Fishing for business online

When you're competing in a sea of fishmongers for a share of a shrinking market, the last thing you can afford to do is put your creativity on ice.

Just ask Mr Khor Chin Puang, 32, of Pan's Fish, which operates seafood stalls in six wet markets.

He is trying to cast the revenue net wider by using the Design Innovation Assistance grant, which he received in 2014, to rebrand his products and repackage them for online retail.

At the end of this month, he plans to launch Market Fresh - what he calls the "wet market complement" to online grocers like Redmart.

The website will sell fresh fish and meat, vegetables and other wet market staples at wet market prices. Customers pay the cost of delivery.

The grant money allowed him to bring in design consultancy Orcadesign Consultants and design firm SupraCopula for ideas on growing his reach, and to create a new logo and identity.

Part of it also went towards research and development for special packaging, said Mr Khor, who was first exposed to the ins and outs of the fish business when he helped his mother at her Tiong Bahru stall as a secondary school student.

"Vacuum packing actually distorts the shape of the product," he explained.

"Our plastic skin and tray preserves the shape while keeping the product looking fresh. Hopefully, it will help assure buyers of its quality."

Mr Khor, who graduated with a degree in communications from RMIT and spent a year in a related industry before deciding that he had bigger fish to fry, said he has always been "open to experimenting".

"No business can afford to stay stagnant, and good design is an avenue that I believe will elevate my products," he said.

But some ideas have worked better than others, he admitted.

As part of his rebranding exercise, he "modernised" his Bukit Panjang stall at the end of last year. While the stall's updated look and feel were well received, the idea of switching to a display fridge for fish quickly went belly up.

"It's a cultural thing. People aren't used to it. They want to see and touch the fish, and flip it over. So we just went back to putting the fish on ice on the table," he said, laughing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2016, with the headline 'Fishing for business online'. Print Edition | Subscribe