SME Spotlight

Dreaming big to make Singapore a global halal hub

My Outlets president Ronnie Tan (far left) with Mr Malek, the chief executive. The company assists emerging SMEs in the halal food industry to expand and grow.
My Outlets president Ronnie Tan (left) with Mr Malek, the chief executive. The company assists emerging SMEs in the halal food industry to expand and grow.ST PHOTO: TAMARA CRAIU

Halal grocer My Outlets aims to establish Singapore as a global gateway for halal products, in the wake of its recent expansion into China. To realise this, CEO Malek Mattar, 55, is forging partnerships abroad, using technology and making sure all the staff pull in the same direction. He tells Wong Siew Ying that having a well-defined job scope, an open line of communication and fair incentives go a long way in motivating workers.

Q What does your business do?

A Broadly, we are a service provider to firms, a halal value-chain platform, looking at how we can assist emerging SMEs in the halal food industry to expand and grow. We currently work extensively in Malaysia, which has a big and growing halal food industry. We also have a presence in Japan, advising Japanese food manufacturers interested in getting into the halal food sector.

Apart from such services, My Outlets also operates all-halal supermarkets in Singapore (My Outlets Global Halal Hub) and in Dongguan, China (EFH MyOutlets), which was opened recently.

Through our supermarkets, we provide the physical platform for small companies to sell their products, give them exposure and opportunity to grow locally. Some of them may find it hard to put their products in the big supermarkets, so we give them that store frontage.

Q How many supermarkets do you have in Singapore?

A Currently, we are only in Woodlands. We consolidated our operations recently and shut outlets in Bishan and Ubi. That enabled us to double the space of the outlet at Primz Bizhub in Woodlands Close to about 7,000 sq ft. This was also the result of a productivity consultancy which was done with the Singapore Productivity Centre in which we fine-tuned our operations.

We are still a small company with 16 employees in Singapore.

GOING PLACES

I think we need to take advantage of the rapid growth of the halal food demand in North Asia... This year, we aim to open many more branches in China, most likely in second-tier cities in the western part of China where there's a larger Muslim population.

MY OUTLETS CHIEF EXECUTIVE MALEK MATTAR

Q What are the key challenges to growing your business?

A Attracting and retaining staff remains a challenge; it's not just us, businesses in other sectors are experiencing it too. Our staff retention rate is about 88 per cent.

In retail, the hours are long. We try to keep the working environment friendly to retain staff. It's a family-oriented environment. There are no rigid systems, employees are encouraged to manage their own work. We try not to micro manage, so as to give the workers room to breathe.

We also conduct employee satisfaction surveys, and improve financial and non-financial incentives.

Employee satisfaction for My Outlets came in at 84.4 per cent, based on a Singapore Productivity Centre survey. There were 13 dimensions to this survey, including career development, relations with colleagues, working hours, and evaluation and promotion.

Q How are the points awarded for the incentive programme?

A Staff earn points that are pegged to the sales turnover as well as their roles and performance. It's a transparent approach - everyone can see the sales numbers.

The incentive is variable and fluctuates according to the sales performance. Management-level staff will get more points. For example, a manager will be given five points for monthly sales of $200,000. For each point earned, he gets $200. So the manager will receive $1,000 for the month, plus his basic salary. This is on top of other perks like carpark and phone allowances.

Q What forms of training do you provide to your staff?

A We participate in different programmes, such as ad hoc seminars by the Singapore Malay Chamber Of Commerce and Industry, and retail management course at the Singapore Productivity Centre. We are a small company, so some of the training is conducted in-house. We also have motivational talks.

We plan to send employees for the Workforce Skills Qualifications System for Retail (Retail WSQ), courses on customer service and inventory management.

What is important is to have open communication. For example, we have group chat on WhatsApp with all the staff - separate groups for different things, so everyone can share their ideas.

We also do a "table-talk" session, whenever issues come up. This will allow matters to be resolved quickly, leaving no room for resentment to fester.

Q How do you ensure the business operates efficiently and productively?

A Technology plays a big part in this. In September, we invested about $80,000 to develop a Retail Plan Portal, which provides real- time sales and inventory monitoring to the SMEs.

They can log in and check on how their products are selling, which ones are moving fast. And for those that are not selling well, perhaps they want to replace them with other products. They also have access to CCTV footage of the store, so they can see what's going on.

It improves work flow and we have more data on sales, which benefits our suppliers too. We are looking at revamping our website soon.

Q What are the growth plans for the firms outside of South-east Asia?

A I think we need to take advantage of the rapid growth of the halal food demand in North Asia. We set up the EFH MyOutlets with our partners in Dongguan in November. This year, we aim to open many more branches in China, most likely in second-tier cities in the western part of China where there's a larger Muslim population.

We have been operating in Japan for a year now. My Outlets carries some of the 20 to 30 halal products that Japanese companies are exporting. Some companies ask us to provide advice on what sells and what doesn't. The taste may not be suitable, the price point may also be too exorbitant. So that's where we come in and give them advice.

In fact, we just started working with Korean companies, which are exploring halal cosmetics. These may be products that do not use animal ingredients.

Q What is the demand for halal food and how big is the market?

A The halal food industry is on a growth spurt; the global demand for halal food is expected to hit US$2.1 trillion (S$2.9 trillion) this year. This can be a bright spot for Singapore.

Last year, Malaysia exported RM40 billion (S$13.5 billion) worth of halal products. This year it is expected to be about RM50 billion. We can be part of this halal supply chain and put Singapore on the halal map. What we hope to do is to establish Singapore as a gateway for halal products, a global halal hub. This can be the next pillar of growth for Singapore.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2016, with the headline 'Dreaming big to make Singapore a global halal hub'. Print Edition | Subscribe