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Managing Business Through Uncertain Times: Words from Our Business Development Manager

Written By Dutch Colony Staff 14 Jul 2020

COVID-19 pandemic hit the world hard and fast. It has been disruptive to our way of life and to all the businesses with many restrictions are put in place in order to contain the spread in the community. These restrictions forced us to adapt and to change with the mission to survive in the current uncertain situations. It’s hard, it’s challenging and it’s not comfortable. My name is Ahmad Zuhaimi and these are my words on managing business through uncertain times, which I hope give you a better understanding of our commitment to you and your business through good times and challenging times.


Managing Business Through Uncertain Times: Words from Our Business Development Manager

COVID-19 pandemic hit the world hard and fast. It has been disruptive to our way of life and to all the businesses with many restrictions are put in place in order to contain the spread in the community. These restrictions forced us to adapt and to change with the mission to survive in the current uncertain situations. It’s hard, it’s challenging and it’s not comfortable.

Hi, my name is Ahmad Zuhaimi and my friends call me Zu. Seven years ago, I started off as a part-time Barista to managing the now-defunct PasarBella outlet as Head Barista and now I am the business development manager for Dutch Colony’s wholesale department. This is my story in sailing through the pandemic and what I have learned to adjust in this unprecedented time to ensure business to continue and our wholesale partners are being taken care of. 

Many of you know and may have visited our facility at Defu Lane. This facility houses our roastery and academy and this is also where our wholesale and finance operation department are based at. When I am not visiting our wholesale partners before the COVID-19 pandemic started, this is the facility that I spent most of my time at to strategise the next business plan, to work out partnership and collaboration with our existing wholesale partners, to present our products through tasting with our potential new partners, to connect with our team from the roastery, academy, and QC team and, believe it or not, to analyse our wholesale P&L and financials.

I always believe in face-to-face interaction with our wholesale partners. Hence, before all the restriction measures were in place, a regular visit to our wholesale partners to discuss issues, challenges, and support they needed were always my routine. I believe this is what set us apart from the rest in the industry, where we focus on relationship and partnership as a two-way traffic.

When the country moved to lockdown (or Circuit Breaker as we call it here in Singapore) in April of 2020, many restrictive measures were put in place, many non-essentials businesses were forced to suspend their business and many essentials business might or might not able to operate depending on certain criteria. Staying on top of the regulations and requirements become the priority to understand what we could or could not do with our business. We are grateful that we could still operate the business, with certain restrictions on both retail and wholesale business and changes were inevitable to ensure we met all the requirements.

While, as company, we were adjusting our operation according to the new set of requirements, my first priority was to stay connected with our wholesale partners to understand their situation and how their business was impacted. Importantly, to understand what support they needed during this unprecedented time to ensure they could carry on with their business. 

With some of our wholesale partners decided to shut their business during the lockdown it was definitely negatively impacting our business and with some partners who were running at a much scaled-down operation due to the unpredictable business volume, this made it even harder for them to estimate the quantity of coffee they needed to purchase from us while keeping the coffee reasonably fresh on their shelf. One of the quick decisions I made was to allow some flexibility in their ordering schedule and to allow a lower ordering quantity to allow our wholesale partners to manage their need on day by day basis while they are going through this uncertainty.

From the bigger perspective, the business downturn of wholesale partners indeed impacting our overall business, like it or not. However, this crisis hit everyone and indeed we were in this together and I believe that keeping a positive mindset is crucial during this crisis and importantly, what can I do to ensure we can ride this crisis through. 

While many traditional businesses that requires physical activities and face-to-face interaction have slowed down, the pandemic has presented new opportunities. With all the restrictions and social distancing measures, the only way to continue our business is to further capitalising on our online and delivery presence. The blessing is we have put a solid groundwork on our online shop in the last year or so. We spent tremendous of time and energy to build the infrastructures and improving the flow and when the restrictions opened up opportunities for more online opportunities, we simply put our focus and energy to it. From the internal team perspective, I am proud to have an agile team who adapt quick to new changes. With wholesale business has slowed down, training and event are literally suspended, I transitioned the team responsibilities to support the online business. 

We are not perfect, but we are learning, continue to fine-tune our online business and it has grown significantly during this pandemic period. The restrictions during the lockdown have not only increased our existing online customer spending per order but we also gained new online customers, either new or offline-to-online conversion. 

With all the safe distancing, the Work From Home requirements, and restriction on number of people in our facility, we have to change the way we interact with our team and our wholesale partners. Although email and Whatsapp messaging are the norm, but we are now transitioning to have more video conference tools that allow us to still have a virtual face-to-face interaction. We continue maintaining the close relationship with our wholesale partners through video conference tools as this allows both parties to understand and identify any challenges in the business and it allow us to have more interaction and to come together to devise solutions on the business.

With work-load was scaled down and restricted, I also took this opportunity to stay productive by working with our wholesale partners to develop unique products that are curating for, for example stay home packages or gift care packages that they are producing for their customers and where our products are one of the elements. 

While I mentioned that our training and event are literally suspended, my team and I use this time to think outside the box and to explore different approach to the business. We brainstormed for ideas, we revisited again ideas on the back-burner and relaunch them in the current situation. Several ideas in the work include virtual training, brewing techniques videos, online marketing plan, and improving customer relationship through social media interaction.

Through these challenges, I am happy that we as a company we manage the business running, maintaining the team intact, without putting risk to their income that they really need. There are still many things to be done and there are more uncertain things in the near-future that we still have to strive through. With Singapore is stepping out from the lockdown through 3 stages of re-opening, the question remain on how and when the business can go back to normal. 

The new normal will be different. I, my team and company as a whole, will continue to work hard to ensure we can provide the support needed to our existing wholesale partners, to allow them to get into the motion to ramp up their business within their capacity and to provide the uncompromising support they needed, one way or another. Indeed it is a difficult time for all of us and we can only do better when we stand united and support each other. 

I hope this perspective of mine allow you to see what we can do as a company. Do connect with me to discuss idea or if you think there is a role I can play to help grow your business. 

Do stay safe and stay healthy. Like all difficult situations, this too shall pass!