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Q&A: Wee Teng Wen of The Lo & Behold Group on surviving the pandemic

Annabel Tan and Yanni Tan from our sister publication Prestige Singapore speak to captains of the industry about their response to the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the Resilience Special.

Wee Teng Wen is Managing Partner, The Lo & Behold Group

What are the key service/product/operational enhancements/additions your company has introduced to support customers, partners and staff during this period?
Starting with our work family, we formed a Staff Relief Fund to assist those in financial distress due to the impact of the pandemic. We also debuted our gift voucher programme from which 20 percent of sales go directly to this Fund during the Circuit Breaker. Additionally, we are making sure that all staff have the opportunity to upskill in preparation for the new normal. Those who are not required for essential work have complimentary access to training across a wide range of disciplines at courses conducted by some of the top learning institutions.

For customers, our desire is to go beyond the prescriptive model of delivery and takeaway to create thoughtful dining and brand experiences that they can enjoy on a regular basis. This includes expanding our products to include a retail aspect, increased attention to in-home experiences and exploring how to better serve the regular lifestyle needs of our customers. We’re finding new ways to bring The Lo & Behold brand of hospitality into homes as part of the new normal and excited for these initiatives to launch very soon.

french restaurants in Singapore
(Image Credit: Odette)

Looking to the larger F&B industry, we’re keenly aware that suppliers are suffering too so we are developing ways to lend support through initiatives that connect them directly with customers to facilitate sales during this time. We also launched the Straits Clan Community Kitchen which has prepared about 10,000 meals to date (15 May) over the last month for migrant workers in the Goldmine Energy Tuas Factory-Converted Dorm (FCD) and Eng Soon Dormitory.

Additionally, we’re a committee partner on the Dine in Movement with The Dandy Collection, Don Ho, COMO Dempsey and several other leading F&B groups in Singapore as part of a united platform offering diners and guests a wider variety of delivery and takeaway options during the Circuit Breaker.

Based on the above, why were these changes crucial?
The key theme at our group in the last few months has been “Transform to Survive”. It underscores our guiding strategy in response to the impact of the pandemic and guides our plans for reimagining the business for recovery and future-proofing our efforts. Our initiatives to provide financial assistance for our own staff, enhance our avenues of service and products for customers and feed those in our wider community who are in critical need are all underscored by the core value of our group – we put people first. The challenge has been to react with agility and intention, using our available resources to nurture relationships and drive business at the same time. I’ve always believed that when our staff, our partners and customers are happy, the business will naturally strengthen and grow. 

How has the response to them been?
We’ve been very encouraged to receive an outpouring of love, encouragement and support from our customers, partners and friends. Our team members have banded together and are working super hard to keep operations running smoothly. Customers have also responded well to the offerings from our venues which have remained open for delivery and takeaway. These favourable results from our well-performing venues such as Odette and Le Bon Funk are really a testament to the loyalty of our customer base — 80 percent of our orders come from our existing customers. We’re very grateful for that. Many suppliers and partners have also made donations and in-kind sponsorships of food and supplies for our Straits Clan Community Kitchen, enabling us to offer our migrant worker beneficiaries about 10,000 nutritious and delicious meals for the last 3 weeks. 

How else are you preparing for changes in the next few months when restrictions ease and Singapore gradually returns to our regular activities?
We have mobilised the company behind a 200 Day Business Transformation Plan around the motto of “Transform to Survive”. The first 100 days will focus on adapting to the new normal, while the next 100 will be more future-facing. We are also applying a two-pronged strategy – firstly, to diversify revenue streams with clear points of differentiation, because revenue will not be what it used to be even when government mandates ease. Secondly, we are committed to making considered yet swift decisions, with an increased appetite to “hunker down and hibernate” if it means we have a greater chance of survival in the long run. 

Reflecting on lessons for businesses in Singapore, what is the one main take-away having now dealt with this unprecedented crisis?
We’ve been forced to relook what we stand for and remind ourselves why we do what we do. As a hospitality company, feeding others is what gives us the most joy. This pandemic has reminded us of the importance to be intentional about our actions as guided by our values, and to be quick to act where it matters most. We will emerge from this sharper and wiser, with increased clarity and gratitude for our people, our customers and our community.

All images are courtesy of Wee Teng Wen

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