If you can’t go to a cafe, then the cafe shall come to you. Jimmy Tan left his job at an MNC in Bayan Lepas, Penang, started a mobile cafe and did just that at the Free Industrial Zone. DAVID TAN reports.
WHILE most people would hold on to a steady job during bad economic times, Jimmy Tan, 40, did just the opposite. He quit his comfortable job with a multinational corporation (MNC) to start his own coffee business.
This raised eyebrows among his friends and colleagues, who wondered whether he had made the right call.
In mid-2015, armed with RM100,000 in capital, Tan started his own mobile coffee business to serve the Free Industrial Zone (FIZ) once a week.
Within a couple of months, Tan had — against all expectations — recovered a third of his investment of about RM40,000. This was the amount he spent on the equipment used in the business.
Perhaps the sceptics were wrong, after all, no?
This initial success spurred Tan to go full-time recently with his business.
“I’m a coffee lover. Having worked at a MNC in Bayan Lepas all these years, I know that it is impossible to get a decent cup of coffee from the vending machines in factories,” Tan points out.
“It is also not practical for workers to rush to a mall during lunch break just to get decent and quality coffee.
“So I got the idea to provide good quality coffee at a reasonable price to coffee lovers in the FIZ,” he says.
Tan calls his brand of java Coffee Rescue, which is a blend roasted from a variety of imported coffee beans.
According to Tan, Coffee Rescue makes coffee that are espresso-based, as opposed to Thai-style coffee, which uses sweeteners.
“Being small gives us the flexibility to source a variety of coffee beans from different suppliers. Together with our local coffee bean roaster, we are able to try roasting different coffee beans together to obtain an exotic aroma and flavour,” he explains.
“This would not have been possible if we were a big company and had to order in bulk from a single coffee bean supplier,” Tan says.
Starting a business during a downturn has its advantages, it would seem.
“One of them is that suppliers, especially during a downturn, are more willing to negotiate with small start-up companies like Coffee Rescue and provide attractive credit terms,” Tan divulges.
His mobile coffee business is experiencing brisk business due to the unique aromatic flavour obtained from blending various coffee beans in a roaster.
“We sell on average 70 cups of coffee per day at RM7 for an eight-ounce cup, generating an income of between RM10,000 to RM15,000 per month.
“We also sell sandwiches with egg and salmon fillings at RM7 to RM9 per sandwich, depending on the fillings.
“We usually sell all the 24 sandwiches we make for the day,” he reports.
Coffee Rescue, which is also the name for his mobile coffee business, operates from Monday to Friday on the premises of 12 factories in the FIZ belonging to four MNCs.
Tan’s mobile cafe operates seven hours a day, beginning from 8am. The shutters come down at about 3pm.
According to Tan, Coffee Rescue also operates on weekends if there are special events happening on the island.
“We have to negotiate with the management of the factories to allow us to operate within their premises for a nominal fee, which is usually on a parking bay.”
One obstacle in such negotiations are the canteen operators in the factories.
“Very frequently the in-house canteen operators would object, slowing down the negotiations with the factories, which is one of the challenges,” shrugs Tan, who is undaunted.
“We are now negotiating with the management of two MNCS on the island. If successful, we are looking at servicing a total of 24 factories next year,” he says.
The other challenge is in finding employees as they grow from their two-man operation.
“Presently, my wife negotiates with the factories and makes the sandwiches, while I manage the mobile business at the premises.
“We are planning to acquire another truck and expand to service the business districts on the island and Seberang Prai, and the residential areas on the island.
“There is also a plan to work with event planners to supply coffee and sandwiches at special functions,” he says.
A graduate in mechanical engineering from University of South Australia, Tan had worked for an MNC producing hard disk drive for the past 10 years before deciding it would be better to work for himself than for other people.
Early in 2015, Tan made the decision to quit his job to pursue his dream of becoming an entrepreneur.
“As a businessman, you achieve goals for yourself and not for others. This is the satisfaction you get,” Tan concludes.