77th Street founder Elim Chew turns to logistics amid retail shake-up

Ms Chew set up FastFast app with Mr Ng with about $250,000. It handles 50 to 100 deliveries a day, from documents to perishables.
Ms Chew set up FastFast app with Mr Ng with about $250,000. It handles 50 to 100 deliveries a day, from documents to perishables.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

The entrepreneur who founded streetwear brand 77th Street is gunning to be "a big logistics player" with her latest venture.

Ms Elim Chew said she started her FastFast app last year to give retirees, people who had been retrenched or those in between jobs a way to earn some money.

The service, with four staff, has grown fast, raking up $75,000 in sales since its launch in September.

Users can access the app to arrange to have a package delivered within 90 minutes at an average cost of $16.

This is slightly lower than the market rate of about $20 to $30 for similar express delivery services.

"Through the app, people who are in between jobs or retirees can become a FastFast driver and earn an income. It also helps the small firms who may find it too costly to have their own full-time delivery staff," Ms Chew, 49, told The Straits Times in a recent interview.

She set up FastFast with Mr Adrian Ng, founder of mobile app developer Codigo, with about $250,000.

Around 4,500 people have signed up to be FastFast drivers, with 1,045 already on the road after completing training, said Mr Ng, 40. Drivers are required to have their own transport.

FastFast handles 50 to 100 deliveries a day, from documents to perishables like flowers and cakes.

"We are also thinking of offering concierge services - running errands like picking up clothes from the dry cleaners," Ms Chew said.

The need for such on-demand services and growth in e-commerce present bright prospects for the app, which Ms Chew said has attracted "overseas inquiries".

She also hopes to partner big e-commerce players such as electronics retailers on express delivery services.

As one venture takes off, another will take a back seat, at least for now. 77th Street, which had 16 stores here at one point, is down to just two - at Bugis Junction and Ang Mo Kio Hub.

"We shut the stores over the years because rents kept going up; manpower shortage was also an issue. The retail scene is changing, so we'll wait and see," said Ms Chew.

She said the 800 sq ft store at Bugis Junction may also be closed when its lease is up later this year, potentially leaving 77th Street - a brand founded in 1988 - with only a 350 sq ft shop in Ang Mo Kio.

There are no expansion plans for 77th Street unless rents come down. 77th Street also exited the China market last year as the "long-term lease is up and we decided not to renew", she said.

"E-commerce is disrupting retail. In China you could buy a handbag online for $4... We were not sure where the whole Internet thing is heading and didn't want to be stuck," she added.

Apart from FastFast, Ms Chew is also helping out with marketing efforts for a sibling's food business, which has three restaurants here.

Wong Siew Ying

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2016, with the headline '77th Street founder turns to logistics amid retail shake-up'. Subscribe