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!



2 thoughts on “A boat that almost sank

  1. Paul Wesley says:

    Chanced upon this article and would like to give you some suggestions.

    As your ex-customer, i can tell you honestly that your problem is mainly your people. Your sg staff (everyone of them) are irresponsible, lazy and unprofessional. i have dealt with them as a customer before so i know

    1) shoes are still taking forever to be cleaned (my friends are still waiting for his shoes send in weeks before CNY)
    2) staff are unresponsive to enquiry on cleaning status
    3) calls are never answered
    4) when the shop was in the old location, the shop almost never open on time, even in the afternoons the shop was always closed making us waste our lunch time
    5) finally, the shoes cleaning results are lacking (dont understand why you mentioned service quality is great).

    As a business consultant, i have to be honest – Changing location, getting rid of an inactive partner or even cutting payroll is not going to solve your core business problem because your current state of mind is still “Hoping” things will turn-out right.

    From my personal experience with your team as a customer, you need to make a full transformation, change the entire team – get rid of the current team, because if you do not change them, any new team member that joins your team will be influenced by the current team mindset, work culture and attitude.

    Lastly, any expansion plans require more than just planting a flag in the location and hoping that things will work. Strengthening your core team/skills in your based-country is important to your business and not expanding to grow presence.


    • Hi Paul,

      Thank you for taking your time to write down those comments!

      First of all about your experience, it urged me to try search for your order in our database but I couldn’t, wanted to look for room of improvement, so if you don’t mind, you can give me your previous order number (should be in your email inbox). And your friend’s too! Would love to help out if it’s still with us.

      Secondly, all the suggestions you mentioned had been done since the blog was implemented. Lots has happened since but I haven’t got myself down to write new blog these days. The entire team has changed and there certainly get more positive feedback now – at least it’s on my perspective, so if you get a chance to stop by Marina Square, might as well check us out! I understand the team must take on hundreds of pairs per month so there will be mistakes in terms of quality no mater how good they are. However, I always try my best to rectify if I have a chance.

      Again, thank you for the feedback. You can reply me here or contact me to



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