Mr Ryan Chioh

Meet the Boss of FarEastFlora.com

 

Ryan Chioh, managing director of successful Singaporean florist, FarEastFlora.com, on the journey of growing the 50-year old SME to an e-commerce powerhouse.

“The Web is the new Yellow Pages, so if you don’t have a site, you have already lost to your competitor who has one. “

While the concept of buying products online is far more common now than it ever was, one florist invested in technology early on to take its business to new heights.

FarEastFlora.com is a long way from its humble beginnings as a little flower business, which saw its founders peddle eggs and flowers from the back of a van travelling around Singapore in the ‘60s.

Growing up in this heritage, Ryan Chioh, whose father and two uncles founded the business, was already literally knee-deep in it growing up. The family owned an orchid farm in the deep wooded areas in Yew Tee, back when it was still very forested, and young Ryan would accompany his mother as she cut orchids for their customers. He also worked for the family helping out with sales and delivery during his school holidays at the company’s nursery in Thomson. 

Being tech-savvy and aware of the changes in consumer purchasing behaviour, Mr Chioh decided to pilot the company’s e-commerce platform, and continued to oversee much of its technology adoptions. Today, the company operates one of the country’s largest florists, and Mr Chioh’s early efforts have paid off in the form of a robust e-commerce platform that brings in much of FarEastFlora.com’s business.

We speak to Mr Chioh on what it takes to move a traditional business into the 21st Century, while staying true to its roots.

When you started working for the company, one of your first projects was the e-commerce platform in 2000. Was it an easy decision to invest in it?

I think the biggest challenge was investing in something that you are not familiar with. In hindsight, it’s easy to say that going online has been easy because we are successful now. But you have to know that when we first started out, no one was really going online and we took a risk to spend a big sum of money to go online. This was coupled with the fact that there are many unknowns about what online selling really meant at the time, and how the mechanics of it worked.

How did you attract customers to your site?

We did a lot of promotional efforts offline to get people to go to the site, because we had to sell the benefit that they would see the latest items and the best offers online. Besides getting access to deals, and the convenience of shopping from the comfort of home, we noticed an interesting trend in the beginning. We had more men ordering online than women at the start. I assumed it was because men were perhaps more IT savvy, but I think the real reason was that they could write mushy messages online without having to relay it to someone over the phone. [laughs] On a serious note, I really do believe avoiding embarrassment by being online contributed to the take-up of customers going digital with us!

How do you decide how much to spend on IT?

To be honest, I don’t really set aside a specific budget for IT. If we think a new technology will bring value to our business and our customers, we will adopt it. If we see value in a new technology, we’ll find the money for it.

How has business operations changed with technology?

IT tools are suitable for SMEs. We used to use a lot of instant messaging programs to communicate in the past, but now with smartphones, we’ve moved to apps like Whatsapp and WeChat. Communications is so important, and during peak periods, we put groups of staff into chat rooms so that everyone is updated on what’s happening more efficiently.

We also use SingTel ONEoffice to facilitate more efficient communication between departments. This has helped raise the level of logistics delivery within our business, so it allows us to serve our customers better.

What’s something new you have implemented?

We’ve come out with a mobile app. I believe we are the first and only florist here to have integrated payment into a mobile app, on the iOS platform. The investment was high, but we believe that mobiles are the way forward. So we found the money to put in it, and the app is available in both Singapore and Hong Kong, as SG Florist and HK Florist, respectively.

What’s your advice to SMEs about deciding to branch out into different channels of sales?

I think it’s important to understand if you’d really need to move into a channel, say e-commerce. Make an assessment of whether your products can be sold online, and whether you think customers will go online for your services. I’d like to add that all companies should at least have a Web presence, however. The Web is the new Yellow Pages, so if you don’t have a site, you have already lost to your competitor who has one. 

Personally, what technology could you not do without?

My smartphone, for sure. I just wish battery life were better. Now, I have to bring my mobile battery with me wherever I go. I’m quite an early adopter on the personal front, so I’ll often try out the latest and newest gadgets.