Wholesalers tap technology to extend market reach

|     Cheryl Tee     |


SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN) – Singapore companies are stepping up investments to expand their local and overseas trading links.

All it took was 10 minutes for business development manager Abbie Chen to put in an order online for threadfin and salmon, and a day for it to reach her doorstep.

This is the first Chinese New Year that the 32-year-old did not include wet markets in her eleventh hour stock-up for reunion meals. Instead, she opted for a home delivery from wholesale trader Song Fish.

“It definitely saves a lot more time and it’s safer than walking through wet markets,” said the expectant mother.

Behind Chen’s order is a well-oiled process involving wholesalers to get her purchases from farm to table.

An employee at wholesale trader Song Fish inserting a fish into a filleting machine. The company bought two filleting machines and a descaling machine last September, which has helped it shave off costs while raising output by 20 per cent. – PHOTOS: THE STRAITS TIMES/ANN
Wholesale trader Candy Floriculture is also tapping technology to expand its business, by setting up a business-to-business platform

To benefit more consumers like her, as well as retailers, the Government is stepping in with the Wholesale Trade Industry Transformation Map (ITM) launched last September that aims to help Singapore wholesalers expand their local and overseas trading links.

International Enterprise Singapore – which is merging with Spring Singapore to form the new Enterprise Singapore agency – is at the helm of the ITM, which will also aim to help wholesalers like Song Fish to tap technology to cope better with peak business periods like Chinese New Year.

Initiatives like these are already in motion at Song Fish, which bought two filleting machines and a descaling machine last September.

On a recent visit to the company’s factory located in Fishery Port Road, The Straits Times saw how the US$250,000 (S$335,600) investment saves on manpower.

For instance, a filleting machine makes quick work of 30 to 40 fish in one minute while a skilled worker would take about a minute to handle a fish. “That’s at least three fewer workers in the production line,” said sales manager Shawn Lim, 42.

He added that the workers were re-deployed to do other tasks, such as repacking goods.

With the Capability Development Grant from Spring Singapore – which defrays training and equipment costs of up to 70 per cent – Song Fish had to fork out only US$75,000 for the three machines.

This helped the firm shave off costs while raising output by 20 per cent, curbing the price spike for customers during peak periods.

Other initiatives include a S$10,000 revamp of its online store by this year, where end-consumers like Ms Chen place their orders.

Compared with its first iteration in 2008, which drew several thousand dollars of business a month, Song Fish’s online store now sees a marked increase to about S$100,000 monthly. “But people still prefer to shop offline or call up the factory to order,” said Mr Lim.

A work day begins around 3am when the Song Fish team picks their wares at the Jurong Fishery Port and ends before 9.30am when the stocks leave after being descaled, filleted, deboned and packed.

Another wholesale trader, Candy Floriculture, is also tapping technology to expand its business.

It is working with a partner, with help from IE Singapore, to set up a business-to-business platform.

The portal aims to “Uberise” the agricultural produce market by better matching suppliers to retailers, such as florist shops and supermarkets.

It will charge sellers who wish to list their products a two per cent fee, but the portal will be free to use for buyers. Candy Floriculture will act as an agent between both parties.

“It will be like Uber, Grab – they’re just platforms… for the ones who own vehicles and the ones who want to use the service,” said marketing director Edwin Tan, 62.

The platform will be rolled out overseas by this year to tap larger markets before its launch in Singapore.

“The market isn’t restricted to Singapore any more… We have customers in many countries like Brunei, Indonesia, Sri Lanka – they can come to this platform,” said owner Sharon Goh, 58.