Barely a year into business, Sunflower – a concept store focusing on unique hand-made, environmentally-friendly and socially-conscious merchandise – has already become somewhat of a media darling and has been featured on publications ranging from Chic Magazine to TODAY. It was even recently featured as part of a Channel News Asia’s documentary titled “A Green Mark Singapore”. Contributing writer Ho Sim Yee dropped by Sunflower – located at City Square Mall, 180 Kitchener Road #B1-12A – to find out what makes it bloom.
An Affordable Retail Platform for Sub-Tenants
Founded in September 2009 by the Poh brothers Fhank and Boon Cheong, Sunflower’s core business is in offering an affordable retail platform for subtenants who cannot afford a stand-alone shop to display and sell their products. However, there is a theme to the products that Sunflower stocks.
“We’re the first concept shop based on the concept of H.U.E.S, which stands for Handmade, Unique, Eco-friendly and Socially-conscious,” says Boon Cheong, “Hand-made and uniqueness usually go together. Because the products are not mass-produced, it is not cost-effective for sellers to set up a physical shop to sell them so most of them can only sell online. We provide an alternative platform that would allow customers to touch and feel the actual products before purchase.”
“Sunflower represents our mission of being always sunny, always different. We do not want our customers to enter a shop that’s dimly lit and feel more depressed than they first stepped in. Instead, we want to be the place that’s always sunny and bringing joy to our customers. We also want to stay fresh and be always different so customers will continue to visit us,” Boon Cheong says.
A Relationship-Driven Business
Boon Cheong feels that the largest differentiating factor for Sunflower is that it is service and relationship-oriented. Drawing my attention to the movable shelves which have been strategically arranged in an inverted ‘V’ towards the store entrance, Boon Cheong explains, “This allows customers to get a clear view of our product offerings even without stepping in. While it is not the most space-efficient arrangement, we are willing to do this because we care about our tenants.”
Referring to them as part of “the Sunflower Family”, Boon Cheong tells me that their tenants have stuck by them and are a great source of support throughout their entrepreneurial journey. For example, the decorative illustrations on the walls and posters were done with compliments by one of their tenants.
There is also a mini events space within the store which tenants are encouraged to take up during weekends to promote their products at no extra charges. Boon Cheong explains that by doing so, tenants are able to better understand their target market and what customers want, as well as experience and explore for themselves the best way to market their products. Sunflower aims to be a platform not just to showcase products, but also help tenants to grow and develop themselves.
Besides the relationship with their tenants, Boon Cheong also expresses his appreciation for the support given by the management of City Square Mall, Singapore’s first and only eco-mall. Sunflower’s focus on eco-friendly and socially conscious products makes it fit right in.
What impressed me most about Sunflower would be their community outreach efforts. In line with its first birthday celebration, customers were given S$5 rebate for every S$50 spent, which they could choose to donate to Sunflower’s adopted charity, Make-A-Wish Foundation Singapore. Sunflower also initiated a “Donate-a-bag” drive in which customers can either donate or pick up a reusable bag (except plastic bags) to do their part for the environment.
Boon Cheong ends with a piece of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs struggling between passion and pay, “Always remember, stay true to what you want to do, what your passion is, what you believe in, and the money will take care of itself.”