Today Thursday July 4, 2013, I decided to visit the wet market and take some video of the scene at 6 am. I attended a real estate lecture on Outdoor Advertising and was told that signboards of hawkers and market operators are exempted from payment of fees. I thought every business must pay and pay but this is good.
The bright lights were switched on and there was no crowd. The fish mongers, pork and chicken and fruit sellers and the food stalls were open. The aquarium operators were just starting up. There were some empty stalls as many operators are senior citizens and may have retired.
Suddenly, a man in his late 30s called me. Vincent could recognise me although the last time I patronise his provision shop stall was 5 years ago when he was at the temporary premises in the car park. A big fire had gutted the old market place and was being built. I was surprised to see him. My domestic worker had been buying the onions and garlic and stuff from him and so I guess he remembered me but to recognise me would be not possible.
His stall was packed with provisions to the gills, providing a variety of goods. This means his business must be thriving, otherwise he would not stock a variety of goods. He has some good healthy stuff like non-salty small fish from Japan for omelette, Japanese mushrooms said to be insecticide free unlike those bitter China-originated mushrooms.
"The plump sausages are from Hong Kong," he told me. "The thin dried ones are from Singapore as they are mostly lean meat and Singaporeans are health conscious."
"What about the sausages used for char kway teow?" I asked.
"The poorest quality type is used," he said.
I asked about his business. Two stalls each of around 100 sq ft would rent around $2,000/month. His fridge to keep some items would cost $300/month in electricity. "Do you intend to expand to a 3rd stall?" I noticed one stall had red banners indicating a new business. I asked him about that stall.
"Not that stall separated from my stall by a walkway," he said.
The takeover of a stall is $15,000 but one stall went for $25,000 in that stall you mentioned, as the buyer wanted it to store his goods.
A middle-aged woman as a helper and a sister. A red line prohibits display of goods out of the line but this extra space is not practical as it is too narrow.
I bought 8 items from him, totalling $34.00. The Japanese mushrooms, the export quality brown sauce, a bottle of brown beans to steam the type of fish used for nourishing Cantonese mothers after birth, fine Vermicelli from Thailand, curry paste packet from Vietnam? highly recommended by him, the smelly bean curd bottle from Taiwan to go with porridge and a can of barley. He has special rice for the thick porridge but I did not buy it. I did not buy the open sacks of barley from other countries but the canned one as there is less smell according to him. I was eating this brand as a child but seldom sees it nowadays.
He had duck sausages inside his fridge for a client who walked in. He showed me the Australian abalones. What I thought were abalones inside the plastic bag hanging out were duck gizzards. The dried prawns were of a much better quality. The ikan bilis fishes look good. Overall, he seems to be selling better quality stuff.
"Service is very important," he emphasized to me as he greeted his clients, mainly women. This was what he said to me 5 years ago. We had not met since and I thought he had gone out of business. His stalls are hidden further inside away from the main entrance. On passing by, one would see a seller of joss sticks and religious paraphernalia and would miss his stalls. He was sitting outside when I came videoing the joss sticks and called me. So that was how we met again.
"Do you use Facebook to market your products?"
"No need to," he had to start work at 5 am and finished at 2 pm. He had to source for goods 3x/week. He does not believe in social media marketing as he believes his clients are from his good service and in the neighbourhood.
That is where he is mistaken. "If you have good stuff like the Hong Kong sausages, you should use the Facebook to advertise as many people may want to buy it and the internet will show the results of your product if you know how to use the social media. Do you sell Japanese Kinman sauce?"
"No," he said. "The big supermarkets like NTUC prohibit the manufacturers to permit wet market provision shops to sell." I was surprised as I thought Singapore advocates free market enterprise. By preventing small operators from being supplied, there is in effect a monopoly and price-fixing cartel. I hope this is not the case. I bought another premium brown sauce from him instead.
Small wet market provision shop operators are usually senior citizens and I am surprised that Vincent is younger. There is another one competitor. This trade will die as the big supermarkets corner the business of provisions. In Vincent's business, the social media will help considerably if he knows how to harness it. Together with his high energy, good service and niche products of good quality and advices, he will have no lack of the health conscious younger parents from further towns other than Ang Mo Kio. But it is very hard to change a person's mindset and time-consuming to maintain a Facebook page. Especially when the operator is not interested in social media.
So I expect him to just provide excellent service and get loyal clientele from the aunties and housewives living in Ang Mo Kio Wet Market 628 area and earning a decent livelihood. Till the landlord increases his rentals or the big provision shops and supermarkets slash their prices. As it is, most young consumers just go to the air-conditioned supermarkets to shop and it is more important that the wet market provision store operator make use of social media to sustain his business.