 20 students.
But the excessive screen time teaching online took a toll on his health so during the recovery MCO when there were fewer cases, he decided to teach just three other students and his daughters at home, with the necessary SOPs in place.
Even though he received a token sum from the other children’s parents, Cheong knew that he had to find other more substantial ways to earn an income.
In July, his friend suggested that he sell durians.
“I like eating durians so I found a supplier from Raub, Pahang, easily. Then I got orders for durians from my neighbours, and it spread by word of mouth when my neighbours told their friends, ” he says, adding that he was selling about 100kg of musang king per day after homeschooling the children.
But when the durian season ended in September, once again, Cheong had to find a more permanent way of earning a living.
Embarking on a new venture
Cheong reveals that the idea for his fruit supply and delivery business came from his wife, Wong.
“She suggested that since durians are seasonal and we already have a customer base, why not start selling other types of fresh fruits, ” says Cheong.
So the enterprising couple started Gregs Fruits Basket, their home-based business providing fresh fruit supply and delivery, and their living space was soon filled to the brim, almost, with fruit.
“We bought a two-door chiller and placed it in our home. But after one month of supplying and delivering fresh fruits to customers, we felt that the two-door chiller wasn’t enough, so we decided to sell it off and get a three-door one, ” says Cheong.
But when it arrived, they discovered that they couldn’t get it into their home because it was too big. That was when they decided to move into a shoplot in December.
Today, Cheong and his wife run their family business from their shop in Ara Damansara. They now have three chillers and one staff.
Cheong is at the shop most of the time. His customers are mainly people from the neighbourhood.
“A lot of people order our fruit baskets online for their friends and family for special occasions like birthdays, as ‘get well soon’ and ‘thank you’ gifts, and also during festivals such as Deepavali, Hari Raya and Chinese New Year, ” says Cheong.
“People now tend to send fruits rather than the conventional hampers because they’re more conscious about health and they want their loved ones to be healthy, ” he says.
Ironically, business improved during the MCO for Cheong and his wife.
“Before the pandemic and MCO, most people tend to go out to the supermarket, morning market or shopping mall, to get their own fruits. But during the MCO, people feel more comfortable having their fruits delivered directly to them at home rather than going out, ” he says.
Cheong says that although they have a few walk-ins, most of their orders come through WhatsApp and also their website.
He says that their unique advantage is that they operate as a fruit depot rather than a fruit stall.
“We get our local fruits fresh from farmers in Malaysia, as well as foreign fruits from importers who supply to supermarkets and stalls. They’re then placed into our chillers. When the customers order, we’ll pack the fruits and deliver it to them. It’s the same for walk-in customers.
“This method is better because the fruits reach the customer faster and fresher. It’s direct from the importer or farmer to the customer. It’s also more hygienic and safer, especially during the pandemic, because there’s less handling and people (customers) don’t touch the fruits unlike at fruit stalls, markets or supermarkets, ” he explains.
The income, although it’s not a very high margin, is sufficient to survive on and put rice on the table, says Cheong.
“People need to eat fruits because it’s an essential item to get vitamins and nutrients naturally. During the pandemic, people are even more concerned about health and they need to take more fruits to boost up their health and immune system, ” he adds.
From fruits, they have branched out to producing their own cold pressed juices, fruit enzymes, and organic fertiliser.
“When we get our local fruits from farmers in Malaysia, it’s also our way of helping them sell their produce, especially during these pandemic times. We communicate with them, visit their orchards, create awareness for them, and help sell their fruits to our neighbourhood and community, ” he says.
What started out as a home-based fruit supply and delivery business for this couple, through trial and error, has grown within a span of a few months into a business that supplies and distributes fruits both in the local community and outstation using a delivery service.
As for whether he will return to videography after the pandemic, Cheong says that he’s never left – he simply had to find other ways to eke out a living for himself and his family.
“Circumstances – such as the pandemic – happen and we may not be able to control that, but we must always be proactive in finding ways to survive and if possible thrive, and help others along the way, ” he concludes.
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