Tan Jiayu discovered a booming bicycle industry in Perth while on a university exchange programme, which inspired him to set up his own business.

When Tan Jiayu first set his sights on a university exchange programme in Perth, Australia in 2016, he wanted more than a chance to get an overseas experience. He was also aiming to be selected as a triathlete for the 2017 SEA Games.

During his six months there, he trained five days a week while attending school. Although he did not make the cut for the SEA Games squad, Jiayu’s efforts in Perth weren’t in vain. His stint there opened his eyes to a booming bicycle industry in the city. It was a lightbulb moment that set the gears in motion for Jiayu’s bicycle business.

The enterprising Sport Science and Management (SSM) student started Bike Mart SG in 2017, while he was in his third year at Nanyang Technological University (NTU). He began selling second-hand bicycles on platforms like Facebook and online marketplace Carousell. This was also a way for his friends to own bicycles without having to fork out exorbitant sums of money.

Jiayu’s ambition was to be a national triathlete, but while that did not materialise, he set his mind on establishing a bicycle business.

Interest in his small online business ballooned and Jiayu gained the confidence to run it as a full-fledged operation with the opening of his first shop in Geylang. Many of his customers prefer testing the bikes before deciding whether to make such a high-value purchase, and having a physical shop enables them to do so.

However, this year, his brisk business took a hard hit with the onset of COVID-19. Circuit Breaker measures effectively put the brakes on walk-in customers, resulting in a loss of about 40% in sales. Jiayu knew that he would have to adapt his business model so that he would not be burdened by rental costs, which amount to a few thousand dollars per month.

Knowing that digital marketing would be crucial during this period when most people are at home, Jiayu shifted his focus to driving online sales to his current website by buying more ads on Facebook, Instagram and Google. He is also investing in other digital marketing tools to expand his company’s digital presence and retain customer interest.

For instance, Jiayu creates videos and publishes relatable content catered to the cycling community on Instagram and Facebook, such as tips for purchasing bike parts. He hopes to build relationships with existing and potential customers, and entice customers to patronise his shop when businesses gradually open over the next few months.

To help tide his business through rough times due to the shortfall of walk-in customers, Jiayu invested more in digital marketing, and will also launch a new website to sell bike components.

To further drive online sales, Jiayu is also expanding his product range. To complement his current website focusing on bicycles, he is developing a sister site which will be an e-commerce platform selling bike components. As bike components cost less compared to bicycles, his customers would be more comfortable making such purchases online without having to visit his store.

Compared to the existing site, the new platform will have more advanced features, including back-end functions that help Jiayu track business costs more efficiently. By tapping on the SMEs Go Digital programme offered by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), Jiayu managed to save 80% of the website’s development cost, which would have been about $10,000 in total. He is targeting to launch his new platform in the third quarter of this year.

Recognising that digitalisation is key for a business to survive, Jiayu plans to expand Bike Mart SG’s digital presence using the grant offered by the SMEs Go Digital Programme.

“I’m in a fortunate position because my business is relatively new and small in scale, so I’m able to make changes to my operations to react to the situation quickly without too much additional cost,” says Jiayu.

Sharing his own experience of exploring new business models that would work in the existing climate, he advises fellow SME owners not to be afraid to seek support. Organisations like Enterprise Singapore provide support to help businesses identify potential areas which could be changed or expanded. “Now more than ever, it is important for businesses to look towards digital transformation. It’s not possible to stick to old methods and practices anymore.”

He adds that he now feels the pressure of being an employer, not just a business owner. “I’m responsible for our employees regardless of the economic situation as they need to provide for their families during this tough period. The stress is definitely higher than when I just started out. Fortunately, there are various avenues of support from the Government so that we can retain all of our staff.”

Jiayu also acknowledges that unlike him, most of his peers would be searching for jobs right after graduation, which is especially challenging. To help ease his peers’ transition to the working world, the NTU alumnus partnered his alma mater to offer internship opportunities at his company.

Currently, he has two student interns who assist him with photography, video editing and online marketing, and he hopes to provide more opportunities to students and fresh graduates who can offer fresh perspectives on improving the business.

Two interns from NTU currently help Jiayu with his digital marketing plans, and he hopes to hire more student interns and offer them hands-on opportunities that would be useful for their job search.

“I think it’s important for students to gain real-world working experience and also hone their soft skills before they enter the working world. Hopefully, I’ll be able to convert some of them to full-time employees to help with my business!”

The Government has set aside over $500 million to help businesses digitalise and thrive in the post-COVID 19 economy, so that they can keep workers employed and create new jobs.

Businesses will receive a $5,000 Digital Resilience Bonus to adopt basic digital solutions such as e-payment, e-invoicing and e-commerce solutions. Those with basic digital capabilities will receive an additional $5,000 to integrate advanced digital tools in their business.

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