SINGAPORE: Even as Singapore progressively reopens, businesses should look to transform their business models, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing on Tuesday (Jun 16).
As the country moves into the second phase of its post-”circuit breaker” period, businesses are concerned with how they can reopen “safely and in a sustainable way”, he said.
“And in the third phase that will be coming up, we'll be helping the businesses to see how they transform some of their business models,” he added.
READ: COVID-19: Phase 2 of reopening to start from Jun 19, social gatherings of up to five people allowed
Mr Chan gave the example of food and beverage (F&B) businesses, which had to shift much of their business to online platforms for takeaway and delivery during the circuit breaker, when dining in at eateries was banned.
Many are continuing to use such platforms even as the sector is “aggressively reopening”, he said.
Another way eateries can boost their earnings during Phase 2 - when eateries are restricted to serving groups of no more than five people and tables must be spaced at least a metre apart - is by reducing the amount of time each customer can spend dining in, allowing eateries to serve more people, he suggested.
These are some “tangible examples” that the industry has come up with and implemented to continue doing business even with restrictions in place, he said.
“And in this second phase of our work here, some of these very good ideas, we will also be able to share with the F&B establishments who call up and seek help and assistance on how they can open safely and yet at the same time maintain their top line,” he added.
The next phase will prove to be “even more interesting and challenging” as the authorities work to help companies adapt to new business models, Mr Chan said.
“We are not going back to pre-COVID-19 days. We will all have to evolve new business models to serve new markets, new customers, and we will have to start as soon as we can.”
His comments came a day after it was announced Singapore would enter Phase 2 of its reopening on Jun 19, which would allow for retail outlets to reopen and eateries to accept dine-in customers, among other activities which had been suspended since the country’s two-month circuit breaker period.
Mr Chan spoke to reporters following a visit to a call centre at Tai Seng Avenue, set up by the Trade and Industry Ministry and Enterprise Singapore (ESG) to address questions from businesses on adapting to measures set up to curb the spread of COVID-19.
READ: Singapore will invest to develop its ‘intangible strengths’ to tackle COVID-19 impact on livelihoods: Chan Chun Sing
ESG said it received about 155,000 phone and email enquiries from businesses impacted by safe distancing measures between Apr 3 and Jun 15.
“During circuit breaker, when safe distancing measures were heightened, close to 800 volunteers from 48 government agencies manned the Enterprise Infoline,” said the agency, which supports small and medium-sized enterprises here.
“On days when significant announcements were made, such as the tightening of essential services and measures, the Infoline was open until midnight,” it said, noting that it had up to 80 volunteers taking phone and email queries daily during these periods.
One of those taking the queries was 70-year-old retiree Louis Loo, who said among the challenges he faced were taking questions from companies which had to rescind their operations despite earlier being designated as "essential services".
ESG also pointed to the role played by trade associations and chambers in supporting businesses affected by safe distancing measures.
For example, the Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry engaged more than 1,100 companies through industry group discussions, while the Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry negotiated preferential interest rates with banks and private financial institutions for its members and Singaporean Indian businesses to address cash flow concerns.
ESG added that its helpline would “continue to assist businesses in adapting and adjusting to the three-phased approach to resume activities safely post circuit breaker”.
Ms Deepa Vijayan, a senior partner with Quantico Communications - which provides copywriting and content marketing training - said she was able to get answers on matters such as the definition of an essential business and whether her business required a declaration of an exemption when she called the ESG helpline at the start of the circuit breaker.
“There were several new announcements coming out every single week from various different agencies. So one of the main goals at that point was to clarify how (the measures) affected business operations and to make sure that we were doing the right thing,” she said, adding she was able to get her answers within 10 minutes.
When asked how her business would adapt moving forward, Ms Deepa noted being in the training industry meant her company could still continue to provide value to people.
“But at the same time, I do not see it as something where we say, oh, we're in this field so that we don't have to think about it, I think there's a lot of thinking to be done,” she added.
“And there's going to be a lot of change in the way that we adapt to the challenges as well as respond to people's needs, which are very different now compared to maybe a few months ago.”