Heartland shops have to keep up and adapt to new business trends: Desmond Lee

SINGAPORE – Heartland shops will have to face the challenges of adapting to new business trends as shoppers’ preferences change.

Although the past two years have been difficult for them because of the pandemic, these shops are also facing growing challenges beyond Covid-19, said National Development Minister Desmond Lee.

Speaking at the Singapore Heartland Enterprise Summit on Tuesday (June 28), Mr Lee said: “Beyond the pandemic, more shoppers are also turning to e-commerce, or may prefer more modern shopping malls. Our heartland shops have to keep up with these trends, and remain lively and relevant.”

To help shops tackle this, a Heartland Shops Study was launched last year to gather views from Singaporeans on how these shops can innovate but yet retain their unique characteristics.

The shops play a special role in local communities, such as by helping to forge strong social bonds in neighbourhoods, or providing jobs for seniors and others who need to work near their homes, he added.

More than 2,800 stakeholders – such as residents, shopkeepers and business leaders – have shared their ideas through various modes such as interviews and surveys.

Some have suggested more support for these shops in the area of digitalisation, marketing, and placemaking events so they can become livelier and more productive.

Mr Lee said the Government is studying the feedback in detail, and will release its findings and recommendations in the coming months.

While adapting to new business environments may not always come easy, some heartland shops have been successful and have even scaled internationally.

One example is Old Chang Kee, which started off in 1956 as a small stall in a coffee shop in Mackenzie Road near Rochor.

But today, the brand has grown into a household name, with stores islandwide selling curry puffs and other snacks. It also has outlets in London, Jakarta and Perth, Australia.

“They did this by investing in new systems and production facilities, along with fresh marketing strategies to keep pace with consumer trends – all while maintaining the quality of their signature curry puffs,” said Mr Lee, adding that there are also local brands that have managed to scale up, such as SK Jewellery and Heng Foh Tong Medical Hall.

Others have also embarked on new and exciting business concepts, such as the niche Just Ants, a one-stop shop in Yishun that started in 2017 dedicated to ant-keeping needs.

President of  the Federation of Merchants’ Associations Singapore (FMAS) Yeo Hiang Meng said the association is encouraging business owners to adopt a right mindset to change their business models. This is not easy for heartland enterprises, as most of them are small businesses.