SMEs step up to help one another

Delegate founders Melissa Lou (far left) and Jacqueline Ye. The online marketplace, which helps users source event venues and vendors, lets companies list for free. It set up a site where business owners can find information on growing sales using on
Delegate founders Melissa Lou (left) and Jacqueline Ye. The online marketplace, which helps users source event venues and vendors, lets companies list for free. It set up a site where business owners can find information on growing sales using online channels. ST FILE PHOTO

Small and medium-sized enterprises are banding together to help one another ride out the Covid-19 crisis by setting up platforms for gift cards, offering free publicity and conducting online campaigns, among other initiatives.

Sales have been badly affected and some firms expect to be bleeding cash during this period, business owners told The Straits Times.

Mr Chua Ee Chien, who owns cocktail bar Jekyll & Hyde, started bars.sg three weeks ago. Consumers can buy gift cards through the website to support their favourite restaurant or bar.

He said he got the idea from a similar initiative in the United States, but found that Singapore platforms "were either charging very high fees, or expecting the restaurants to give a discount to be on the platform".

"With the industry struggling to stay afloat, that was baffling to me... I happened to own the domain bars.sg, so I built a very basic site and got some help cleaning it up," he added.

Four restaurants and bars, including Mr Chua's Jekyll & Hyde, are on it so far, but he hopes that more will join by sending him an e-mail or a message.

He added that Diageo, a global alcohol company, is helping him reach out to bars here and invite them to join the platform.

Ms Jacqueline Ye, co-founder of online marketplace Delegate, also set up a microsite two weeks ago to help its 3,000 vendors sell gift cards.

Delegate, which helps users source event venues and vendors, lets companies list for free.

"Companies need to pay only if they upgrade (to a subscription)," Ms Ye said.

She also said the online marketplace was adding about 10 to 15 gift cards a day.

Delegate has also set up a site where business owners can find information on growing sales using online channels, targeting millennials and challenges that Covid-19 has brought to the events industry.

Fintech firm Aspire allows its business account holders to create their own gift cards to share with their customers. They can customise the value and validity period of the cards.

"Payments for successful gift card purchases will be credited directly to the business owner's account within three working days," said an Aspire spokesman, adding that the company does not charge monthly or account maintenance fees.

"Aspire charges no fees, though note that there is a gateway fee for online payments, charged by our payment provider," he added.

Associate Professor Lawrence Loh of the National University of Singapore Business School said other companies might be inspired by the initiatives to come up with more ways to help one another.

He said: "The unique feature is that it does not come across as a commercial venture, but actually appeals emotively for people to support their outlets, some of which might have been their regular favourites.

"If the initiative takes off, it will be useful for the companies as there is now some actual cash flow to tide over the difficult period," he added.

Independent cinema The Projector is doing its part by promoting other independent business owners through its electronic digital mail that goes out to about 30,000 people.

The Projector listed a promotion by Ethos Books on its mailer on April 15 and provided a link to the book publisher's online shop.

General manager Prashant Somosundram said: "We want to do our part to spread awareness of small businesses and collectives... Social distancing does not mean not caring."

Pure Senses founder Logan Wong, who was offering interest-free loans to other companies last month, topped up money to the initial kitty because of higher demand. Pure Senses is the distributor for Yankee Candle.

He said: "The initial loan amount of $50,000 was taken up by five different companies within a week and we (as a company) topped up an additional $10,000 to provide... to six individual companies.

"This circuit breaker period is very tough on the retail industry and the need for help on the ground will intensify even as the circuit breaker measures are gradually rolled back."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 23, 2020, with the headline SMEs step up to help one another. Subscribe