Unusual businesses that open round the clock

In line with many vibrant cities elsewhere, a "24-hour culture" is emerging here, with varied services available well past normal working hours

Cannot finish your errands? Do not fret. Nowadays, it is possible to buy flowers and get photocopying done at all hours of the day, even in the dead of night.

Apart from 24-hour gyms, spas, eateries, supermarkets, prawning facilities and LAN gaming shops, some unusual businesses have also decided to offer their services throughout the night.

Consumers welcome the extra choices available and experts are not surprised at this trend, saying it points to the emergence of a "24-hour culture" here, similar to other cosmopolitan cities such as those in the United States, Britain, Taiwan, China, Japan and South Korea.

Such a trend, they say, is primarily due to lifestyle changes.

Assistant Professor of marketing Hannah Chang, 35, from the Singapore Management University, says that as Singapore becomes a more advanced economy, some workers, such as traders and those working in financial services, increasingly deal with foreign markets in different time zones.

"As a result, more people are working outside of the usual 9 to 6, creating a demand for services that are offered outside of normal working hours."

Professor of marketing Jochen Wirtz, 54, from the National University of Singapore Business School, points to the growing number of dual-income families and single wage-earners who live alone and do their shopping outside normal working hours.

"Nowadays, more people also lead varied lifestyles, such as gamers who get hungry in the middle of the night and people who work night shifts.

"There are also customers who simply like the convenience of going shopping and running errands at any time of the day."

He adds: "In London or New York, there is almost no service that is not available around the clock and I think Singapore will likely move in that direction."

Opening 24/7, he adds, presents advantages to business owners, such as eliminating the cost of shutting down and reopening a supermarket every night and paying for security personnel to look after the premises during non-operating hours.

There is also a growing pool of workers who are willing to work evenings and nights. They include students looking to work part-time outside classroom hours, people working second jobs, parents juggling childcare responsibilities and others who simply prefer to work at night and relax in the day.

On the emergence of a 24-hour culture in Singapore, Prof Wirtz says: "I think it is neither good nor bad.

"It is good if it lets people lead the lifestyles they like and prefer, or better fit work into otherwise hard- to-reconcile lifestyles."

Prof Chang agrees, saying: "As cities become more densely populated, there are going to be people with different lifestyles and some might prefer the convenience of using services at different times of the day.

"In any case, having extended hours is good because it provides consumers with added convenience and flexibility."

Do the laundry

Mr Muhd Rusydi doing his family's laundry at 2am at Laundry Loft in Jurong. ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Laundry Loft (www.laundryloft.sg)

Where: 01-14A BigBox, 1 Venture Avenue; tel: 8781-2313

At 2am on a Thursday, Mr Muhd Rusydi was the only customer at this laundromat near Jurong East MRT station. But the 27-year-old flight attendant did not feel odd washing his clothes in the dead of night.

"I like the peace and quiet. I can look at my phone while my laundry is being washed. At this time of the night, there's nobody around and I can have the whole place to myself.

"If I'm hungry, I can buy food at a McDonald's nearby."

Since the full-service laundromat and dry-cleaning outlet opened in March, the Toh Guan resident has been coming every two weeks with a big bag containing laundry from his whole family - his wife, two siblings and parents.

Laundry Loft's six washers and six dryers, all coin-operated, are open 24/7. Outside the shop, there is a drop-off and collection counter for professional laundry and dry- cleaning services, and a video on how to use the services is always played on a loop.

Laundry Loft's director, Mr Kevin Soh, 48, says the laundromat tends to have more customers on Friday, Saturday - and sometimes Sunday - nights. "With our busy schedules, perhaps it is only during the weekends that people have the time to get their laundry done, which can take a few hours."

From his observation, some customers work late shifts and can do their laundry only at odd hours. There are also some who head there straight from the airport, bringing their winter clothing to wash after an overseas trip, so they do not have to lug dirty clothes home.

Operating through the night means higher utility bills - for the lights and ventilation system - and one employee has to man the service's 24/7 hotline.

Mr Soh says: "But it lets us serve customers from all walks of life, who might be free to do laundry only at certain times of the day."

Queue up for yong tau foo

Soon Li Yong Tau Foo

Where: 115 Bukit Merah View, 01-78

Soon Li Yong Tau Foo in Bukit Merah View opens for business past midnight and has a regular following of customers who flock there for supper. ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

Yong tau foo is not usually thought of as supper food, but at this stall, all the customers are having it after midnight.

Previous reports say it usually opens from 10.30pm to 3.30am, but when The Sunday Times visited on a Tuesday night, it opened only at 1am.

Despite its unpredictable opening hours, it has found a loyal clientele, which started gathering as early as 11.45pm.

While the stall's owner, Mr Goh Chiew Huat, and his wife were busying preparing ingredients such as fishcakes, fishballs, noodles, fried wontons, meat balls, quail eggs and pieces of tofu, their customers waited patiently at the surrounding tables, sipping their drinks and looking at their phones.

At 1am sharp, the stall's yellow signboard lit up, prompting about 20 customers to flock to it.

Quickly, two queues emerged - one to pick their ingredients and another to collect their food and make payment.

Mr Goh, 60, told The Sunday Times that when he started the business in 1981, his stall opened in the morning just like other hawker stalls. But after a hard day's work, he found it hard to wake up the next day and this led to the stall opening later and later.

The stall's customers, however, seem happy to come at night.

Ms Marry Law, 33, who works at an integrated resort and eats at the stall a few times a month, says: "My shift ends at midnight, so the stall's timing is perfect for me. I also live nearby.

"I like that the food is delicious and cheap, so it is definitely worth the effort to come."

Print, laminate, bind

Mr Muhammad Sayeed is a director of Musa 24 Hours Printing, which provides printing, scanning, photocopying, binding and laminating services around the clock. ST PHOTO: BENSON ANG

Musa 24 Hours Printing (musa-group.com/24hrsinternet/printing.html)

Where: 16 Bali Lane; tel: 6293-6952/9388-1939

At 3am, Mr Muhammad Sayeed is at work, printing namecards for a client who needs them by 6am.

The 45-year-old is one of the directors of Musa 24 Hours Printing, which provides printing, scanning, photocopying, binding and laminating services around the clock. The business also prints posters and banners.

His wife, 32, and brother-in-law, 28, also run the company, which operates out of a two-storey shophouse in Bali Lane.

In their office are four printer- scanners, three binding machines and three laminating machines.

Boxes are piled high to the ceiling, containing binding rings of all sizes and colours.

Every night, Mr Muhammad gets four to 10 calls or messages, many from desperate customers asking "Are you open?" and "Can you do this job earlier?"

He says: "Most printing shops operate only in the day. But there are people with printing and binding requests at night and they come to us."

His family business started in 2003 as an Internet cafe, open 24/7, which also provided printing services. But when business dwindled, the cafe closed in 2008 and his family decided to open an Indian restaurant.

Since they already owned the printing equipment, they continued the business and operated it round the clock.

Mr Muhammad says: "The timing is fine with me. My body is used to interrupted sleep. And even when I'm resting, someone else from my family will pick up the calls."

Many of them come from companies with urgent printing needs.

The highest amount his company has charged for a night job is $28,000 two years ago - a Fortune 500 company required printing, binding and delivering of 250 folders, each containing 248 pages, with customised dividers.

Mr Muhammad says: "The folders were for a company meeting in the morning. But the financial figures could be confirmed only the night before, so we had to work through the night."

To finish the job, he had to enlist his friends and contacts for help.

His company also sees individuals such as students wanting to print their projects in the middle of the night.

"I don't ask why they need to print at night, but I know they want the task finished immediately."

For night jobs, he charges a minimum of $30. Last year, he recalls, a fashion student gladly paid the amount just to print one page of her designs in colour in the wee hours of the morning. "It must have been very urgent. In the daytime, the same job would have cost just $2."

Buy a bouquet of flowers

24 Hrs City Florist caters to people who need flowers urgently at odd times of the day. ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

24 Hrs City Florist (www.24hrscityflorist.com)

Where: 161 Lavender Street, 01-05; tel: 63964222

This flower shop in Lavender Street closes only between 6 and 9am daily and the majority of its customers are men who want last-minute flowers for occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries.

Others are trying to apologise to someone, or are en route to the airport to welcome someone.

These are the observations by the shop assistant on duty on a Wednesday, who wanted to be known only as Jenny.

According to the 44-year-old, the number of customers at night is "very unpredictable".

"Some nights, nobody comes in. On other nights, two people come in at the same time," she says.

On the eve of Valentine's Day this year, for example, more than 10 people entered the shop at night.

Just two months ago, a 20something groom and his groomsmen arrived in a wedding car in the early hours of the morning.

"He was on his way to 'fetch' his bride," says Jenny.

"But he felt that the bouquet on the bonnet of the wedding car was too small. I helped him replace the bouquet with a bigger one from the shop."

A few years ago, a bride-to-be also went to the shop looking for a replacement bouquet for her wedding that day. The original bouquet had been chewed up by her pet dog.

Customers often tell the shop staff things such as "you are my life saver" and "thank God you are open now", says the shop's general manager, Mr Jerry Lee, 47.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 11, 2016, with the headline 'Buzzing in the still of the night'. Print Edition | Subscribe