Friday, April 5, 2013

Seeking Childhood Treasures in this Candy Store

Thinking of starting your own business? Do you worry when you think of the planning and preparation involved? Don’t fret! Help is here.

Our reporter, KELLY LIEW, spoke with Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP) graduate Siti Khairunissa, who shares with us her experience of starting her first business venture.  Khairunissa started 90s The Candy Studio with two of her friends, Lim Yi Jun and Goh Guo Hua Robin, from NYP’s School of Business Management (SBM). The trio, who graduated with the Diploma in Business Management, runs two stores, located at Bugis Street and Scape Underground.  This business venture is unique on two fronts: it offers sweets from yesteryears, and it hires hearing impaired staff.

(From the left) Khairunissa, Robin and Yi Jun 
I've visited both your candy studios and am amazed by the variety of sweets that you sell. How did the idea of starting a sweet store come about?                                                                        
 As my partners and I were born in the 90s, we decided that we should sell something that was close to our hearts. We did not want to settle for a typical store, selling items which could be found anywhere. Since retro sweets are hard to find nowadays, we decided to bring the sweets such as Hiro Choc cake, Magic Dust Lollipop and Ding Dang back to people and share the happiness of having sweets that were available to us in the 90s.

How long did your plan take to materialise? 
We settled on the idea in June 2012 and got started right away. We sourced for suppliers, designed the store, shopped for necessities for the next one and a half months. By early August, we signed our lease with Bugis Street management and started renovations. Our first store in Bugis Street opened its doors on 10 August 2012. The budget? Each of us forked out less than $1,000 of our own savings for the business.

Why choose Bugis Street and Scape Underground for your stores?                                                                That’s because NYP collaborates with both Bugis Street and Scape Management to give opportunities to young entrepreneurs like ourselves to start businesses. So, we had a head-start. Also, these two locations are ideal to reach out to our target customers.

How has business been?
We have been busy!  Even on weekdays, we see a good flow of traffic in our stores. Sometimes on weekends, it gets quite crowded. We not only have teenage customers, but many adults also come to our store to seek their childhood treasures. We have since broken even and are seeing profits every month.

Look at the variety of retro sweets!
How has NYP helped you in this business venture? 
The NYP curriculum, especially its Teaching Enterprise Project (TEP) and internships, has given us insights on how to operate a successful business. On top of that, we received support from our lecturers from SBM during the planning and preparation phase of starting up 90s.

I admire the concept of hiring hearing impaired staff. I met one of them – Alvin – at Scape and I wouldn't have guessed. How has working with them been? 
Working with them has been a new and positive experience. Prior to that, we did not know the sign language. We got used to writing to them as an alternative means of communication. We were glad that our hearing impaired colleagues - Alvin, Azhanie and Ida - did not let their disability hinder their training. Through working with them, we have learnt not to take things for granted and have learnt to see things from their perspective.

Would you advise other businesses to also involve the disabled community in their running? 
Certainly. I would encourage businesses to adopt social enterprise strategies and work towards the integration of people with disabilities into mainstream society. I found that customers’ appreciation towards their work gives them a sense of accomplishment and builds their confidence. Through small gestures like these, people with disabilities can maximize their potential and this helps them to be self-reliant and independent.

Do you think that entrepreneurship is something that is in your blood? Or is it something that can be learnt?
Anyone can learn to become an entrepreneur. I feel it is not one’s background but one's determination that helps you to get what you want.

As an entrepreneur, I am constantly learning new things through my day-to-day experiences. If someone aspires to become an entrepreneur, I believe there is nothing that can stop him. The sky is the limit!  Being your own boss is an experience that is invaluable. To my juniors who are thinking of starting a business: GO FOR IT!

What are your plans for the future? 
We, at 90s, hope to expand our business by being a provider for corporate events and parties. Other than selling our candies through our stores, we hope to also reach out to more customers by providing our products for private events. We are also working hard to do more networking, build our contacts and seek more opportunities for the business.

On a more personal note, Yi Jun and I are pursuing our degree in business management while Robin is working towards expanding his second business, JNR Entertainment, which provides entertainment services for children's parties.
Finding sweets that reminds me of my childhood make me feel like a child all over again!
You can support Khairunissa and her partners by visiting 90s The Candy Studio at the new Bugis Street and SCAPE Underground.

90s The Candy Studio
4 New Bugis Street
Singapore (188868)

90s + JNR Entertainment
2 Orchard Link Unit B7
Singapore 237978

By Kelly Liew, Advanced Diploma in Nursing (Mid-Wifery) graduate 
Kelly loves reading and cooking. She also likes to spend time with her friends, engaging in relaxing activities. Her friends describe her as unpredictable, spontaneous and inquisitive.

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