My Stories

A boat that almost sank

I feel like it’s not fair just talking about achievement without mentioning the fair amount of failures I’ve had a long the way. As much as I heard that failures are absolutely normal, but I rarely come across a sharing on this topic. So I decided to write about it, I hope fellow entrepreneurs find it relatable and be less hard on yourselves, as long as we open to look at it without any pushback, we’ll all learn.

Last year November, we decided to open Shoe Mo in Singapore. For us this is a huge step forward in Shoe Mo branding. We took over a local shoe laundry business and re-branded it to Shoe Mo. We incorporated ShoeMoSG Pte Ltd which we hold 70% of the stakes. It was a great deal as it’s been an up and running business with constant stream of customers (it has been running almost a year when we took over).

First month, lots of hand shakes and full of excitement. We did big opening promotion, so the sales was great, we managed to hire experienced cleaning crew so the quality is top-notch. We were over the moon, it’s a statement for Shoe Mo as a regional brand.

But the hype didn’t last long. We see our sales sunk by month and for the past 6 months, we’ve been making a lost. The reasons are:

1. Inefficient Operations

We promise customers for a turn around time of 3-7 days on their shoes, depends on the service. We took 2-3 months, or worst 4-5 months on a complicated job. Our team are taking too long on one jobs, despite the fact that their service quality is great, customers got turn off by the long waiting time. The team wasn’t efficient enough.

This created a dilemma, I wanted to double up on marketing and introduce more services, but our productivity is too low, so the shoes wasn’t moving fast enough, so was our cashflow. The more advertising we do, the more backlogs we have, the less we fulfill our turnaround promise.

Plus, high operation costs including rental and payroll in Singapore is a huge disadvantage for labour intensive business model like us. Big fix expenses, low fluctuated revenue, long overdue backlogs were making us bleed.

2. Bad management

We didn’t take actions fast enough. We keep hoping that table will turn next month. We keep saying that it’s a slow month, it will be better. But it didn’t. And the fact that I have to juggle both Malaysia and Singapore’s operations, was a bit too much on my table. And I can’t physically be in Singapore enough to push things.

Many asked me: Why not hire someone to help you? – We’re still bootstrapping now, and it’s hard to hire one with passion for this particular industry and is good at managing retail shop. Deep down I know, I need this person.

3. Inactive partner

The biggest lesson I thought I’ve learnt, but in fact I’ve never felt it deep like I do now, is that picking the right partner is important. It’s like jumping to marriage to someone and realize it’s a bit late to fix things. Even we have a local partner but there is not much of contribution towards the business. I don’t mean to bad mouth my partner, this is just merely a reflection on my end. And if we do fail, we (myself) do count for 70% of the blame, at least. So the weight is on us.

4. Location

Our shop location was good, but it was a bit out of the way. It’s to serve the neighborhood, it’s not bad, but it wasn’t great either.

As for me, this dilemma has been giving me ultimate stress for the past recent months. What I did were:

1. Cut down staff cost & change payroll scheme

I explained our situation in a heart-to-heart talk with Singapore team, I convert them from full time basis to part timers. I trimmed down business hours to cut down the loss.

I changed from hourly wage to basic wage + commission scheme. The more service they delivered, the more pay they get to fasten the turnaround time.

This is probably the hardest conversation I’ve had with my team, it’s not easy to deliver these news. I also allowed some tolerant period, I cut from full time salary to part time wages in the span of 3 months, and only 2 months later apply commission scheme.

2. Found a trusted & supporting partner

We found that The Sole Brother was interested to have us onboard, we’d been consigning our products and services at their pop up store in Marina Square. As they are taking a permanent tenancy at Marina Square, they offered us to share the space. And under the same proof, Sole Brother team will support us in managing the operation when I’m not around.

3. Move our shop

After months of discussion, we’ve decided to move in to Marina Square, sharing the new space with The Sole Brother with one stop merchandising and service concept. I hope this change will help us reach out to more customers with better branding. However, we still need to push our backlogs and shorten down turnaround time.

WhatsApp Image 2019-10-10 at 5.44.42 PM

It took me 6 months of loss, at one point of time, we did think about closing down the operation or sell it off. The loss was almost unbearable (ringgit x 3 haha). We struggled to make payroll and we still have past paychecks to clear. The changes we made to Singapore business has shown some good signals, but learning from the past, I wouldn’t be too optimistic but I’d be following up more closely until we ride our boat out of the storms of our mistakes 😀

Yet I believe everything happened for a reason, look at the bright side, we have better presence now as we used to!

Onwards and Upwards,


P/S: Feel free to reach out to me if you want to share your stories too!



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