Beh Lee Yen, Co-founder & CEO of Happy Bunch tells us about delivering happiness with simple and affordable flowers.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Beh Lee Yen: My family and I are keeping safe during these COVID-19 times. It has certainly been challenging trying to juggle young children at home, school, and running a business at the same time. Fortunately, schools in Malaysia have reopened, and the children are happy to be back in school, while mum is glad to have a clear headspace again.
Not being able to travel to be with my team in Singapore has been a bit of a bummer, but we’ve adjusted to catching up online and on the phone. My teams in Malaysia and Singapore have also been keeping safe as best we can, following the necessary SOPs.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Happy Bunch.
Beh Lee Yen: My background is in marketing, advertising, and banking. I started work in an advertising agency in New York City after graduation and moved back to Kuala Lumpur to join the same company when they opened up their Malaysian office. After 7 years of working with clients across the automotive, banking, and FMCG industries, I went on to work for an international bank, where I learned a whole lot about operational processes, finances, sales, and product management. I then ventured into my childhood dream, Interior Design, for about 3-4 years while trying out other business opportunities at the same time.
In 2014, my partner in Happy Bunch, Joanne Ho, was inspired by this concept of fairly affordable, burlap-wrapped flowers in Australia and believed that there was a potential demand for simple and affordable flowers in Malaysia as well. Having done some interior design work for her cupcake business then, she asked me if I was keen to join her on this journey, and I said yes. We founded Happy Bunch Malaysia in September that same year, with the mission of delivering happiness with simple and affordable flowers.
After disrupting the floral gifting industry and establishing ourselves in Malaysia, we saw a similar opportunity in Singapore. Hence, in September 2017, we launched Happy Bunch Singapore. We started with just flowers and have since expanded our offerings to gift boxes where you can customize a gift box with a curated selection of gift items or select from a range of ready-to-order gift boxes.
How does Happy Bunch innovate?
Beh Lee Yen: Over the years, we’ve been innovating by being thoughtful in our business offerings and listening to what consumers actually want—sometimes even before they say it. As a result of that, we find ourselves challenging the traditional players in terms of products, pricing, and experience. There is a common misconception that it is expensive to send quality flowers and gifts; however, we are here to prove this wrong. Behind every business decision we make, we operate with the belief that thoughtful and affordable gifting should be simple and accessible. This way everyone can send gifts to their loved ones for the tiniest reasons, as well as the biggest celebrations.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Beh Lee Yen: During the early period of the very first lockdown, we had to close our business in both Singapore and Malaysia. That meant having no revenue during that time, and it was extremely difficult. To stay afloat, we had to make major adjustments to our business model, get creative with the limited resources that we had, and garner up the courage to make difficult decisions.
One such decision we made to cut costs for Happy Bunch Singapore was to take the leap and halt all spending on online advertising. Instead, we directed our full efforts toward organic marketing with SEO. SEO was new territory for the Singapore team, and after multiple learnings and experimentations, the efforts paid off when site traffic increased significantly throughout the course of the year. Relying on organic marketing initially seemed like a risky move. However, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it made us focus on producing content and creating products that are truly thoughtful and beneficial for our audience.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Beh Lee Yen: Definitely! My team is always my first priority. It was most important to make sure everyone could keep their jobs as we are not the kind of company that abandons their team when times are tough. However, we had to make critical adjustments here and there to make sure we could also sustain the business and maintain those jobs. We took the opportunity to realign roles and reduce costs wherever we could.
The biggest lesson I learned during this time is to stay transparent with my team. In the past, I often took the approach that I shouldn’t burden my team with many problems. However, I’ve learned that it’s healthier to not just celebrate the good news but embrace the bad news with them as well. This way, we can work better as a team and overcome obstacles together. We’ve been through a fair bit, and I’m happy that we are coming out stronger than ever.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Beh Lee Yen: Being in the gifting industry, we saw firsthand how the new normal brought forward by COVID-19 altered our daily lives. With travel and movement restrictions in place, in-person celebrations for birthdays, weddings, and many other occasions became impossible. In addition, many of us went through a tough time managing working from home, juggling parental duties, or facing additional challenges and uncertainties regarding the job and financial security. Naturally, the reasons behind why people gift, and how they gift, evolved. It led us to take a step back, put ourselves in the consumers’ shoes, and rethink our approach to gifting. To stay relevant, we introduced Build A Box, a customizable gift box product that allows customers to customize according to any budget, celebration, or lifestyle.
The pandemic was not easy on anyone, and as we came forward and shared more about the challenges behind the scenes, we built deeper trust and understanding with our customers. When we became more transparent with our challenges and reasonings behind certain operational decisions, to our delight, most of our customers were very supportive and encouraging throughout the process. This strengthened the relationship we have with our customers as a whole, and unlike before, it is now less of a one-way conversation, and our customers are more understanding and engaged in dialogues with us.
Beyond being thoughtful and transparent, we found importance in being efficient with customer relationship management as well. This was because we worked with a small team, and the number of enquiries were increasing due to the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic. To manage this challenge, we looked for scalable methods to provide timely support without compromising on customer experience. We used GetResponse for automated email workflows to provide better onboarding experiences for new users. At the same time, we utilized the Facebook Chat solution to consolidate customer support channels. We also found it useful to set up automated replies and simple FAQs to address common concerns and questions, especially for new visitors.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Beh Lee Yen: We managed to get some relief through the government wage subsidies and deferments in some statutory payments in Malaysia. As for Singapore, while we couldn’t enjoy the full range of support from the government due to local ownership requirements, we certainly appreciated the wages and rental subsidies that have been extended to all businesses. Every little bit of help counts!
Your final thoughts?
Beh Lee Yen: Many people talk about having resilience & perseverance during tough times. For me, what it really means is not to give up. If you’re having a hard time in the midst of all this uncertainty, keep your head up! You’ll learn how to swim and not sink. As you swim, you will find yourself maneuvering around obstacles and challenges, making necessary adjustments, overcoming your fears, having the courage to take risks, and finding opportunities.
Here are my personal philosophies that helped get me through these uncertain times:
1. The cup is always half full for me; the rest are opportunities.
2. Embrace your fears; don’t let them cripple you.
3. Let go when the time is right. There’s a time and place for everyone and everything.
4. Things happen for a reason, but it doesn’t mean you have to take it lying down.
5. Surround yourself with the right people (a great team), and we’ll come out of it.
Happy Bunch Singapore: www.happybunch.com.sg
Happy Bunch Malaysia: www.happybunch.com.my
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