Redefining Business Priorities During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Reflections of an Entrepreneur by Hugh Koh, the Co-Founder & Chief Visionary Officer of Pestle & Mortar Clothing.

 
Redefining Business Priorities During The COVID-19 Pandemic
Photo by Victor He on Unsplash

From just designing and producing five t-shirts in 2010, eleven years later, Pestle & Mortar Clothing (PMC) has seen over a hundred people that have worked for our company.

It all started while hanging out with the other two PMC co-founders - Arnold and Arthur Loh - at the 'mamak' shop (Indian Muslim eatery) where the three of us discussed embarking on a small streetwear business. That was our dream. During that time, all of us had jobs with financial stability, but we always wanted to create an alternative income stream.

Starting PMC was challenging, as none of us had the experience or knowledge in running a clothing label. However, we had good contacts, passion, and the drive to make this work. Our seasoned entrepreneur friends also generously gave advice constantly on how and where to get started.

We made mistakes along the way, but we also embraced challenges and adversity as key areas of growth and learning.

Our business began to scale up when we started hiring full-time staff. We knew that if we wanted to grow PMC, we needed a proper long-term structure and operating system. From here, the business grew organically while we continued to set annual goals and targets.

A pivotal moment for PMC was when we committed to showcasing our brand at a renowned streetwear tradeshow called Agenda in the US. We participated in two shows over a two-year period – first in Las Vegas, then in Long Beach, California. Despite the low sales generated from the shows, the network we built during our time there was priceless, as it helped changed our mindset and future brand direction.

From the experience and network gained in the US, we managed to secure distribution rights for a number of brands. Soon after, we entered into collaborations and gained an introduction to showrooms in other parts of America.

Through this opportunity, we observed how American brands were using e-commerce as a new sales touchpoint. We did explore the digital world, but our priority then was still rooted mainly in our brick-and-mortar model. However, we also knew that e-commerce was the way forward as Zalora, Lazada and Shopee had launched their Malaysia operations. We realised we had to take measures to realign our offline and online strategies to ensure the company and our business model would be aligned towards this shift.

In the following years, we kicked off our rationalisation process by closing PMC storefronts and gearing towards becoming an e-commerce business. We also changed our marketing efforts to focus on online launches to provide additional incentives for online consumer purchases.

We continued to build trust with our customers. We were also buoyed by our close collaboration with FedEx for last mile deliveries, which reassured our buyers that their shipments would arrive safely and in a timely manner.

2020 was PMC’s 10th year anniversary -- and our company had huge plans. However, things started to take a different turn due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of our biggest challenges was the disruptions in our manufacturing, supply chain and sales distribution.

When the Malaysian COVID-19 lockdown was extended, we knew we had to revisit our timelines and focus on projects that could give us immediate revenue. We ran a series of campaigns to drive sales and provide support to the marginalized communities affected by the pandemic.

Today, we are still battling the pandemic, but this time with a clearer perspective and plans in place to thrive in this new business environment. These are our four major learnings on how SME businesses can remain resilient while battling headwinds:

  1. The Right Logistics Services Provider

Having FedEx as one of our key logistics services providers paved the way for us to cut out all unnecessary distractions and streamline our focus on our core activities. Having the ability to capitalize on your logistics services provider’s extensive global network can be game changing. With FedEx, we have been able to better serve and grow our customer base. Like any other industry, time is money and therefore reducing the delivery time of our products from suppliers around the world to Malaysia has been crucial and beneficial to our business.

  1. The Team

This is the backbone of any organisation and at PMC we have invested a lot of time in our team. Being united in our vision is a top priority and dedicating time to build culture and friendship has been rewarding. At the same time, clear instructions and goals also keep us focused on the things that matter.

  1. Leaders Who Listen

One of the best traits a leader must have is the ability to listen. Most people listen with the intent to reply but a good leader understands that in order to empathize and connect with others, you have to first understand them.

  1. The Network

No man is an island and that saying certainly holds true from personal experience. PMC has greatly benefited from the network of like-minded entrepreneurs the team has built over the years. During the early stages of the pandemic, we were comforted to know that it was a shared struggle to deal with the situation. We had the team and our business network to bounce ideas with, which was a tremendous help.

The past year has no doubt brought upon unprecedented challenges, but also provided us with many opportunities. That said, we are excited about the workspace of tomorrow and how our products will be launched in the future.

In conclusion, we should always remember to align, adapt and amend our businesses accordingly. FedEx Business Insights is a content-rich resource that helps provide guidance, tips, industry updates relevant to the SME community of Asia Pacific that business owners can check out. Don’t be afraid of change and always continue to test and try new strategies.