One of the first things you receive when you register in culinary school is a special set of tools. In your tool kit there is a general chef knife, a paring knife, a teaspoon, a dessert spoon and a tablespoon, a whisk and a spatula, a wooden spoon, an apron, a skewer and sometimes a pastry/piping bag with various nozzles. With this, the lecturer says “you have the tools to begin your culinary career!” And this is true, regardless of your chosen cuisine or specialty. A trained chef will always have their own set of these special tools, something to take with them as they grow their career or culinary skills.
Today, these small utensils are still as important and necessary in spite of changes in looks, quality of material and much more. If these basics have changed rapidly, what’s to say of the tools that you use at the front of the house- from plates that showcase your masterpiece to basic table items like table liners or place mats? Operating a restaurant is an orchestra of events where the back and front-of-house come together to create a harmonious symphony. Having an experienced supplier who not only supply the tools but also guide and offer options suiting your budget and needs will definitely make it easier for you to run the daily operations.
You can be sure that SIA HUAT is one such partner. Opened in the late 1950’s, SIA HUAT’s beginning was humble and concentrated on providing simple household goods in Temple Street of Singapore’s Chinatown. Founder, Mr Tan Chah Sia operated the shop selling wares and supplies and family members were brought in to help everyday. This was where his son and current MD, Mr CB Tan learned the in’s and out’s of the business. Taking over the family business in 1967, Mr Tan understood the industry and saw the potential of expanding their services. Instead of just selling household wares, CB Tan with his sister Katherine Tan, who joined him in 1982, took the business to a new level where they not only service individual walk-ins but big F & B chains and hospitality operators by bringing in a wide range of brands and products to support such needs.
Now, the size of the Temple street outlet has tripled, the company has included a 40,000 sq. ft. warehouse in Singapore with another 36,000 sq. ft. specialised retail experience called ToTT - solidifying the company as a leading stockist, wholesaler, and one-stop centre for an extensive range of quality tableware, kitchenware, foodservice, and related equipment and utensils. With more than 120 brands and on the constant look out to offer more, Sia Huat never forgets those who believe in them like Zebra and Nikko, one of the first brands carried by the company which continues today.
WHAT DO YOU NEED?
Lynette Tan, the 3rd generation of the Tan family who is also Senior Director - Sourcing & Horeca Sales said “We have more than 40,000 SKUs and 588 categories of products from disposables like satay sticks to top of the line small table top equipment like toasters. Our
product offering is in a constant state of flux as we are continuously assessing potential new products to add to our existing portfolio and evaluating our current products to ensure they remain competitive and relevant”.
The warehouse is extensive and designed to serve their customers when it is needed. “We try to carry different value propositions in each product group to cater to varying needs and budgets since we cover a broad spectrum of customers. The more discerning customers today go for value rather than lowest price - and that’s what we focus on for our house brand Safico” she adds.
But how does the company know what to stock? Are there trends or indicators in the market? We asked Melvin Tan, the company’s manager in sales & marketing and also Lynette’s brother, to give us his thoughts - “It is difficult to encapsulate a trend for the entire industry and across so many different market segments. If I were to choose one issue that seems to be particularly pertinent these days and clearly affects what decision-makers end up using in their restaurant, that would be the topic of ‘time management’. It used to be that people would decide on their operating equipment 3 - 6 months before a new hotel opening or securing the lease on their next F&B outlet. These days, such customers are definitely the minority”.
He adds that because the customers’ purchasing decision is now governed by time, they would end up in a couple of scenarios - to accept available stocked items that might not fully represent their vision or being frugal in light of overspending on premise or facilities which could end up more expensive in the long run when replacements are necessary. And if compromise is unacceptable, the urgency factor would result in unnecessary spending in logistics and shipping charges. “We would rather have our customers invest their budget into the value of the equipment than logistics costs that are not profit generating”.
DIFFERENT CUSTOMERS, DIVERSE APPROACHES
As an inventory holding and supply-chain driven company, Sia Huat stands out from the rest, with various approaches in serving its 3 main groups of customers - B2B Customers, B2B2C customers and also B2C customers. B2B customers who have worked before with Sia Huat can easily identify how the team works. Their corporate showroom is one where someone could walk in and come out completely equipped to operate the service of a restaurant with the exception of large kitchen equipment. Uniforms, boots, food pans, salt and pepper shakers, napkins, gloves, small cutters, ladles, moulds for baking and even the brush to clean utensils line the shelves of the showroom offering variety. Working closely with customers, this showroom provides an area where customers can arrange their complete list of items in proper settings to imagine and experience their selection before deciding. Due to the relationships they have with their principals, they have been able to customise specific items - down to the colour and design on a particular plate for the customer. Customers can make use of their strong sourcing team to locate a certain specialised product by just sending to the team a photo of a particular item.
B2B2C customers can be assured of stocks and variety with the strength of the company’s channels. And with today’s growing interest in gastronomy and scores of culinary enthusiasts, it developed ToTT as a haven for the B2C customers. The name ToTT, short for Tools of The Trade explains itself when you step into the store. This B2C focused retail store has every item used for domestic preparation of food and beverages displayed on rows and rows of shelves in an assortment of colours, brands and designs. In the same building, this kitchen wonderland has a bistro, 2 cooking studios, a bake & Go counter, children’s play area and a fine food store. Cooking classes are conducted and anyone can sign up for a fee to learn from their in-house experts. This also serves as a good place to conduct team building activities or host events for companies as many have experienced. As no modern B2C business would be without, ToTT also has an online purchasing option with deliveries covering Singapore at this time.
For an establishment, how do we know what we need? Does the company have a list or guideline to work on that ensures that everything is covered? Lynette says, “we refrain from providing a master list since it will probably be too extensive for some, yet insufficiently comprehensive for others. Moreover, in today’s varied food and beverage concepts, usage of tableware and presentation pieces are often up to the imagination. What we can do is to try to understand what the customer wants to achieve before we try to assist them in making a decision. Importantly, when we propose a product, we have to balance between the aesthetics, functionality and maintenance”.
What about the question of “how much is enough?” While it is never nice to be caught unprepared, a 2 to 3 cycles turnover would be safe as a benchmark to work on. Then after a few months of operations, the company can then reevaluate its stock, subject to track records, breakages and also operation practices.
Sia Huat believes there are many types of businesses - the size or capacity, type of service, the cuisine it serves, the level of its employees and of course the investment of the owners hence the varieties made available by the company. The company has even developed a range of quality controlled in-house brands such as Safico and Cerabon to create better purchasing power which is then transferred to their customers.
However, customers need to understand that investing in some items should be assessed with a wider perspective. “Investing in quality work shoes or better uniforms for your staff which might be a little bit more expensive would create the right message for your employees. That you care about their well being and in return translate to happier employees, thus better productivity”. Melvin agrees. “Without being a restaurateur or hotelier ourselves, the only advice we could reasonably give is regarding the investment you spend on operating equipment. Dedicate the amount of time and attention it deserves. These are perhaps the items with the highest touch-points with your team members and customers. Please do not leave this to the last minute and please do not compromise on quality just as you would not on your ingredients”. Charging higher prices while using low grade materials is not a smart move for an industry that can easily be affected due to emotions or perceived value according to the experience.
With more than 200 personnel in Singapore alone, the company continues to grow its presence. The reach of the company did not stop in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia and exclusive distributorships operate as well in neighbouring markets. “Sia Huat’s main focus for the immediate future is on its B2B expansion into Myanmar and opening of its second ToTT outlet in Singapore. Opportunities come and go too quickly to have a clearly laid out timeline but regional expansion whilst staying true to our roots in Singapore will be the overarching theme for our next few years”. And with the dedication and focus by Sia Huat, this leaves the Tools of The Trade in safe hands for years to come.
No. 20 Pandan Road
T : 65 6268 3922
F : 65 6266 2796
Hocatsu (M) Sdn Bhd
Wisma Sia Huat, No 3A,
Jalan 225, Seksyen 51A,
46100 Petaling Jaya, Selangor.