In early 2009, it was the most difficult moment of my life financially. I believed most of you also feel the same. We are suffering from the after-effect of the financial crunch. In mid 2008, our church (City Harvest Church) launched the Arise and Build fund raising program for our new building (now in Suntec). 2008 was relatively a good year for me. During the Arise & Build Program, I pledged an amount that I could have fulfilled easily. Little to I expect the financial meltdown and the effects it have on my business. I was financially stretched and ran into debts soon after.
It was easy to fulfill my pledge to the fund when times are good. How many of you know that it was in difficult times that our faith was tested? In March 2009, it was the "last-call" to fulfill our pledges. I was stuck into the situation of "Shall I honor God first?" or "Shall I see to my situation first?". I maxed out my credit cards to fulfill the former, praying in hope of a breakthrough from God.
Nothing happened. There was no breakthrough, let alone money dropping down from heaven. Life as usual except sinking further into debts.
In April 2009, I came to know of a printing exhibition taking place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in May 2009. I actually bought an air-ticket to attend the exhibition. Just a few days before the actual day, I received news that the exhibition was "CALLED OFF" as the organizer ran away with the money. What bad luck am I running into? Since there was no refund to the ticket, I went as scheduled for the purpose of relaxing.
When I was there, I just walk around and came across a small-sized gift exhibition. Out of curiosity, I registered and went in. From afar, I saw this booth selling cute little caricature figurine. I was attracted to it. I went up to find out more from the staff. Lady-luck was shinning on me. I got to meet the boss instead. They were actually looking for master franchisor and Singapore has got none at the moment. The bad news was, many "reputable" gifts chain in Singapore actually expressed interest in getting the master franchise. I am just one of the many. I went on to understand more on the cost and requirement of the business.
I flew back to Singapore the next day. The business left a very deep impression in my mind. I was considering whether to bid for the business or not. Shortly after, it was the morning prayer week organized by my church. It was 7am that day in Kreta Ayer Community Centre. I remembered vividly that GOD spoke a rhema word to me. He said "JUST DO". Immediately that day, I sought financial investment from my family and friends. Only my mother buys my idea and willing to invest $20K. The rest of the money I will secure through credit card again. I made a bid in faith and followed up with a proposal (only to realize I was the only one who submitted). The result will be released latest by early July 2009.
Needless to say, I got the master franchisor. The contract will start in 1st August 2009. Under the contract, I was supposed to open a new shop within 30days from the start of contract. It was not easy. Where am I supposed to find a good location? I have many suggestions from friends and business associates. The most commonly mentioned shopping mall was Plaza Singapura. It was not a easy mall to enter and tenants must wait even if they like your products. It was very discouraging to hear this. Nonetheless, I still wanted to try. I got the contact of the leasing executive, sent in a proposal in a Friday morning. Guess what, 3-4 hours later, the leasing officer called me and says they are very interested in what I got to offered but they have no place for me. I pleaded to her "please help". She said she may have a space for me but she must get clearance from her boss first. Awhile later, she called me and said they have a place for me, it will be a "newly" created space for me at Level 4 (outside Best Denki). That was not all. They even sponsored all the furniture and display I needed worth more than $10k. This was an offer not to be missed. I grabbed the offer and signed the deal the next day.
The lease will start on 15 August 2009 ending 14 November 2009 and extendable for a further of 3 months maximum. I was left with 2 - 3 weeks to prepare. God is good. He just poured in ideas upon ideas to me. I adopted the ideas and transformed it into reality. I met minimal obstruction along the way.
|The baby is Jamie. She was only a few months old.|
On 15 August 2009 (11am), iGongZai started business. The first sales was recorded at 12noon. What a great start. Business was fantastic. I was collecting money like nobody business. My sales broke all the previous record of other franchisor across the region for 3 months consecutively. All Glory to God.
I was not without problems. The main problem I faced was staffing issues. Although the sales was good, the commission was good and the salary was good, still staffs are never satisfied. They complained overwork and frequently gave me MCs. In a shopping mall, we will be fined if not opened as required. Therefore, when they failed to turn up for whatever reason, I myself will stand in. It was not easy for me as I am still the main person running my core business ~ Expressprint.
2 months into the business, I started to profit, recouping my investment completely. Given the frequent stand-in, I felt it was about time to give up and move on when the lease ends in November. Afterall I made a profit.
I was all set to give up BUT God have a better plan for me. Into the last 2 weeks before the lease ended. I received inquiry about franchising. We spoke and the deal was done. That guy took up not one but THREE franchises from me. (To be honest, this was the first time I sold a franchise. I scrambled to find example on how franchise work, drew up an agreement "professionally" and thats it.) In that agreement, I will also be passing the original kiosk in Plaza Singapura to him. The other 2 place that he started was Tampines Mall and IMM. Whereas for me, I opened a small push cart in Vivo City. In the process, I managed to sell another franchise to a business owner to operate in City Square Mall. This brings the total of iGongZai outlet to FIVE within 2 weeks. His plan is always higher. He never shortchanged us. These had earned me hundreds of thousands in revenue.
The contract I have with these franchisees was 6 months. Most of the contracts expired in April and non willing to continue seeing the lull season ahead.
I too gave up my push cart in Vivo City. I felt the business was still in demand and decided to look for a permanent shop. After weeks of sourcing, I found a suitable location in Suntec City (where my church is). I made an offer and was accepted. The least will start on 22 April 2010. The shop was in operation from 1 May 2010
iGongZai remains in operation for the next two years. Throughout the entire journey, iGongZai also participated in various events and exhibitions.
It was smooth journey but not with some hit-ups. The same issues of manpower surface. This time it was a tougher problem as my minimum contractual lease was 2 years. I must say God is Good. He took care of the business. I am always blessed witrh good and committed staff. I want to Thank the following staffs who worked tirelessly for me. They are Tricia, Jaslyn, KC, Pauline and Wichan (currently working with me in Expressprint).
2 years has since passed. Our lease is up for renewal. This came in the time when it was announced that Suntec City will be undergoing a major revamp. Given such situation, I decided not to renew the lease. Another factor was my license as the master franchise will end in July 2012.
Closing on the date, I received a email from the management of Suntec City stating that we DO NOT need to reinstate the place. All I need to do is to remove all removable and hand the shop back to them. This has saved me at least $10k.
Sounds like its about to end.... hang on. God has not done yet.
Sales executive from Groupon called me and said they are interested to feature my products. I thought it will be a good idea to have a finale sales given the fact that I have no shop now. We went through a few session of negotiation and finally, we reach a consensus of featuring. Due to the nature of confidentially, I cannot disclose the commission that Groupon wanted. I am sure the commission they asked for is not a norm. A new precedent was set.
The promotion for Groupon rolled out on 9 Jun 2012 and ended 18 Jun 2012. More than 150 coupons were sold and a total of more than 250pcs figurine were redeemed. I bagged in tens of thousands of sales revenue.
Truely, I served a great God. He is my provider. He took care of all the finances the business need. The whole episode came through from God and He is faithful to complete it. He took care even of the finest details, sending to me the correct person to do the job. His timing is perfect. His plan is perfect. Thank you Jesus. All glory to you.