Budding entrepreneur? Try out at AMK for free

The crowd at Ang Mo Kio Town Centre (next to AMK Hub) on Sept 23, 2017.
The crowd at Ang Mo Kio Town Centre (next to AMK Hub) on Sept 23, 2017. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

In a few months, budding entrepreneurs can set up shop in the heartland - for free.

For a start, they can use community plaza space in Ang Mo Kio for up to a week without paying rent.

The pilot project by the Ang Mo Kio Constituency Merchants Association is part of a nationwide plan to get younger shoppers to venture into the heartland, and rejuvenate ailing neighbourhood shops.

The aim is also to nurture the next generation of heartland businessmen - and in turn have them inject fresh ideas into the community.

Details are still being worked out.

Said Ang Mo Kio Constituency Merchants Association president Lim Kien Huat last night: "We need the next generation to come in here - set up businesses and shops - so that current merchants can learn from them." If successful, the project will be replicated in other parts of Singapore.

For some time now, businesses in HDB estates have been hit hard by competition from online stores and malls. In the last couple of years, business owners - such as those selling clothes, daily necessities or facial services - have taken a hit in sales of 20 to 30 per cent, estimates Federation of Merchants' Association (FMAS) president Yeo Hiang Meng.

They are also struggling to attract younger shop owners. Today's merchants are, on average, in their 60s.

A new survey of 1,000 residents in Bedok and Ang Mo Kio, conducted by FMAS between January and July, found that there are three areas of improvement needed.

FMAS - which represents merchants in neighbourhood centres - said at a dinner last night that it will encourage small businesses to adopt technology such as cashless payments to boost sales. For this, it will organise classes for shopkeepers.

Second, it will work with grassroots organisations and town councils to bring in different activities, performances and programmes to draw crowds. Third, it will share secretariat support services with the merchant associations under its wing, to relieve them of manpower challenges and reduce costs.

Said Mr Yeo: "A lot of our small and medium-sized enterprises are not on social media and do things the same way they did 20 years ago. The products they sell aren't unique. We must change that."

Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung, who is also chairman of the Chinese Community Liaison Group, told merchants at the dinner that neighbourhood shops continue to play an important part in maintaining social harmony, especially amid heightened racial tensions around the world.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2017, with the headline 'Budding entrepreneur? Try out at AMK for free'. Print Edition | Subscribe