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Tuesday, 31 December 2019

(NST) Anchor Food Professionals boosts ties with Secret Recipe


KUALA LUMPUR: Anchor Food Professional Malaysia has strengthened its long-term partnership with Secret Recipe Cakes and Cafe Sdn Bhd through the “Anchor Legendairy 133 Celebration” campaign. 

Anchor Food Professionals, the foodservice arm of Fonterra, recently celebrated its 133 years of sharing New Zealand’s natural dairy goodness through the Anchor Dairy brand’s range of products such as cream, butter, cheese and cream cheese products.

Fonterra Brands (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd associate director foodservice Jack Tan said to celebrate the milestone, Anchor Food Professionals had joined forces with Secret Recipe to run the "Anchor Legendairy 133 Celebration" from October 1 2019 to January 5 next year.

“Our partnership will drive new menu innovation, while complementing each other through providing good quality products that consumers actually take priority in their dining pallet.

“For this 133 years celebration, the priority is about how we can be healthier and more natural in our ingredients. At the same time, we want to give some excitement to the consumer by giving them a chance to win electronic gadgets on a bi-weekly basis when they come and dine in Secret Recipe outlets. If you are lucky, you can even win smart gadgets at the end of contest period during a final big draw!,” said Tan. 

He said it was also leveraging on the collaboration to create efficiencies, establish best practices and evolve as an industry for both brands, Anchor Dairy and Secret Recipe.

“As the dairy food service leader from New Zealand, we share new ideas and ways of doing things with Secret Recipe so that we can help each other succeed. 

“The understanding of the market is important, it's about constantly being ahead but actually giving them what they want. At the same time the collaboration served as a method on how we can actually play the best role in giving our customers good products and quality services,” he said.

Secret Recipe business development director Patrick Sim Chee Hong said the collaboration was not just about developing new products but to create a holistic strategy by leveraging on each other’s strengths and resources.

“Secret Recipe has been working with Anchor Food Professionals for more than 15 years. We really appreciate working alongside them as it enables us to deliver a better product and experience to our customers through both our cumulative market knowledge and experience.

“Examples of these include working together on front-of-house presentation, enhancing yield and taste and delivering exciting new menu options.

“Couple this with our brand promise of serving fine quality cakes with Anchor Dairy as a key quality ingredient, we are able to deliver a strong message to our customers about both our brands.” said Sim 

Sim added it is important to continue working building on the current partnership.

“The key is to always give value to our customers and we will continue to invest in our operations, product innovation and supply chain processes to ensure that.

“We want to give the best and create those sweet moments for our customers, all the time, consistently,” Sim added.

(NST) YTL Reit's share price rise


KUALA LUMPUR: Affin Hwang Capital expects YTL Hospitality Real Estate Investment Trust's share price to rise even higher on increased earnings forecasts and defensive-asset feature.

The firm has set a higher target price for the REIT at RM1.46 from RM1.38 previously, offering an upside potential of around 1.8 per cent.

"We have raised our price target after incorporating higher earnings to financial year 2020 and 2021, taking into consideration possible interest savings from the refinancing of its Australian dollar-denominated term loan and higher rental from JW Marriott KL, as well as lower cost of equity in anticipation of the compressed MGS, possible cut in OPR and strong investor demand for defensive assets to re-rate the MREITs," Affin Hwang said in a report today.

Others include lower long-term growth in view of the moderating outlook in Brisbane and Melbourne hotel markets and YTL REIT’s strategy to grow its master lease portfolio that provides high earnings visibility but lower growth, it added.

However, Affin Hwang said every five per cent depreciation of Australian dollar to the ringgit would weaken YTL REIT’s earnings by two-three per cent and an unexpected hike in Overnight Policy Rate and/or global bond yields may reduce the appeal of the Malaysian REITs, including YTL REIT.

Affin Hwang expects YTL REIT to grow its distributable EPU in financial year 2020 by 10 per cent, driven by full-year contribution from Green Leaf Niseko Village acquired in September 18; earnings recovery at Brisbane Marriott Hotel after completing its renovation works in April 2019; and rental revision at JW Marriott following the completion of RM85 million renovation works.

The rental growth should more than compensate a higher finance costs, it added.

For financial year 2021, Affin Hwang said lower finance cost (Australian dollar loan) should lift YTL REIT's earnings.

"Moving into financial year 2021, we expect YTL REIT to deliver another nine per cent year-on-year earnings growth, driven by lower finance cost and stronger Australian dollar to ringgit," it said.

YTL REIT has a term loan denominated in Australian dollar amounting to A$342.8 million (RM984 million).

It obtained the loan in financial year 2015 and it is repayable by a bullet payment on June 29, 2020.

(The Star) Smoother drive along Sibu-Selangau road

SIBU: Those going home for the Chinese New Year celebration can expect a smoother drive when using Sibu-Selangau road which is Package 7 of the Pan Borneo Highway.

Pelawan assemblyman David Wong said the contractors for that stretch of the highway had assured him that they would close nine of the 28 diversions.

“When they started building the highway, the diversions along the Sibu-Selangau stretch were from the old road to the new one as a temporary passageway, ” said Wong at a Sarawak Artistic Entertainment and Creative Association’s Christmas open house here.

The diversions were created before Chinese New Year last year and since then road users had complained about the bad condition of the roads at these diversions.

They said they were dotted with potholes and uneven surfaces.

Other problems include lack of proper signage while some concrete barriers which had been knocked down in road accidents have not been restored.

“Sarawakians are frustrated due to lack of improvement on that stretch of the highway since 2018. We local leaders have been chasing after the contractor, ” he said.

Wong said he and Bukit Assek assemblyman Irene Chang visited the stretch with representatives of companies involved in the project.

“Instead of finding fault, we discussed ways to resolve the problems, ” he said. — By ANDY CHUA

(The Star) A place to attend to babies’ needs

Providing a great shopping experience for adults and children alike is one of Sunway Pyramid’s top priorities.

The mall in Petaling Jaya, which attracts a large number of families, understands that children should also feel comfortable and have a private space for their restroom needs.

With this in mind, the Leo’s Junior Kids Toilet and Baby Room was created for children aged below six or 100cm and shorter.

It is located at the mall’s Lower Ground 1 (Orange Atrium).

Sunway Malls operations general manager Jason Chin said the company recognised its customers’ needs and planned to create more of such toilets in its other malls.

“We decided it was time to create toilets for children following many requests by our customers.

“A lot of thought went into creating this toilet, mostly through speaking to parents and research.

“We have numerous children-related programmes and activities at our mall, so it just felt right that we catered to their needs too, ” he said.

Chin added that the toilets gave parents the opportunity to potty-train their children outside of their homes.

The main door of the toilet has instructions such as the need for all children to be accompanied by adults.

Chin says Sunway Malls recognises customers’ needs and plans to create more of such toilets at its other malls.

The entrance is also installed with CCTV and can be monitored from the inside of the toilet.

“This CCTV located outside the toilet is connected to our main security control centre.

“In case parents notice suspicious characters following them to the toilet, they can pick up the phone inside the toilet and inform our security personnel, ” he said.

The toilet is divided into two sections for babies and toddlers.

The walls inside are painted in pastel colours and the air in the toilet is purified.

The baby section has a well-furnished diaper-changing room. Lotions, hand sanitisers, bottle washing detergent and items needed for diaper changing are available. Hot and room temperature water dispensers are also included.

Meanwhile, two rooms are available for nursing mothers.

As for the toddlers section, there are three mini cubicles with child-sized toilet bowls. It is incorporated with step-by-step hand-washing techniques. There are four urinals and a section for girls.

All hand washing taps are sensor-based. This is to minimise contact with the taps and reduce the spread of germs, said Chin.

“We also take this opportunity to teach the children to correctly use public toilets, ” he said.

The toilet cost RM500,000 to build. Some of the products placed in there are sponsored by brands such as Rentokil Initial, Smartcoat, Pigeon, Cuckoo, Rigel and KimProfessional.

Motherhood.com.my content strategist Hazel Lim said there should be more of such toilets in Malaysia.

“This will help parents teach their children the importance of toilet etiquette, ” she said.


(The Star) Creating a new appeal for Malaysian exporters

Malaysia is highly dependent on international trade. Therefore, it is vital for it to stay in touch with the global trends. One of the growing trends is a shift towards sustainability. What does this mean to Malaysian companies already exporting or planning to go global?

Sustainability in the local context

In one of the meetings, the Malaysia External Trade Development Corp (Matrade) organised recently, an industry representative asked a very simple but important question – “What does sustainability really mean? What does this word mean to us businesses?”This is a simple yet a very relatable question to majority of Malaysian companies especially the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and mid-tier companies (MTCs). There seems to be a disconnect in the understanding of sustainability and its relation to running a business among Malaysian companies. Based on our conversation with the local companies there are still many who perceive sustainability as a far-fetched goal and to quote some “too high-end for me”.

Sustainability in business means the company’s management, operation and financial efforts are focused on ensuring the company is responsible towards the environment, social and is ethical too. These characteristics of environment and social responsibility as well as good governance, collectively form the three central factors that define a company’s practice of sustainability – also known as ESG or environment, social and government. They are sometimes referred to as the triple bottom line. Such a concept is the complete opposite of conventional motivation in doing business which focus solely on making profits.


Sustainability for Malaysian exports would mean products that are deemed to have been produced by businesses which are more responsible for protecting the environment as well as prioritising the interests of the safety and welfare of stakeholders involved, including its customers, its employees, its vendors as well as the community at large. The lack of awareness of sustainability among Malaysian companies is quite apparent given the low interest shown by SMEs to embark on sustainability. Unlike the publicly listed companies that are required to submit their sustainability report to Bursa Malaysia, there is no requirement for the 98% of Malaysian company population in Malaysia, to engage in sustainability reporting. Hence, it is no surprise that the “bigger boys” are more accustomed to sustainability compared to the SMEs whose reporting are on voluntary basis. This lack of understanding in sustainability can also be seen through what the sustainability experts termed as “greenwashing” or “SDG-washing” among the SMEs. These are terms associated with companies that think sustainability is achieved as soon as their brands invest in activities such as tree planting or any other CSR initiatives. Hence, it is important for companies to remember that key pillars of sustainability are the ESG and not limited to a one-off event. The substance is key in this respect.

However, there are a number of Malaysian companies that get this definition right. In fact, their core business stands by sustainability. One common trait that these companies have – they are serving the global market place.At our recent Sustainability-Ready Exporters (Su-RE) Conference 2019, we hosted more than 500 participants, mostly SMEs who are keen to understand more about sustainability and its value for their export business. A survey we conducted for the event found that 48.4% of the respondents have adopted sustainability efforts while 51.6% of the companies have yet to do so, of which 32.9% from this intend to adopt sustainability in the near future.

Sustainability as a strategic advantage international trade

Currently, the world looks to the United Nations (UN) for sustainability standards and the UN has in 2015 introduced the “Sustainability Development Goals” or the SDGs as a reference for the world community to understand sustainability parameters. There are 17 SDGs listed and businesses can champion any of the SDGs, whichever that is most relevant to their business.

Malaysian exporters are now faced with having to deliver assurance of meeting the standard of ESG to convince buyers from around the world that their products and services meet the requirements of sustainability. This has never been more pertinent as we have seen a growing number of reports of shipments being denied entry into certain markets. Interestingly, a global survey done by the New York based research body Cone Communications has revealed, in its Ebiquity Global CSR Study, that 91% of global consumers expect companies to do more than make a profit, but also operate responsibly to address social and environmental issues. Apparently, 84% say they seek out responsible products whenever possible. While 90% would boycott a company if they learned of irresponsible or deceptive business practices.

Datuk Wan Latiff Wan Musa, CEO of Matrade.

These are strong indicators that highlight the need for us to future proof our businesses, failing which we can face the risk of being left behind in the global marketplace!

In the 70s, when Malaysia began having Multi National Companies investing in the country, the Malaysian industries benefitted from the various technology and knowledge transfer from the investments. This in turn in the 80s, have increased their capabilities and the booming local industries were able to increase their outreach beyond the domestic market, to reach the overseas market. Our manufactured goods were of good quality and were competitively priced too. Then come the 90’s, our industries became more adaptive to new technologies and the 2000s saw our industries started investing in eCommerce. Malaysia’s transformation over the years was exemplary and we were made a benchmark by many Asean partners.

Fast forward to today, we realised that we can no longer compete merely on quality and price. Companies need to remain relevant and future proof their business. Exporters need to transform themselves into a pool of exporters who adhere to sustainability and make sustainability a value proposition for them to remain relevant in the long run.

Matrade’s initiative to drive growth in sustainability

Realising the need to prepare Malaysian exporters for this future trend in business, Matrade has embarked on an affirmative action plan to build sustainability as a focus for Malaysian exporters. Simply called Save – or Sustainability Action Values for Exporters. The programme was launched on Oct 9,2019 and is essentially designed to support the drive of our businesses to be sustainability-ready.

The strategic approach is to focus on a partnership programme whereby Matrade bridges our SME exporters with an expert panel of role players to help build the capacity of our exporters. This will include mentoring, training and knowledge sharing through conferences, training programmes and workshops. This may seem like an ambitious programme, but it is in fact a structured five-year plan to be followed by business matching with global buyers, Awards and an introduction of a National Mark.

It must be established that Matrade’s Save programme is very much aligned with the government’s Shared Prosperity Vision (SPV), which is the focal point of the next phase of the national economic development plan, the 12th Malaysia Plan. The bulk of this plan strongly correlates with the 17 SDGs by the United Nations (UN). The government is one of the signatories to the UN’s Agenda 2030, which is a commitment by signatory nations to strive towards achieving the 17 SDGs by year 2030.

Through Save, we are working with the Government agencies, UN Agencies and sustainability experts as well as financial institutions to organise a series of exporters capacity building programmes for SMEs in the area of sustainability. The capacity building activities will be open to companies who are registered with Matrade and aim to boost the understanding of risks in sustainability among exporters as well as areas to overcome or mitigate these risks so companies can come up with solutions for their businesses. We hope through these efforts, Malaysian exporters’ understanding of sustainability will not only be enhanced but well-guided too. Upon achieving this, they must then work on their own business action plans and be certified and recognised by various globally-recognised standards. There are more than 230 standards around the world such as EU Eco Label, Energy Star, Fair Trade, Better Cotton Initiative and at our homefront there are Sirim Eco-Label and Sirim Life Cycle Assessment. Interestingly, there are also nine halal standards recognised by the International Trade Centre Standards Map that focus on sustainability.

I am optimistic that with more interest shown by Malaysian companies to adopt sustainability, more facilitation from government Agencies will be introduced. At Matrade, local sustainable businesses can always utilise our market development grant or services export fund to access the world markets. These facilitations are also open to all eligible Malaysian companies.

It is equally important for SMEs and MTCs to make sustainability reporting a must for their business. Currently, there are a few benchmark reporting available such as global reporting initiative (adopted by listed companies), SDG action manager partnership and future fit. Currently, Matrade is in discussions with the UN and a few sustainability experts to identify a reporting template most suitable for our Malaysian exporters. We are also exploring the possibility of incorporating sustainability reporting in our very own exporters readiness assessment test.

Matrade places special emphasis to Malaysian SMEs in all our programmes. Inevitably, they will be a little slower to adopt sustainability, due to lack of awareness, as well as a tendency to be more wary of adoption of new process for fear of additional expenses. On this point, I would like to urge the SMEs that investment in sustainability does not necessarily mean coming up with something that is entirely new, but it can be about adding value to what they already have in place. Think of it this way –with or without sustainability, money will be spent. The difference is; should they move towards sustainability, they are spending the fund differently – on sustainability efforts that is. The Save initiative is being designed with an end objective to re-position Malaysia’s branding and that is it being a source of sustainable products and services for the world.

Opportunity for Malaysian exporters

Malaysian exporters play an integral role in the global supply chain for products and services. Our SMEs are well-known suppliers to international B2B buyers, as we are regarded as a reliable source of quality products with a strong price advantage.

Building on this value is the opportunity to drive towards penetrating new market segments that demand sustainable products. Among the high-value sectors where our exporters are able to translate inherent strengths into competitive advantage includes oil and gas, building and construction, plastics, renewable energy, aerospace, halal and automation – among others. We have observed a strong demand for sustainable products and services from high-value markets namely the developed nations.

At our recent Sure conference, Callum Chen from Malaysian Plastics Manufacturer Association who was one of our speakers at the event shared that plastics has always been attributed to be one of the “villains in the pack” as being an industry that contributes toward pollution of the natural environment as well as causing harm to marine life. However, he shared that our Malaysian plastics exporters have been able to carve out an area of growth by promoting the platform of the “circular economy”, which prioritises the use of recyclable and reusable plastics in place of single-use plastics. The latter being the harmful polluting material. By extension, our plastics industry, by prioritising the circular economy, has also been able to position its members, Malaysian plastics exporters, as valuable players in the global markets for related industries as well, including the use of plastics in automation and aerospace.

The demand for new green energy is also serving as a pivot for Malaysian exporters who have built their business through years of investment in R&D as well as product innovation. This includes solar panel manufacturers, renewable technology that produces energy from waste, hydrogen fuel cell suppliers as well as bio-fuel suppliers.

Sustainability will also be the hallmark for our halal industry. Malaysia is well-established as a global hub for the sourcing of Halal products and services. It is a fact that many of the key values of halal certification is consistent with the 17 SDGs.

Sustainability promotes responsible businesses and good practices that emphasise responsibilities towards the environment, social and governance. Halal and sustainability when practiced together will lead to the Halalan Toyyiban lifestyle and we need to articulate this to the world through efforts such as Matrade’s Malaysia International Halal Showcase (Mihas) that is set to take place from April 1-4,2020.

This is indeed a very relevant alignment, and it is a strong advantage for our halal exporters to also position themselves as suppliers of sustainable products and services.

Driving new market growth

Clearly our nation’s path towards the sustainability agenda will be a most challenging one. We are focused on the process and investments that are needed to instigate our SMEs to start actively embracing the agenda. Balancing immediate business needs with longer-term strategy can be tricky. Often the short-term issues take precedence, with decision making for the future postponed to less challenging times. However, Matrade is inspired to see the level of enthusiasm and readiness by many of our SME exporters to start taking active steps toward the sustainability agenda. It is very heartening to see business owners and CEOs of many SMEs starting to take cognitive action about the important role that business can play in addressing environmental impact, social challenges and improving national outcomes. Slowly but surely, it’s becoming the new normal for businesses to move towards sustainability.

This is the way to create resilience for businesses and for the growth of our nation. As we usher in the new year, let’s all think about this seriously and join forces to make good things happen.

Datuk Wan Latiff Wan Musa is CEO of Matrade. The views are the writer’s own.


(The Star) All eyes on e-money providers

PETALING JAYA: Electronic-money (e-money) providers are most likely to be the front runners to receive the digital banking licence from Bank Negara, said MIDF Research.

“We believe that it is only a natural progression for e-money providers to expand into the digital bank space, especially with the explosion of e-money users. After all, it means that these providers could better utilise their deposit liabilities, ” it said in a report.

“With five licences going to be issued, we believe the most likely candidate to apply for the licence will be the prominent ones such as Boost, Grab, Touch ‘N’ Go and BigPay, ” it added.

However, the research house noted that there are currently a lot of e-money service providers with 42 non-bank providers.

On the limitations of the licences that disallow any physical branch, it said this may disincentivise existing traditional banks to acquire the digital bank licence.

“It would mean that existing banks will have to create a digital bank subsidiary and with that, it could tie the banks with additional capital. Besides, existing banks’ licences already allowed them to offer their products digitally, ” MIDF Research said.

It, however, said that CIMB GROUP HOLDINGS BHD, Affin Bank Bhd, HONG LEONG BANK BHD, AMMB HOLDINGS BHD and Standard Chartered Bank have expressed interest in acquiring the licence. “Of these, CIMB is the only one with experience after it had set up a digital-only bank in the Philippines and Vietnam, ” it said.

Bank Negara had released the draft on the Licensing Framework for Digital Banks on Friday and it aims to finalise the policy document by the first half of next year.

There will be five licences that will be issued and the five licensees of either conventional or Islamic will be required to comply with the requirements of the Financial Services Act 2013 or Islamic Financial Services Act 2013. They would need to have a minimum capital of RM100mil during the foundational phase, and RM300mil thereafter.

MIDF Research said the high capital requirement would likely exclude either start up or smaller fintech companies and e-money providers.

“This mean companies with strong shareholders are the most likely to apply for the licence. The minimum capital of RM100mil during the foundational phase is lower than any current requirements but the RM300mil thereafter is similar to the requirement for a locally incorporated foreign bank, ” it said.

It also noted that the minimum total capital ratio requirement is the same as with the existing traditional banks.

The research house has maintained its positive call on the banking sector, noting that it is still in the early days for digital banks to actually be a threat to existing banks in the short to medium term.


(The Star) Zip through 10 toll plazas with RFID technology

KUALA LUMPUR: Road users plying the PLUS-operated highways will be able to use Touch ‘n Go Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology as one of the payment options at its 10 open system toll plazas from Jan 1.

The toll plazas are Jitra and Kempas on the North-South Expressway, Lunas and Kubang Semang (Butterworth-Kulim Expressway), Mambau and Lukut (Seremban-Port Dickson Highway), Perling, Lima Kedai and Tanjung Kupang (Linkedua Highway) and the Penang Bridge.

PLUS chief operating officer Zakaria Ahmad Zabidi said the implementation of the RFID system was expected to smoothen traffic movement along the toll lanes as highway users no longer had to stop and could easily reload their eWallet online.

“It also reduces issues related to insufficient card balance, SmartTAG device or low battery, ” he said in a statement yesterday.

However, he said existing toll payment modes via the Touch ‘n Go card and SmartTAG were still accepted on PLUS highways, while at the Sultan Iskandar Building’s toll plaza, the system could only be used for Road Charges (RFID Vehicle Entry Permit tag) for Singapore-registered vehicles.

PLUS is expected to expand the system to 83 closed highway system toll plazas – based on vehicle class and travel distance – from April 1.

Touch ‘n Go RFID stickers are available at 130 fitment centres and the full list of the centres can be obtained via https://rfidregister.touchngo.com.my/fitment-centres and https://www.tngdigital.com.my/rfid. — Bernama


(The Star) Cabinet to decide on takeover of PLUS and four other toll operators

PUTRAJAYA: The Cabinet is expected to decide on the takeover of PLUS Malaysia Bhd and four other highway concessionaires next week, says Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng (pic).

He said a decision must be made soon so that the government could avoid paying more in compensation.

“The Cabinet is likely to make a decision next week. We have already announced the freeze on toll hikes for this year and the government has to pay compensation to toll operators.

“We need to come up with a decision on this quickly as the clock is ticking and the compensation will continue to increase, ” he said after closing the Putrajaya Lift Festival 2019 yesterday.

Lim said this was requested by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to ensure a proper review of the information before a decision was made.

PLUS is the largest highway concessionaire in the country, operating eight expressways under five concessions.

Its highways are the 772km North-South Expressway which runs from Bukit Kayu Hitam to Johor Baru; the New Klang Valley Expressway; Federal Highway Route 2; the Seremban-Port Dickson Highway; the NSE Central Link; the Malaysia-Singapore Second Link; Lebuhraya Butterworth-Kulim and the Penang Bridge.

Its concession will expire in December 2038.

The government is also expected to decide on the way forward for four highway concessionaires under Gamuda Bhd.

The concessionaires are Lingkaran Trans Kota Holdings Bhd, Kesas Sdn Bhd, Sistem Penyuraian Trafik KL Barat Holdings Sdn Bhd and Syarikat Mengurus Air Banjir and Terowong Sdn Bhd (Smart).

Gamuda has stakes in all companies and the Ministry of Finance Inc announced in June a plan to take over four highways in the Klang Valley for RM6.2bil.

On another matter, Lim said it was up to the Cabinet to decide whether there should be a cut in allowances for ministers.

“I believe this matter should be decided by the Cabinet, so we should let the Cabinet decide if this is to be implemented, ” the minister said.

Several ministers, in the wake of the government’s move to abolish Critical Service Incentive Allowance for new intake across the civil service next year, had expressed views that they had no problem should their allowance be slashed.Among them were Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Azmin Ali and Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman.

Dr Mahathir, however, had agreed to postpone the move and a decision would be made only after a discussion by the Cabinet at the first meeting in January.


(The Star) Competition for guests hots up

PETALING JAYA: The competition between hoteliers and Airbnb hosts can only get stiffer next year, with the Visit Malaysia 2020 (VM2020) campaign aiming to draw almost 30 million foreign visitors and increase tourism receipts to RM100bil.

It will not be a fight based purely on price.

Besides offering attractive promotions and rates via tie-ups with travel and tour companies, hotels and the Airbnb network are coming up with new selling points such as television channels, “digital butlers” and even new neighbourhoods to explore.

The race to lure guests also includes ramping up marketing efforts.

For example, hotels in Malaysia are promoting themselves by taking part in international events to create awareness and reach out further.

Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) chief executive officer Yap Lip Seng said hotels are working closely with travel and tour operators to offer attractive packages.

“Our hotel members have been participating in travel and trade events locally and overseas, with a focus on the VM2020 promotional themes.

“They are also promoting the VM2020 campaign through their own networks of hotels and brands.

“Instead of offering just promotional rates, the intention is to ensure tourists get a complete experience of Malaysia and enjoy additional value during their stay, ” he said in an interview.

He added that many hotels are offering value-added services with a digital and technological touch to appeal to tech-savvy guests, such as a digital guest assistant or butler, mobile interaction and guest requests.

“One example would be hotel mobile apps that provide direct and quick assistance to guests. Many hotel brands have introduced these apps across all their establishments.

“The Marriott Bonvoy app, for example, allows guests to request for assistance or additional service at any time during their stay.

“Others have adopted independent apps such as ‘Roomie’, which does similar tasks and even offers on-demand entertainment to guests, ” Yap said, adding that hotels have been banking on big data to maximise guest satisfaction by offering dynamic room rates.

In conjunction with VM2020, MAH has launched the “Discover Malaysia” hotel TV channel earlier this month, aimed at promoting the country’s tourist attractions.

Yap said the association’s members – over 1,000 hotels – use the channel for free.

“Hotels will continue to be an integral part of tourism, contributing tourism receipts that allow the government to develop the industry further.

“Therefore, it is important to ensure the success of VM2020, ” he said, adding that hotels have a proven economic multiplier effect that benefits various levels of the community.

Yap also called for Airbnb, which he describes as a business “competing with hotel lodging”, to be “subjected to the same taxation regime as that of hotels”.

He claimed that the Airbnb business had also raised local housing costs and had led to less reliable tax payments to the local government.

Malaysian Association of Hotel Owners (Maho) executive director Shaharuddin M. Saaid concurred, saying Airbnb had a substantial impact on the country’s tourism both positively for some and negatively for others over the past two years.

Shaharuddin said effective promotions to attract more high-income tourists is of prime importance in the VM2020 campaign, as Malaysia has “plenty of high-end and luxurious hotels with high standards of service and facilities” to offer.

“Room rates are still generally low even at five-star premier hotel brands, ” he said.

Airbnb said it would continue to highlight new neighbourhoods, especially in urban areas, and experiences for tourists to discover.

“In preparation for VM2020, we will continue to be committed to enabling travel to emerging destinations (such as) the discovery of new neighbourhoods in urban areas, making them more accessible, and empowering local hospitality entrepreneurs to share their spaces and passions with guests around the world, ” it said.

Many destinations that had not benefited from tourism before have now become more popular among tourists, which showed Airbnb’s role in boosting the country’s tourism, it added.

Airbnb said it would also support Malaysia’s tourism initiatives in 2020 through its feature called Airbnb Experiences.

“In 2020, tourists can look forward to more Airbnb Experiences, as we have launched new exciting categories such as animals and cooking.

“Some of the experiences launched this year under those categories are visits to a dairy goat farm in Penang, traditional Nyonya private home dining cooking classes and indigenous cooking classes on a farm, ” it added.

There are already several deals that are meant to give travellers additional reasons to come to Malaysia.

To usher in VM2020, Four Seasons Kuala Lumpur announced on its website a year-long 15% discount on rooms, dining and spa treatments.

Pavilion Kuala Lumpur is partnering Resorts World Genting to offer free return shuttle van service to both destinations, exclusively for its Pavilion Kuala Lumpur Tourists Rewards cardholders.

AirAsia, in expanding its lifestyle offerings, is going to launch its regional flight and hotel promotion on Jan 13, where travellers can expect attractive deals in conjunction with VM2020.

According to Tourism Malaysia, several new hotels are opening in 2020 to accommodate more tourists.Freelance tour guide Cindy Leong Mun Fay, who works mainly in Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur, said she hoped to handle more tours in the new year as travellers are skipping certain destinations due to civil disorder there.

“Tourists are avoiding popular destinations such as Hong Kong, India and Chile due to protests. Many of them have opted to come to Malaysia for their holidays in the past few months.

“We can expect more tourist arrivals next year as we are relatively peaceful here with each state offering so many tourism products, ” said Leong, who has been hosting mostly Chinese-speaking tourist for over 10 years.

If the efforts to promote VM2020 are done right, she said tourism players and the government will benefit greatly.


(The Star) Sad goodbye to Hello Kitty

ISKANDAR PUTERI: It was an emotional farewell for Iman Najwa Hazimi during her visit to Sanrio’s Hello Kitty Town theme park here before it shuts down for good.

Imam, 26, was among the first few employees of the theme park when it opened back in 2012.

“It was my first job ever and I was about 19 years old when I packed my bags and left my hometown in Klang for the job opportunity at the theme park.

“I worked here for about two years and made a lot of life-long friends on the job, ” she said at the theme park yesterday.

Iman was visiting the theme park for the last time with a group of friends, who were also former staff.

Visitors have gone to the theme park in the past few days, snapping pictures and selfies with their family and friends before the theme park closes it doors for the last time today.

Accountant Nur Wahida Hashim, 27, who is also a fan of Hello Kitty, said the theme park’s closing was a great loss to the tourism industry here.

“Many visitors, especially die-hard Hello Kitty fans, used to travel long distances to experience the theme park.

“It is sad that we have to see it close down so soon, especially as Visit Johor and Visit Malaysia Year 2020 is just about to begin, ” she said.

Wahida, who visited the theme park on its last few days of operation with her colleagues, said the experience had brought about some nostalgic childhood memories.

Nurse V. Dineskumari, 28, said she was shocked when she heard the news of the closure as the park had only been around for a short period.

“This is the first time I am visiting the theme park and I brought my daughter along so that she can enjoy the place before it closes.

“Although I am not a huge fan of Hello Kitty, I still feel sad to see this place shut down, ” she said.

It was reported that the Hello Kitty theme park at Puteri Harbour was slated to cease operations by end of the year.

The Puteri Harbour building, which houses the Hello Kitty Town theme park, also houses a number of other attractions, including a Thomas Town indoor park that is slated to close at the same time as well.


(NST) Banking sector to be modest in 2020


KUALA LUMPUR: Banking players and research houses are modest on the local sector’s outlook amid another challenging year in 2020.

AMMB Holdings Bhd remains positive about the sector with a few pockets of growth for the taking.

Group chief executive officer Datuk Sulaiman Mohd Tahir expects bright prospects for small to medium enterprises (SMEs).

“This is all the more meaningful as SMEs are poised to see robust growth in 2020, underpinned by relevant incentives and key policy measures including heightened digitalisation and connectivity.

“SMEs are well-positioned to leverage on fast-emerging areas such as cybersecurity, supply chain integration, innovative technology and disruptive business models,” he said in a statement.

Sulaiman said consumer and tourism-related industries also remained potential areas of growth, in addition to the potential rollout of construction and infrastructure projects which could provide positive spillover effects to the manufacturing and services sectors.

Overall, he said while external headwinds and the US-China trade dispute continued to impact the global economy, the bank was encouraged by prospects ahead for Malaysia.

Sulaiman expects to continue to see improved policy certainties and better clarity, despite foreseeing that challenges will persist for the banking industry.

“The 2020 Budget is expected to act as a catalyst, given its strong focus on development expenditure to support growth and improve sentiments,” he said.

Sulaiman said as an attractive investment destination, Malaysia is set to continue to benefit from foreign direct investment (FDI).

“Testament to this, for the first half of 2019, approved FDI increased by 97 per cent to RM49.5 billion from RM25.1 billion in the same period last year, which is certainly promising,” he said.

Hong Leong Investment Bank (HLIB) said growth outlook for banks was expected to be modest in 2020.

HLIB said this modest growth outlook, coupled with rising asset quality and interest rate risks, prevented it from being more bullish on banks. This is despite attractive valuations.

HLIB advised that long-term investors who favour sector exposure to adopt a selective stock-picking strategy.

"Our preferred pick is Malayan Banking Bhd given its above-average dividend yield of six-seven per cent and low foreign shareholding as compared with larger domestic peers," it said.

Other "buys" include RHB Bank Bhd and BIMB Holdings Bhd, where both were still eking out robust growth of 3.9 per cent and 7.3 per cent respectively as compared with the sector’s 3.5 per cent, it added.

HLIB said Alliance Bank Bhd's valuation has also become cheap.

On digital banking framework by Bank Negara Malaysia, HLIB said it was sector friendly and would not pose a major threat to “archaic” banks.

“The proposed framework is sector friendly - the goal is to enable innovative technology application in the financial sector and fill market gaps in the underserved segments,” it said.

On the ringgit, Sulaiman said the outlook for the local currency remains tied to trade relations between the US and China.

“Should trade negotiations prove favourable, this could see a stronger renminbi against the US dollar, which would bode well for the ringgit to strengthen.

“Building on these indicators, I firmly believe that Malaysia is on the right track to achieve stable growth despite the challenging environment,” he said.

Monday, 30 December 2019

(NST) Digitalisation of economy won't leave anyone out


PUTRAJAYA: The government will ensure the digitalisation of the country’s economy will not leave anyone out of the mainstream of development premised on the 3A services concept of available, accessible and affordable, says Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng.

Citing a Statistics Department report, Lim said the digital economy is expected to contribute more than 21 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2022 compared to 18.5 per cent in 2018.

“As was announced in Budget 2020, the government has allocated RM450 million for the e-wallet programme to encourage digital payment usage among consumers and traders,” he said at the closing ceremony of the Putrajaya LIFT (Literacy in Financial Technology) Festival 2019 here today.

The e-wallet programme, which is expected to benefit 15 million people, offers a one-off RM30 credit for those aged 21 years and above with an income of less than RM100,000 a year that can be redeemed in January and February.

To spur the country’s digital economy, Lim said the government has invested RM21.6 billion from this year until 2023 to realise the National Fiberisation and Connectivity Plan which would expand access to high-speed broadband Internet at reasonable cost.

The government, he said, encourages small and medium enterprises to digitalise their business processes with an initiative of RM3.7 billion within a period of five years.

Lim said the government also has a guarantee scheme worth RM6 billion to encourage automation, digitalisation and use of Industry 4.0 technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data analytics and robotics among companies.

“The digital economy does not depend only on infrastructure and programmes. A competitive market is also important,” he said.

Lim said a policy to address monopoly power has successfully increased the number of 100 mbps broadband users to 1.2 million people at the end of 2018 compared to 155,000 people before the implementation of the policy at end-2017.

Lim said at the same time, people need to be aware of the rampant cyber crimes while at the same time enjoy the digitalisation of the country’s economy and modern facilities.

Citing a CyberSecurity Malaysia report, Lim said 7,092 digital fraud cases have been reported for the first 11 months of this year, more than the 5,123 digital fraud cases reported in 2018.

“While supporting the digitalisation of the economy, the government always ensures digital and finance services suppliers pay attention to security measures on their platform,” he said.

(NST) Decision on takeover of highway concessionaires to be known next week


KUALA LUMPUR: The cabinet decision on the proposed takeover of PLUS Malaysia Bhd and four Klang Valley highways linked to Gamuda Bhd will likely be known next week.

Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said the government must come to a decision as soon as possible to avoid paying compensation to toll operators for freezing toll hikes.

“The cabinet decision will be made most likely next week. We are freezing toll hikes for this year, and since we are freezing toll hikes, the government will need to pay compensation.

“So we need to reach a decision quickly or else the compensation (amount) will keep mounting,” he said yesterday.

He said the decision was important to show that the government was making progress in its promise to reduce toll rates as stated in the Pakatan Harapan manifesto. Lim said this after the closing ceremony of the Literacy in Financial Technology (LIFT) Festival 2019 here yesterday.

He said the decision on the takeover must ensure a “triple win” namely for the government, the owners of PLUS, which is owned by Khazanah Nasional Bhd (51 per cent) and the Employees Provident Fund (49 per cent) and the public.

The highways involved in the PLUS concession are the North-South Expressway, Second Link Expressway, Penang Bridge, North-South Expressway Central Link, Butterworth-Kulim Expressway and Seremban-Port Dickson Highway.

In its 14th General Election manifesto, PH had pledged to review all highway concession agreements and negotiate to get the best deals to take over each toll concession, with the ultimate objective of abolishing toll in stages.

On a separate matter, Lim said it should be left to the cabinet to decide on whether there should be a cut in allowances of ministers and politicians. He said the cost-saving measures were good and were welcomed.

“However, this matter involves ministers and their ministries, and I believe any implementation should be decided by the cabinet.”

Recently, Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman proposed that the government cut the allowances of politicians and ministers, following the controversial decision to cut the Critical Service Incentive Payment for new doctors, nurses, engineers and professionals joining the civil service starting Jan 1.

(NST) 'Social media postings causing confusion over govt plan for Kampung Baru'


KUALA LUMPUR: Unverified postings on social media platforms is causing confusion among Kampung Baru landowners, their heirs as well as public on the government’s plans to redevelop the land.

Federal Territories Minister Khalid Abdul Samad is hopeful that after the Kampung Baru Development Corporation (PKB) has concluded its briefing sessions with the landowners, they will get a clearer picture, thus allowing them to make informed decisions.

When it was established on April 1, 2012, PKB was entrusted with the responsibility of being the coordinator, facilitator and prime mover in the redevelopment of Kampung Baru.

“To date PKB has received feedback from more than 40 per cent of landowners,” he said.

It was reported that this figure represents some 2,200 of the 5,374 landowners.

“Of those who had returned the (feedback) forms, 97 per cent agreed to sell their land,” he said.

Khalid said other issues also needed to be addressed as many landowners were still confused over what the government intended to do with the prime land located in the heart of the city.

“We want to explain this to another 60 per cent of landowners and the final decision will be up to them,” he said.

“In social media postings, allegations have been thrown about and this has led to much confusion, such as the position of the Malays in Kampung Baru and that selling the land amounted to them being ejected.

“As such the (social media postings said the) Malays must stand up for their rights,” he said.

Khalid clarified that the position of the Malays would not be jeopardised because after the land was redeveloped, it would be sold back to the Malays.

“At times, social media platforms carry baseless accusations, and jeopardise the understanding of the owners over the matter, so they do not want to be part of the project,” he said.

Khalid is nevertheless confident that all Kampung Baru landowners will eventually agree to the government’s offer, as this is the best that they can get.

The government has offered to pay RM1,000 per sq ft for the land.

“After June, I hope when PKB is done with their rounds, even if the landowners want to reject the offer, let it be (done) with a clear understanding,” he said.

“What we don’t want is that they are rejecting due to confusion that arose from what they read on social media platforms,” he said.

Khalid said the issues that the Malays were concerned about included changes to the Malay reserve land status and they were scared if they sell their land, they would have nothing left as that is their only inheritance.

“Actually by development, the (land) potential of owners would grow.

“They can own more ... for example from one (land) lot, they can break it down into smaller individual lots for up to 20 or 30 affordable houses,” he said.

Land also said in redeveloping Kampung Baru, it was not about the government wanting to buy the land and eliminate the Malays.

“We want to develop this (Kampung Baru) so they would also reap the benefits from the development,” he said.

Khalid said this after presenting offer letters to fire victims from Kampung Kovil Hilir.

The fire on Dec 20, saw 13 families lose their homes.

The offer letters were for a six-month stay at City Hall’s public housing or People’s Housing Projects.

“The victims will stay at the transit houses for six months,” he said, adding that it would be rent-free for the first three months.

In addition, families will receive RM500 in aid from the Federal Territories Foundation while singles will receive RM300.

Families with schoolgoing children will receive a RM120 voucher each and schoolbags.

(The Star) More events in tourism calender

KUALA TERENGGANU: Various programmes have been drawn up by Terengganu government in an effort to attract more tourists to the state next year.

State tourism, culture and information technology committee chairman Ariffin Deraman said this included the Jom Ke Masjid (Let’s Go to Mosque) programme which was rebranded as “Madinah Ramadan”.

He said the programme was a major tourism event for Terengganu and included in the state’s tourism calendar.

Ariffin said the programme, which had been organised for three consecutive years, aimed to attract more tourists from neighbouring countries such as Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia.

“In 2020, we will organise more activities under the programme and strengthen its content to draw more tourists, including non-Muslims.

“We expect the programme to be a success as a similar one in Kelantan saw the participation of a Hindu community from Penang who wanted to experience Ramadan in the east coast state, ” he said at the Kayuhan Terengganuku Comey programme at Dataran Batu Buruk here.

A total of 1,700 people took part in the programme which was the final event in the state’s tourism calendar this year.

Ariffin said apart from the Madinah Ramadan event, there were 25 other programmes listed in the tourism calendar for next year.

He said among them were Terengganu Bike Week, the Monsoon Casting, the Kenyir Carnival, Beach Carnival and a new tourism product called “Kampung Budaya” which is expected to be launched by Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Samsuri in February.

“We will go all out to promote all the programmes both locally and at the international level to boost tourism and achieve our five million tourist arrivals target, ” said Ariffin.

He said various activities were being planned to increase Terengganu’s iconic drawbridge attraction too.

“The drawbridge has contributed to the significant increase in tourist arrivals to the state since it was opened in June.

“During this school holiday, it recorded an average of 2,000 visitors a day, ” he said. — Bernama


(The Star) New coffee rival for Nestle

HO CHI MINH CITY: After quietly supplying coffee addicts their daily fix for decades, Vietnam is preparing to take on Nestle SA and its Asian rivals to reach them faster.

Instead of selling raw robusta beans to foreign companies for turning into instant coffee, Vietnam’s biggest supplier is preparing to offer its own soluble powder in early 2020. The shift is aimed at reaping more profit from Asia’s burgeoning demand for the quick-brewed beverage and to buffer the impact of large swings in international commodity prices.

“We don’t want to miss a chance to jump on the bandwagon of instant coffee, ” said Do Ha Nam, chairman of Intimex Group, which exports as much as a third of Vietnam’s robusta beans, the bitter-tasting variety that is mostly used to make instant coffee. “It brings more profit and less risk as it means we don’t have to rely on the price set by the London market.”

Robusta futures traded in London have declined 11% in 2019 after slumping in three of the previous four years amid surging production from Vietnam, the world’s top producer and exporter. The country’s coffee industry sees the expansion into domestic instant-coffee production as a more lucrative growth proposition than simply continuing to plant more trees.

India will lead growth in the retail market for instant coffee in Asia, increasing almost 12% a year to top US$850mil in 2024, according to Euromonitor International. The market researcher projects strong growth also in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Asia is the world’s fastest-growing coffee-consuming region, where many consumers are still starting to build up a coffee-drinking habit, ” said Jose Sette, head of the International Coffee Organisation in London.

Instant coffee is an ideal way to introduce the beverage to these consumers because of its ease of preparation, he said in an e-mail. “Vietnam can take advantage of its geographical position and low production costs to expand within the region.”

Ho Chi Minh City-based Intimex, which was a state-owned company before being sold to private investors in 2006, aims to overtake Nestle as Vietnam’s biggest pure instant-coffee supplier in the next five years by expanding annual capacity five-fold to 20,000 tonnes.

Nestle, the Vevey, Switzerland-based maker of Nescafe, would compete with both local and international companies by “leveraging our scale of size, our expertise in technology and manufacturing, with more than 75 years of experience in coffee, and by growing together with Vietnamese coffee farmers, ” said Ganesan Ampalavanar, general director of Nestle Vietnam.

“There are many small and medium-sized companies that are very focused and that are competing fiercely with big players and competition is strengthening the category, ” he said.

Vietnam aims to double the value of its annual coffee exports to US$6bil in the next decade, according to Nguyen Do Anh Tuan, head of the agriculture ministry’s international cooperation department.

The plan includes increasing the volume of green beans used in the intensive coffee-processing sector to 30%-to-40% of the country’s total output from the current 10%, leaving a smaller quantity available for export as unroasted, green beans.

Vietnam shipped 1.56 million tonnes of coffee, including more than 36,000 tonnes of processed coffee, in the 2018-19 season that ended Sept 30, a Bloomberg analysis of Customs data show.

Domestic roasters and soluble plants are slated to use more than 500,000 tonnes of green beans annually in the next three years, 40% more than what’s currently consumed, said Le Tien Hung, CEO of the second-largest exporter Simexco Dak Lak.

Vietnam has the capacity to make as much as 58,500 tonnes of instant coffee a year from nine plants, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News.

Factories invested by Nestle, Olam International Ltd, Tata Group and CCL Products India Ltd make up about 70% of the total. Capacity is poised to increase by at least 40,000 tonnes in the next five years with new investment and planned expansions from both local and multinational companies. — Bloomberg


(The Star) Vietnam beauty market boasts excellent potential

Rapid economic growth and higher living standards are shaping changes in Vietnamese lifestyles and needs.

Urbanites now spend not only on basic products but also on aspirational demands.

Besides being able to afford advanced beauty products, Vietnamese women are not hesitant about paying more for premium products that are capable of bringing about significant skin improvements.

The personal care sector has enjoyed strong growth of 7% a year on average, higher than the fast moving consumers goods (FMCG) market, thanks to the skincare and make-up segment, according to a study by global data and consulting company Kantar Worldpanel.

The cosmetic market has been offering a wide range of beauty products, welcoming new brands, new variants, and new formats every day, which effectively stimulates consumer spending.

Also, the current digital world has opened a new door for new players entering the market.

Health and beauty stores, including cosmetic stores and pharmacies, continue growing in importance thanks to the entry of new players like Pharmacity, Watsons and Hello Beauty.

This channel remains the key for beauty categories since shoppers can look for physical testing, professional advice and recommendations in real time.

Additionally, with digital transformation, these stores offer a “phygital” experience which brings together the best from online and brick-and-mortar stores.

Easy access to the Internet, especially via mobile phones, enables Vietnamese consumers to keep abreast of beauty trends faster, research product information more easily and shop conveniently online.

Noticeably, 80% of incremental spending on beauty products comes from online shopping, according to the latest Omnichannel report.

In order to bring an omnichannel shopping experience to consumers, a number of brands are starting to build their own retail formats such as websites, chains and, lately, subscription models.

The phenomenal growth in popularity of Korean culture is clear across multiple aspects of Vietnamese life from TV dramas, movies, music, and reality TV shows to cuisine, travel and beauty.

In cosmetics, South Korea ranked first among countries exporting to Vietnam in 2018 with nearly a third of the market. Korean brands are consistently expanding as the fastest growing brands in terms of shopper base, predominantly in the make-up and mask segments.

According to experts, there is enormous room for growth in many beauty categories, which are still underdeveloped.

The Kantar report said two out of five Vietnamese households have never bought beauty products. But following the global beauty trend, Vietnamese are more willing to stretch their budget for advanced beauty solutions such as skincare devices and beauty supplements.

The rising need for self-indulgence has led to a great opportunity for beauty care beyond facial care. Professional hair care products, hand and body care, and nail styling are all emerging, and have great potential to attract spending in the years to come.

Tran Quang Thang, director of the HCM City Institute of Economics and Management, said, “The middle class, who spend a lot on cosmetics, is set to grow to 33 million by 2020.”

This again points to huge potential for growth.

Nguyen Van Minh, deputy chairman of the Vietnam Association of Essential Oils, Aromatherapy and Cosmetics, said many famous foreign cosmetic brands had entered by opening representative offices, companies and factories and through agents and distributors, including high-end brands like Esteé Lauder, Lancome, Shiseido, Fendi, Clairins, and L’Oreal.

Some local cosmetics brands such as Thorakao, Saigon Cosmetic, Lana, Biona, and Sao Thái Dương had also achieved a certain position in the market though they still held a small share. — Viet Nam News/ANN


(The Star) Booking the right market

Bookstore chains have been on the decline for some time now. But while physical stores have been rapidly closing their doors, online stores are open for business.

And in this web space, Rachel Ang has set up her online bookstore, Books and Bobs.

As a voracious reader, Ang would source her books from secondhand bookstores instead of buying new ones at full price to save cost.

“One day it occurred to me that book lovers consume a lot of books. Bibliophiles who walk into a bookstore seldom come out with just one book, ” she points out.

Convinced that selling books could be a lucrative business, Ang created a Facebook page and put up 50 books, a mix of her own and new ones, to sell.

“My husband suggested the name Books n Bobs, a play on the British slang bits and bobs which means objects of different kinds. I also wanted to carry book-related merchandise such as bookmarks and book stands, so the name tells you what we do, ” she explains.

Sales were slow-going and Ang thought she would have to wrap up the business and organise a clearance sale after a year.

Somehow, things took a turn north after that.“It was so good that I changed my mind!”

Ang restocked and changed her marketing tactics.

“I experimented with different kinds of photos and tried to post more regularly on Facebook. I became more diligent in writing the synopsis because when people understand a book better, they are more inclined to buy it.”

But just as sales started to pick up, so did the workload.

“There is a lot of work behind the scenes. When you sell on a Facebook page, the communication is done through direct messages.

“I have to record and update each order manually in a spreadsheet. Then I have to weigh and pack them, carry them to my car and line up at the post office. If a customer changes their mind, I have to repeat the process all over again because the prices, weight and postage fee would have changed, ” she says.

Realising that the current workflow was unsustainable, Ang decided to migrate to a full-featured website in March this year with a payment gateway that accepts payment by cards, online transfer and e-wallets. Postage is calculated automatically and the books are organised by tags for ease of searching.

But like any big change, there were teething pains. Initially, Ang continued to accept orders from long-time customers who preferred to use Facebook. This led to a new problem.

“Because the process is manual, I sometimes forget to update the website and end up double-selling. I have had to refund the customers and give them something extra to make them feel better.”

From this experience, Ang came to realise that she can’t do everything and please everyone at the same time.

“If I have to lose a few customers because of this transition, that means they are not my target customers, ” she says.

So she concentrated on growing her target audience through her website and gained other customers along the way.

A professional-looking website, she notes, conveys trustworthiness, which translates into more sales. The full migration to the website has certainly upped the ante for Ang. Within six months, revenue has doubled.

Books and Bobs has over 3,000 titles under its listing from a wide variety of genres, including historical fiction, contemporary fiction, business and self-help.

As there is enough sales volume, Ang can now leverage on despatch services instead of posting the books herself. Improved bottom lines also mean that she can afford to hire an assistant to help with the day-to-day operations.

While sales transactions go through the official website, Ang maintains an active presence on social media, whether it’s posting inspirational quotes, conducting FB live sessions, or organising competitions and giveaways, to maintain effective engagement with her customers.

“No matter what nature of business you’re in, you must engage meaningfully with your customers. When people have fun, you build a positive vibe for the brand. Even those who don’t win in the competitions will have fun participating and everyone leaves with a good impression of your brand, ” she emphasises.

Books n Bobs currently operates out of her living room, but Ang hopes to move to a warehouse someday. She is convinced that book retailing is not a sunset industry. People have not stopped reading; it’s their purchasing behaviour that has changed, at least for certain segments.

“My customers are people who dislike crowds, already know what they want and are internet savvy.”

Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, a majority of her customers are millennials.

Bookstores don’t necessarily have to build an online store, but it’s imperative for them to develop a strong digital strategy, whether to drive traffic to their physical stores or sell through their website.

“In an age when we look at our phones more than anything else, you cannot neglect digital marketing, ” she says.