Heartland shops have to keep up and adapt to new business trends: Desmond Lee

National Development Minister Desmond Lee said heartland shops are facing growing challenges beyond Covid-19. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - More than 2,800 residents, shopkeepers, workers and business leaders have shared their ideas on how to keep heartland shops relevant through the Heartland Shops Study, with the Government studying the feedback in detail, and due to release its findings and recommendations in the coming months.

National Development Minister Desmond Lee said at the Singapore Heartland Enterprise Summit that some have suggested more support for these shops in the area of digitalisation, marketing, and placemaking events so they can become livelier and more productive.

Launched last year, the study sough to gather views from Singaporeans on how these shops can innovate but yet retain their unique characteristics.

Mr Lee said that while Covid-19 has impacted heartland shops in the last two years, these businesses will have to face the challenges beyond the pandemic of adapting to new business trends as shoppers’ preferences change. 

He added: "Beyond the pandemic, more shoppers are also turning to e-commerce, or may prefer more modern shopping malls. Our heartland shops have to keep up with these trends, and remain lively and relevant."

The heartland shops play a special role in local communities, such as by helping to forge strong social bonds in neighbourhoods, or providing jobs for seniors and others who need to work near their homes, he added.

While adapting to new business environments may not always come easy, some heartland shops have been successful and have even scaled internationally.

One example is Old Chang Kee, which started off in 1956 as a small stall in a coffee shop in Mackenzie Road near Rochor.

But today, the brand has grown into a household name, with stores islandwide selling curry puffs and other snacks. It also has outlets in London, Jakarta and Perth.

"They did this by investing in new systems and production facilities, along with fresh marketing strategies to keep pace with consumer trends - all while maintaining the quality of their signature curry puffs," said Mr Lee, adding that there are also local brands that have managed to scale up, such as SK Jewellery and Heng Foh Tong Medical Hall.

Others have also embarked on new and exciting business concepts, such as the niche Just Ants, a one-stop shop in Yishun that started in 2017 dedicated to ant-keeping needs.

Federation of Merchants’ Associations Singapore (FMAS) president Yeo Hiang Meng said the association is encouraging business owners to be open to changing their business models.

This is not easy for heartland enterprises, as most of them are small businesses.

Just Ants, a one-stop shop in Yishun. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Other initiatives like workshops and learning trips have also been organised by FMAS to help heartland enterprises improve their capabilities, such as by using social media.

FMAS is the organiser for the Singapore Heartland Enterprise Summit, with Chinese-language newspaper Shin Min Daily News as the co-organiser.

The event, which was held at the HDB Hub in Toa Payoh, also awarded six winning student teams from the Heartland Innovation Challenge, a three-month programme  where tertiary students, merchant associations and heartland enterprises work together to generate new business ideas.

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