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Thinking out of the box

This second instalment of BT Salutes Enterprise focuses on SMEs that are actively innovating to stay on top of rapidly changing market conditions and keep ahead of the competition.


SINGAPOREANS love shopping, good food and travel. And in this second day of our BT Salutes Enterprise series, we look at familiar names in these sectors and what they are doing to stay ahead.

Tee Yih Jia - best known for its "Spring Home" brand of popiah skins and one of the most recognised names in our series - is positioning itself as a disruptor in the F&B industry. Its latest product, frozen hargow crystal skin, or skin for Chinese shrimp dumplings - is traditionally made by hand, by highly skilled chefs. Tee Yih Jia is the first food manufacturer in the world to roll out frozen crystal skin as part of a larger strategy by the firm to conquer the Asian convenience foods market.

Tee Yih Jia has won numerous awards over the years, including first place at the Enterprise 50 Awards in 2000 and in 2013, its executive chairman Sam Goi clinched the Businessman of the Year award at The Business Times' annual Singapore Business Awards dinner.

Then there is ASA Holidays, which was started from scratch in 2006. It has, in the last 10 years, brought many Singaporeans to many corners of the world, and is today one of the biggest out-bound tour operators in Singapore. Its subsidiaries also run cruises, tour packages, exclusive chartered flights and more.

And while ASA Holidays is still doing a roaring business, its managing director and CEO Albert See has a wary eye trained on the Internet, which has greatly disrupted the industry. According to Mr See, there will be much turbulence in the travel business in as little as five years, when the young, reared in the ways of the Internet and independent travelling, come of age.

Disruption has affected the retail sector too. The Furniture Mall, for instance, is also dealing with a disruptor. With 40 stores and over 70 brands, The Furniture Mall's unique set-up is truly one-of-a-kind in that it is a mall run by a trade association (the Singapore Furniture Association) and is not profit-making.

While the management at The Furniture Mall acknowledges the challenges brought on by e-commerce - yes, they know that some shoppers visit the physical showrooms to suss out items in person before buying the exact same item online - they are adapting their own strategies to deal with the new challenges and differentiate themselves from their competitors.

They are in fact so confident that there are plans in the works to open a second mall sometime in the next two years, with a wholly different concept. A location is currently being sourced, covering an area of about 100,000 sq ft. The concept will be quite unique according to Paul Keng, first vice-president of SFA and managing director of The Furniture Mall. More than just a furniture mall, the new setup will bring the entire supply chain - from when materials come in to when furniture is shipped out - together, forming a one-stop service provider.

There is no denying that SMEs in the retail, food and beverage, and travel sectors are not having an easy time. But it is not all doom and gloom. As the stories in these pages will show, businesses are actively innovating and thinking outside of the box to stay ahead and perhaps, along the way, pick up some prestigious awards.

OCBC Bank is our partner for this series, as well as the sponsor for the Enterprise 50 Awards. Says Linus Goh, head of global commercial banking at OCBC Bank: "For well over a decade, we have been a firm supporter of many prestigious awards that give recognition to outstanding entrepreneurs and enterprises from across a wide variety of industries. These awards reinforce our belief in honouring the enterprising spirit, resilience and dynamism of these entrepreneurs and businesses, and their contributions to a more vibrant SME ecosystem and Singapore's economic growth. We are pleased that beyond the validation that the award winners receive for their business strategies, business models and values, many of them have also leveraged the awards to tap on new opportunities and achieve greater success."

Cover design: Gareth Chung Illustrations: Simon Ang Sub-editor: Lee Kim Siang Photographers: Don Wong, Joseph Nair Advertising sales: Lam Wy-ning 9368-5685; Stella Yeo 9799-9001; Calista Ang 8188-1471; Jonathan Kee 9835-5400; Veronica Chong 8127-8929