Cabbies, DIY boss show the way to adapt to disruption

Cabby David Chan no longer treats Grab as "the enemy", after trying it out and finding that he had more bookings and was earning more. Home-Fix managing director Low Cheong Kee (centre) has transformed his business model to offer more services, such
Cabby David Chan no longer treats Grab as "the enemy", after trying it out and finding that he had more bookings and was earning more. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Cabby David Chan no longer treats Grab as "the enemy", after trying it out and finding that he had more bookings and was earning more. Home-Fix managing director Low Cheong Kee (centre) has transformed his business model to offer more services, such
Home-Fix managing director Low Cheong Kee (centre) has transformed his business model to offer more services, such as sending someone to do the repairs for customers.PHOTO: MCI

ComfortDelGro cabby David Chan was resentful when ride-hailing companies Uber and Grab entered Singapore's public transport scene.

The 58-year-old "thought they were the enemy, stealing the customers", Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong related at a May Day Rally yesterday.

But last September, Mr Chan tried out Grab after a friend referred him to it. Almost immediately, he found he had more bookings and was earning more.

"I was scared at first because about 90 per cent of Grab passengers pay their fare using GrabPay instead of cash, so I was really worried I would never see the money," Mr Chan told The Straits Times, referring to the cashless payment option on the app.

"But I realised my earnings were transferred straight to my bank account within 24 hours."

He has since embraced theconcept of cashless payments, paying his daily taxi rental through mobile banking instead of queueing to do it in person. He also helps other drivers keen to learn how to use the Grab app.

Mr Chan, PM Lee said, shows "you are never too old to learn to use technology". His story also shows how well cabbies have adapted to disruption in their industry, and that workers in other sectors facing rapid technological changes should embrace change too, Mr Lee added.

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"I know when ride-sharing first came, taxi drivers had grumbles, but in truth they generally have adapted quite well to the market changes," he said.

With the impending arrival of driverless vehicles, bus and train captains will have to take the cue from taxi drivers, he added. But they will not be displaced completely because the automated vehicles will need someone to monitor what is happening and ensure the computer does not make a mistake, Mr Lee said.

Companies too have to transform, he said, citing DIY chain Home-Fix, which started as a charcoal shop in Geylang Serai in the 1960s. Its managing director Low Cheong Kee took over the family business in 1993 and modernised it.

But as online shopping grew in popularity, Mr Low's business took a hit and he closed 10 retail stores in Singapore, leaving him with 16.

Now, he has an online platform to sell his products.

He also transformed his business model to offer more services. It is no longer just DIY, but DIFY (do-it-for-you), with someone sent to do the repairs for you. There is also DIWY (do-it-with-you), in which customers are taught to repair appliances and fix up their homes.

"In that way, he is building new relationships, doing things which online stores will find hard to replicate," said Mr Lee.


Correction note: This story has been edited for clarity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2018, with the headline 'Cabbies, DIY boss show the way to adapt to disruption'. Print Edition | Subscribe