Revival of the Ramadan bazaars in Singapore: Despite higher rents, some home-based businesses see risk paying off | Singapore


Crowds at the Ramadan bazaar in Kampong Gelam, April 24, 2022. — TODAY pic
Crowds at the Ramadan bazaar in Kampong Gelam, April 24, 2022. — TODAY pic

SINGAPORE, April 25 — For Didi Rahman, Ramadan bazaars and pop-up events present a golden opportunity for her home-based business, Adoughtive, as she would be able to sell hundreds of tubs of edible cookie dough daily.

But in 2020, when Covid-19 restrictions cancelled such events and Didi was forced to rely only on online sales, the number of tubs she moved trickled to about 15 a week.

The situation worsened when the Government back then announced restrictions that all but shuttered home-based food and beverage businesses. Coupled with softening demand due to economic uncertainties and the difficulties in procuring some ingredients, Didi decided to hang up her apron.

This year, however, Adoughtive made a comeback with a stall at the Ramadan bazaar in Kampong Gelam — one of the many bazaars that have re-emerged in recent weeks. 

“We were initially apprehensive, we were thinking would people still be as eager to try our stuff after such a long break,” said Didi, 47.

“But thankfully the response has been very overwhelming so far,” she added, saying that it was almost comparable to the good old pre-pandemic days.

Didi is among the many home-based entrepreneurs taking up stalls at the re-emerging bazaars, hoping to do brisk sales during the festive season.

Those approached by TODAY said that despite the higher rental costs, the risk they had taken seems to be paying off.

For instance, rental for a food and beverage stall which allows for cooking at the Geylang Serai bazaar has jumped to S$21,000 (RM66,398) this year, compared to the maximum of S$14,000 they would have had to fork out in 2019.

Similarly, some vendors at the BazaRia Marsiling bazaar near Woodlands MRT Station said they are paying around S$5,000 for a two-week rent period, when a similar amount would be enough to cover a whole month before the pandemic.

The reopening of such temporary stalls also saw newcomers who view the steep costs as a worthwhile investment to expand or launch their business.

Didi Rahman at her stall selling edible cookie dough at the Ramadan bazaar in Kampong Gelam, April 24, 2022. — TODAY pic
Didi Rahman at her stall selling edible cookie dough at the Ramadan bazaar in Kampong Gelam, April 24, 2022. — TODAY pic

Boost in earnings, social media followings

Like Didi, the 55-year-old owner of Aliya’s Kitchen who wants to be known only as Sabaria has also longed for the return of bazaars in Singapore. 

She has been a regular at Woodlands bazaars every Ramadan for at least 20 years, while also running a stall at a school canteen.

Back in 2020, she shifted to selling roti kirai, a type of Malay food, from home as the closure of bazaars and schools during the circuit breaker period had impacted both her revenue streams.

However, unlike Adoughtive, Aliya’s Kitchen saw a strong demand during the 2020 Ramadan period, the temporary curbs notwithstanding, earning about S$10,000. She raked in a similar amount the following year.

“But now home-based (business) is quite slow because people are obsessed with the return of pasar malam. There are still some orders, but not as many as before,” said Sabaria, explaining her reason to open a stall at BazaRia Marsiling.

While vendors pointed out that rental costs have effectively almost doubled compared to pre-pandemic days, Sabaria said she is fortunate to have been able to recoup them in the first four days.

She is quietly confident that the pent-up demand for bazaars will continue to lift her business and that she will see substantial profit at the end of the two-week operation.

Indeed when TODAY visited the bazaar located near Woodlands MRT Station on a rainy Tuesday afternoon (April 19), there were long queues observed at each of the dozen food stalls there.

The same, however, cannot be said for Khatijah Yaakob, 37, whose stall Kirai by Lady K initially saw slow business at Wisma Geylang Serai (WGS) for the first two weeks.

Her stall is located in a quieter section of the building.

She said that business started to pick up for her and other nearby stalls only after former Mediacorp radio personality turned independent creator DJ KC did a Facebook livestream on April 18.

“People started queuing before we even opened our stall. And within one-and-a-half or two hours, we’re all sold out,” she said, adding that she typically prepares 50 sets of roti kirai bento and another 90 of other Malay dishes.

“Our Facebook, Instagram followers also went up and now more people know what Lady K is selling.”

Lower priced pop-up events

Besides major bazaars that operate on longer commitment terms, smaller pop-up events with shorter rental periods are also attracting home-based businesses.

For example, Ramadan Revival by event organiser MakBesar, located at Changi Airport, offers 20 stalls for rent for a minimum period of one week each. At least 18 stalls will see vendors change each week. 

“About 95 per cent all our vendors are home-based businesses,” said Makbesar’s co-founder, Haryani Othman.

Over at Joo Chiat Road, Ramadan Festival, an event of a similar format, is being held at wedding venue Miura, operating on Friday to Sunday for three weeks.

“Only two of our vendors have their own physical shop, the remaining 51 of them are home-based businesses and online shops,” said Rosyieqa Anuar, founder of Whitevellum which is organising the event.

TODAY understands from several vendors that these short-term events charge lower rates, either in the hundreds a week or by taking a small commission from each successful sale.

One vendor taking advantage of these smaller-scale events is The Faeries Wheel, which sells trinkets and paper-based products like pins, greeting cards and money envelopes for festive occasions.

The online shop typically sells about “fewer than 20” items per month, said its founder, Farah Nadia Mohammad Ismail, with “much more” sold during pop-up events.

“For now, because we are still producing (and selling) at a lower quantity, it’s quite hard for us to manage the costs at bigger events that can charge thousands,” said Farah Nadia, who is taking part in the Ramadan Festival this weekend.

Crowds at the Ramadan bazaar in Kampong Gelam, April 24, 2022. — TODAY pic
Crowds at the Ramadan bazaar in Kampong Gelam, April 24, 2022. — TODAY pic

New entrants

The affordability of smaller-scale events may appear like a no-brainer choice for nascent and typically cash-strapped businesses. Yet, there are still those willing to fork out a premium for bigger events that promise larger crowds.

Johnjee and Yakoolzuna are two such enterprises, sinking S$12,000 each in rental to be part of the Walk Through Souq at Kampong Gelam for a month. The bazaar is held by seasoned event organiser Laloolalang.

“We chose Laloolalang’s bazaar for our debut as it is a well known event among the Muslim community and we wanted to take full advantage of it to market and expose our brand,” said Jeremy Zane Hon, 29, director of Yakoolzuna, which started selling Yakult-based slushy drinks as a home-based business on weekends since July 2021.

Without revealing sales numbers, he said that their investment in the event has paid off and “surpassed our initial target of exposure”.

One Kampong Gelam, a committee which oversees the rejuvenation of the precinct, declined to provide official footfall figures. However, a report by Berita Mediacorp earlier this month estimated that about 20,000 people visited the bazaar in its first 10 days.

Hamzah Abdullah, 35, co-founder of roti john stall Johnjee, was so attracted by the prospects of a good crowd that he put together the business from scratch in just three weeks.

“Knowing the rent is a bit pricey and factoring in all those ingredients’ price increase, we have to take the risk to groom our brand,” said Hamzah, who still holds a day job as a despatch rider but plans to embark on a food and beverage business in the near future. — TODAY


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