COVID-19 SPECIAL

Coronavirus: It's a struggle for survival for many small firms

Business owners are diversifying offerings and taking on odd jobs to ride out Covid-19 fallout

Florist Pang Hui Ya, who co-owns 7pm Bloom, has had to dig into her savings and take on part-time jobs to make ends meet. Mr Wee Kien Meng, who co-owns party planner Mr Bottle Kid's Party, said his firm's revenue fell almost 95 per cent. He has moved
Mr Wee Kien Meng, who co-owns party planner Mr Bottle Kid's Party, said his firm's revenue fell almost 95 per cent. He has moved his business into the digital realm and now offers discounted packages such as online magic shows and workshops.PHOTO: COURTESY OF WEE KIEN MENG
Florist Pang Hui Ya, who co-owns 7pm Bloom, has had to dig into her savings and take on part-time jobs to make ends meet. Mr Wee Kien Meng, who co-owns party planner Mr Bottle Kid's Party, said his firm's revenue fell almost 95 per cent. He has moved
Florist Pang Hui Ya, who co-owns 7pm Bloom, has had to dig into her savings and take on part-time jobs to make ends meet.PHOTO: COURTESY OF PANG HUI YA

Survival has become the key concern for many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) here as they struggle to keep afloat amid the economic fallout from Covid-19.

While some owners have frantically begun diversifying business offerings, others have taken on odd jobs to make ends meet.

Florist Pang Hui Ya, who co-owns 7pm Bloom, typifies the challenges faced by thousands of firms.

She told The Straits Times that turnover has fallen by around 80 per cent owing to wedding cancellations in recent months.

"The bulk of our business comes from doing floral arrangements for weddings, so during the circuit breaker period, we focused more on selling ready-made bouquets, but the revenue from that barely covers our costs," said Ms Pang, 30.

Even the spike in demand during Mother's Day failed to cover rent and staff costs, she noted.

The business also encountered other hurdles, from unsuccessful applications for government grants and financial aid to losing its rented store space - setbacks that have forced Ms Pang to dig into her savings and take on part-time jobs.

But the business is getting back on its feet again with a new store space at Oxley BizHub, and demand is gradually picking up with more wedding ceremonies.

Ms Pang hopes the easing up of safe distancing measures - up to 50 people can now attend weddings - will translate into revived demand.

In the meantime, she is looking at diversifying by holding floral arrangement classes and rolling out do-it-yourself flower jars.

Other business owners are also focused on riding out each month as it comes.

 
 

Revenue at Mr Rudy de Rozario's event support firm Drape Empire plunged by around 90 per cent after almost all events were cancelled.

The company, which sets up drapes and backdrops for events such as concerts and corporate functions, qualified for the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) for its four employees.

But Mr de Rozario, 43, is hesitant about being overly reliant on financial aid: "The payouts are only till October, and (there are) other costs like rent, so we need to pivot into other areas for income to ensure month-to-month sustainability until business picks up pace again."

The company recently took on two technical installation projects as well as odd jobs like e-commerce deliveries to make ends meet.

Singapore Business Federation chief executive Ho Meng Kit noted that "micro and small enterprises with more limited resources are adversely affected compared with larger companies", though the JSS has helped them meet cash flow and cost challenges, especially during the circuit breaker period.

He added that the Government had adjusted JSS payouts to support qualified shareholder-directors in addition to employees, recognising that many of them are from small businesses.

 
 

However, Mr Wee Kien Meng, who co-owns party planner Mr Bottle Kid's Party, found himself ineligible for JSS payouts as his business was registered as a limited liability partnership, meaning that he draws monthly income as a "freelancer", not as a shareholder-director.

He was also ineligible for the Self-employed Income Relief Scheme despite the firm's revenue falling almost 95 per cent.

Mr Wee, 42, moved his business into the digital realm after a string of party cancellations, and now offers discounted packages such as online magic shows and workshops.

"Though we are getting small successes from these strategies, the revenue is nowhere close to what we used to have, as parties are typically held in large numbers and some parents are not as keen to do virtual parties for their kids," Mr Wee said.

Mr Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, said that while con-tinued government support is essential in helping SMEs cut costs and increase revenue, funding should be directed at businesses that would still be viable beyond the pandemic.

This means firms must thoroughly assess their own "developmental potential, taking into account the sector that they are in, and whether the business itself has strong fundamentals", he noted.

 
 

"Once this has been established, businesses can then consider how they can diversify and grow their revenue streams amid Covid-19, taking into account the cost components and the government support schemes they are eligible for."

This "will help them come up with a plan - which should last at least to the end of 2021 - on how they can tide through this Covid-19 period".

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2020, with the headline 'It's a struggle for survival for many small firms'. Subscribe