Dessertpreneurs: By The Servings
For long-time friends Geraldine Lim and Linda Ng, their dream has always been to open their own dessert shop. Both girls went to school together and even graduated from the same university in America together. When they returned to home to Singapore to tread the expected corporate path, they still nurtured their dream and eventually made it a reality when they opened their “By the Servings” dessert store in the newly renovated Market Place Car Par in 2007. We chat with Geraldine on how they got their act together, left the rat race and realised their dream.
A dessert shop? How did you get the idea to do this?
Geraldine Lim: Linda is a frequent traveler to Hong Kong and saw how tongsui was so popular there. And true enough, there are many Hong Kong/Macau-style cafes gaining popularity here now. And because we were so used to counting calories off the back of everything we ate when we were studying in the States, we were inclined towards serving desserts of low-fat, low-sugar content; definitely not to the levels of Ice Kachang or Bubble Tea. We wanted a concept that catered to women like us… gluttons yet still want to be slim. We took 6 months to do the research before we started the business.
We went to Taipei for dessert tasting and nothing else. It was desserts morning, noon and night. I think we nearly overdosed on desserts. We also held surveys among friends on their favourite desserts. We looked up recipe books which looked so easy to make, but when we tried them in the kitchen, they turned out to be disasters. I tried this dessert with sticky glutinous rice and walnut which looked like nothing from the book. Linda tried making ginger milk pudding at least 15 times. It sat on her kitchen top like a gooey mess before she had her “Eureka” moment!
In the end, we decided to get a cooking professional, called Catherina Hosoi, to help us with the recipes. She turned out to be a god-send to the store. What she came up with was even better than we expected. She used the freshest, natural ingredients to make the most colorful, creative and healthy desserts.
How much did it all cost to start?
We saved a lot to finance this venture. We figured out it should take about $100,000 to startup. But in reality, it took a lot less but we were caught off-guard by a lot of hidden costs like some store regulations that we;re obligated to follow that were really expensive.
Is it good working with a close friend?
Linda and I work very well together, because tasks are delegated according to our strengths. She’s good at operations, technicalities and finance, whereas I tend to be inclined towards sales and marketing.
Have you had any experience in entrepreneurship before?
Nope. But our parents were all in business, and we grew up seeing them sell and make a living out of very hard work and long hours. At that time they were selling things like durians, flowers etc…
What’s a typical day like for you?
The lunch hour’s the peak hour, after which we do a lot of deliveries to offices in the area. We believe in customized service, so we do make an effort to chat with every customer that walks in. Some have become regulars and it’s through their word of mouths that we have increasing regular business. We do sweep the floor and count dollars and cents at the end of everyday. That is the most exciting and nerve-wrecking part of the day. We also make an effort to chat with our staffs to ensure they are happy. So far, we have been blessed with diligent staffs who give their best for the store.
Do you ever miss the good ol’ days working for someone else?
Nope. But I do miss having many colleagues to chit-chat and gossip with. The initial months were the toughest because you have to plan your own schedule without someone else telling you how to do it. And when you hear your ex-colleagues going on all-expenses paid trips to exotic Islands and sun-tanning on yachtsâ€¦ well, for that split second, yes. And of course, the much fatter paycheck can help pay the bills. But otherwise, we don’t miss it. We dived into this venture mentally prepared for the best, and also the worst.
What is the most rewarding part of the venture?
It’s got to be seeing our dreams being realised with every day. We always talked about starting something together. So when we finally did, we were absolutely overjoyed. When the renovations were finished, Linda and I did ridiculous things like running out of the store and waving excitedly at the other inside. But we don’t do that much these days.
We’ve also discovered that working hard and managing the business has made us closer to God, which is very important to us as He’s our CEO! I read this book by a billionaire cosmetics entrepreneur called Mary Kay. She said if you put God first, then family then career then everything else will follow. That’s what we try to do. A lot of friends and acquaintances, with much bigger businesses & positions, have volunteered to help out at the shop. They probably saw two young lost gals and decided to lend a hand.
Tell us of your lowest points…
We saw an increase in daily sales during the first few months. But when December came and everyone went on their 2-weeks annual leave, the shop was so quiet. It didn’t help that the torrid rain made the mood even more depressing. And of course, the occasional remarks from relatives like “study so much already then go and sell desserts” didn’t help matters either.
Any advice for budding entrepreneurs?
I would say pray a lot, because there are many times when the situation is beyond your control and you can only pray for miracles to happen. You must be mentally prepared for what you are getting yourself into. Everyone tells you it’s going to be tough – but the reality is much harder than you first thought.
Then there are the very long working hours, doing menial tasks, a sudden drop in your social life, managing one crisis after another. But most importantly, hang in there even when the things seem bleak.
Why are you located at Market Place Car Park?
We picked Market Place Car Park because we wanted to reach out to the crowd who are corporate executives. Having been in the rat race ourselves, we wanted to create a place for them to take a breather from the stress. We have a lot of customers asking what it’s like to leave the corporate world. (They work from 7am to 8pm.)
What have you learnt now that you didn’t know before?
We are very focused on how much profit to make each day to keep the operation running, but we don’t micro-manage things. A bad day doesn’t mean the end for us. The big picture is to see when we break even, etc. Retail is a very fast moving industry. If we don’t stay on the ball, the costs can spiral way out of control.
How are you going to grow the business?
We do a lot of promotions and get media coverage. Word of mouth is very important and walk-in customers are our walking advertisers. We have a food critic who will make new recipes every 6 months to keep the menu fresh.
Which desserts are your top sellers?
“Mango Tango”, “In all Fairness” and “Oriental Beauty”. “Red Scarlet” and “Purple Petals” are also upcoming favorites. You can check up www.bytheservings.com to know the descriptions!
Adapted with permission from Go Digital Magazine (Feb/March 2007) issue. All rights reserved by Immanuel Media Pte Ltd.
Young Upstarts is a business and technology blog that champions new ideas, innovation and entrepreneurship. It focuses on highlighting young people and small businesses, celebrating their vision and role in changing the world with their ideas, products and services.