Community bonding, familiarity among benefits of setting up shop in the heartlands

Ronnie Loh set up Rehab King in Bukit Merah 15 years ago to sell eldercare products such as wheelchairs and diapers. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - Shop owner Ronnie Loh's business journey has been more colourful than most given it's taken him from being a big wheel in the music industry to one selling wheelchairs to older folk in the heartlands.

Mr Loh worked for leading lights in the music game like Warner Music and also set up his own businesses distributing and selling music in the 1960s, '70s and '80s.

But when prospects in the industry began to fade, Mr Loh stumbled upon an opportunity in the healthcare line and set up Rehab King in the bustling heartland of Bukit Merah 15 years ago to sell eldercare products such as wheelchairs and diapers.

Mr Loh, who is in his early 70s, thought it would be a "pretty boring" undertaking when he first started, "but I now look forward to coming to work every day".

One of the main draws of setting up shop in the heartlands is the sense of familiarity that comes from seeing regular customers and fellow shop-keepers from the neighbourhood, he noted.

He also finds meaning in serving and helping his customers, most of whom are seniors or caregivers: "My mantra is - honesty is the best policy. "

That is what draws regular customer Ian Peterson, 47. "Ronnie gives good advice on products, and I also find his rates for items like diapers cheaper than those in supermarkets," said Mr Peterson, a social service professional.

Rehab King also receives donated wheelchairs that are available to customers on a "pay as you wish" basis with proceeds going to charity.

Mr Loh welcomed the move by the HDB and other agencies to conduct a study on heartland shops, which will, among other things, look at the benefits residents enjoy from patronising such stores.

Donated wheelchairs which are available for purchase at low prices or on a 'pay as you wish' basis to those who need them. PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

HDB shops offer more affordable rents that in malls, he said. There are even economies of scale to be reaped when customers ask for items to be delivered together with purchases from neighbouring shops.

"One of my elderly customers will order things from me for delivery. Sometimes she will also buy items from the household goods store next door, and say, can I tompang (my goods) with the delivered items? It's convenient for her," he laughed.

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