It will take time for small heartland retailers to change their mindsets and upgrade their businesses, but the sooner they do, the sooner they will reap the benefits.
That was one of the messages sent out by Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck yesterday as he visited businesses at Tampines Street 21 to find out how they had been making use of grants and schemes to improve their business models.
The SME@Northeast, a centre which provides advice to enterprises to upgrade, has been offering help to heartland retailers in that area through talks, workshops and shop visits.
It shares information about the various grants these shops can make use of. These include the Productivity and Innovation Credit (PIC), which offers tax deductions or a cash payout for investments in innovation and productivity improvements, and the Innovation and Capability Voucher, which small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can use to upgrade their operations.
Some businesses are already benefiting from these schemes. One of them is electronics company New City Electrical Trading, which has stores at Tampines Street 21 and in Yishun.
Its owner Richard Teh, 52, used to rely on hardcopy documents to keep track of his store inventories, but replaced this with an electronic system early this year. It cost him more than $40,000, but he has applied for the PIC scheme to receive a 60 per cent cash payout for his investment.
"I used to take a few hours just to take stock, but now I can do so at the click of a button," said Mr Teh, whose business is two decades old. "The electronic system has also given me the confidence to look into expanding my business into countries like Malaysia and Myanmar."
According to the Tampines Neighbourhood 2 Merchants' Association, there are about 200 businesses within six blocks at Tampines Street 21. About half are shops that have been around for decades.
Mr Kwek Hong Lim, the association's chairman, said: "Many of these businesses are very comfortable with the way they have been operating. For instance, if you take away the Milo tins where they keep their money, they will be uneasy. But a good number of shops have started using various schemes and grants, which shows that people are beginning to open up and embrace technology."