Entry-level business ownership A push cart can be a good starting point for entrepreneurs

Push carts are part and parcel of any shopping mall but they often don’t draw as much attention as the bigger shops.

Just like any business, operating a push cart is no easy feat as they have to compete with other push cart businesses, shops and kiosks in a mall.

The Sunway Pyramid mall in Petaling Jaya has 60 push carts scattered strategically around the mall to draw crowds to certain floors.

In total, 5,000 sq ft has been allocated for push carts in the mall.

According to Sunway Pyramid’s chief operating officer Kevin Tan Gar Peng, push carts add attractiveness to retail offerings and feed impulsive buyers.

Tan said push carts that succeed are ones with new or unique products.

“When we vet applications, we cross check with the available products to ensure that there aren’t too many of the same products so that push-cart operators do not cannibalise sales from each other,” he said.

The push carts are rented to operators and the rates differ according to their prominence.

In Sunway Pyramid, the rate ranges between RM3,000 and RM5,000 a month.

Some push-cart operators flourish and move to bigger premises while others open more push carts in other malls.

Kaylee Gift House in Sunway Pyramid is an example of a push- cart business that has expanded.

Run by a husband-and-wife team, Kaylee Gift House has been in Sunway Pyramid for two years.

Owner Wong Fook Hing said the business began six years ago in Ipoh and moved to the Klang Valley two years ago.

Wong cites the high number of city folk and tourists in shopping malls in the Klang Valley as a reason for the move.

Opening a push cart as businesses keeps costs down and it is more manageable than a shop.

Every month, Wong makes between RM3,000 and RM6,000 for the rent of his push cart.

Other than Sunway Pyramid, the couple have push carts in two other shopping malls.

Wong said the business was inspired by his wife’s fondness of arts and crafts and assembling miniature models.

Wong’s push cart offers do-it-yourself models made of either wood or paper that customers assemble based on instructions given. The kiosk’s models come from China and are sold for between RM10 and RM500.

The products can be assembled into miniature houses and iconic buildings like the Petronas Twin Towers, among other things.

“Our products allow buyers to broaden their creativity with the tools given.

Once they have assembled the product, they can then choose to paint them or decorate as they desire,” he said.

Wong also sells things like lights for the miniature buildings, furniture and other things to decorate the models with.

He said that his products are simple but takes a lot of patience. The price for an added feature differs according to type of model purchased.

Though running a small push cart may look simple, Wong said that he faces many challenges.

He said finding the right product mix is one of them as many people are not sure what they are selling.

Wong is not worried about competition as there are not many kiosks selling the same items as he does.

He says push carts depend on loyal customers, tourists and seasonal holidays to sustain business.

Shi Rong Hua runs four push-carts under the name Mai Mai Gallery in Tropicana City Mall and depends heavily on regular customers when traffic in the mall is slow.

Shi has been running her business for three years and sells watches, hair accessories, jewellery, scarves and headbands, priced between RM10 to RM200 .

She has another push cart in Selayang.

To start her business, she invested close to RM40,000 on just products. Her products come from South Korea, Taiwan, China and some are locally made.

Every few months, Shi said she replenishes her stock and imports about RM20,000 worth of products.

In a month, she spends RM5,000 on rent for all her push carts and generates revenue of RM9,000 on average.

However, she said that business has been slow this year.

As she operates in a neighbourhood mall, it is less crowded than major malls, but shoppers are more at ease to browse.

One of the toughest challenges faced by push carts operators is having to compete with other push carts, especially those selling similar products. This encourages customers to bargain for a lower price.

To keep her business afloat, Shi offers promotions, especially during non-peak seasons to entice shoppers. She also constantly looks for a variety of products that are slightly different.

Of the push cart business, she said that it is based on luck.

“In this current economy, this business is not something that can yield much profit. In order to succeed, I have to look for other ways to sell my products,” she said.

She is currently looking to venture into online selling.

Ivan HS Lee, owner of the Impress Flowers kiosk in Suria KLCC, supports his business during non-peak seasons by creating new products.

“Instead of just relying on tourists, I also create products for locals,” he said.

For 10 years, Lee has been selling souvenirs made out of orchids, either pressed or preserved, encased in resin and sold as keychains, paper weights, jewellery, purses and even wind chimes.

His products are manufactured and distributed in Malaysia and are priced from RM8 to RM500.

He started his business when he discovered tourists love Malaysian orchids, but are unable to take them home easily.

“Pressing and preserving orchids, and turning them into souvenirs allows tourists to take a piece of Malaysia home,” he said.

Lee collaborated with many parties to find a foothold in the business and built his business by creating a variety of products.

“No souvenir shop starts with just a few items. You need a variety of products to attract customers and make a name for your business,” he said.

His products were inspired by souvenirs he saw on travels overseas, trade shows and even jewellery and current fashion trends.

Lee started his business by investing RM50,000 for rent, deposits, stock and pay for his employees.

He said, in a year, he managed to make close to RM700,000 in sales.

Lee attributes his success to loyal customers and their feedback, which he said gives him new product ideas.

“We are a speciality store and cater to a niche market. Therefore, I have to continue creating something new and creative to attract customers,” he said.

His products are also available in airports and souvenir shops.

Lee runs a 73 sq ft push cart which doesn’t give him much space to sell bulky products.

The space is just enough to display his products and store some of his goods.

Lee has no intention to open a shop, but says he is looking to attract locals by offering home decorations.

Lee takes pride in his products and is passionate about his business, which he said is important to be successful.

“I love creating things and I’m always seeking ways to create unique products.

“My drive is not in profit making but in customer’s appreciation for my work,” he said.

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