MyRack employs the concept of “box rental” for creative businesses such as musicians, artists and fashion designers. Owner Elijah Ted Ng talks to us about his new venture.
When one first meets Elijah Ted Ng, 19, one might be surprised to find out that this humble and friendly young man is one of Singapore’s youngest and most successful social entrepreneurs. Ng, who is currently serving national service, is the founder of Art With A HeART Pte Ltd, a social enterprise he founded when he was 13. Art With A HeART offered on-the-spot painting opportunities to the public and proceeds have gone to good works such as Project Vision, which provides spectacles and eyecare to needy children in Indonesia.
Over the last two years, Ng expanded his repertoire of businesses to include MyBox and MyRack, both located at a prime location on the ground floor of youth mall, *SCAPE.
MyBox was opened on Oct 1, 2013—Children’s Day. The store provides a retail platform—box spaces—for aspiring entrepreneurs and start-ups who rent them to sell their products or services. While the concept is not new—other similar shops include Toy Outpost—Ng improved on the concept by customising bigger box spaces and offering them at affordable prices, between $40 and $200 monthly. MyBox takes a 10 percent commission from every merchant’s gross sales.
The idea for MyBox came after Ng realized the challenges budding entrepreneurs like himself had renting retail space and hiring staff. “I wanted to help other aspiring entrepreneurs to eliminate these two cost factors,” he explains.
As with many businesses the start can be nerve-racking. For the first three days at MyBox, Ng saw zero business: all the display lockers were empty. So he and his parents prayed continually. On day four, a walk-in merchant paid for 11 lockers with rolls of $50 notes and further reserved nine more lockers for his friends. Businesses came rolling in after the first month and has not waned.
Ng explains that profits earned by MyBox are used to cover operating costs such as salaries and incentives of the employees, retail rental and charges for payment transactions. The surplus is then divided into two uses: one for emergency usage and the other to fund Ng’s social initiative Project Vision in Indonesia*.
With no prior retail experience, Ng, working with his mother Suzanne Chee, had to experiment and learn from mistakes. This has contributed largely to the success of the store. Chee says, “Using my own experience as a shopping customer, I recalled my good and bad shopping encounters, then applied them to our own store. We considered how someone likes to be treated when he or she goes shopping.”
MyBox sells many interesting items such as DIY accessories made from scratch, colourful hair dyes, apparels painted by a child, and hand sanitizer of different flavours. The merchandise mix reveals the creativity of these young merchants, Ng points out. The friendly entry rental rate of $1.29 per day opens up opportunities for young people looking to start a business.
MyRack opened beside MyBox in November 2014. It builds on the same concept as MyBox except it rents out bigger lockers to local artistes and music merchants or local merchants who require bigger display space for their merchandises such as apparels, bags and shoes. A locker from MyRack is approximately the size of 6 lockers, each is a 40cm cube box, from MyBox.
MyRack was started last November, inspired by Ng’s godmother and mentor, Elim Chew, who is the founder of 77th Street.
Ng says, “It was Elim’s idea that we should have a space for local artists. It’s a big step to be a local artist—it goes against the social norm of studying to be a professional doctor, lawyer or engineer in Singapore. Family objection towards a career in the arts is still strong here, so we would like to support these local artists in our own way.”
Recognising that it is also expensive for local musicians to place their albums at music shops, considering that they earn very little after all the various expenditures, MyRack acts as a cheaper alternative. Here, only local and indie artists may apply for a locker space. They are not required to pay a monthly rental fee. Instead, they are only charged via commission from their gross sales, ranging from 20 to 40 percent, depending on their management company and the locker space taken.
Ng said, “We want to promote local brands here. Many local start-ups are trying very hard to launch their business, so we want to provide the space to enable the growth of their businesses.”
Beyond just selling local artistes’ albums, MyRack also helps to promote their songs by playing them in the store under a playlist mixed with other international artistes’ songs. Chee said, “International artistes such as Big Bang and Katy Perry are popular and their songs draw crowds into the store. We use them as a pull factor, and we play local artistes’ songs in between, thus exposing shoppers to local songs.”
Scarlet Avenue, comprising Singaporean brothers named Adam and Amos Ang, released its EP, Happy Heartbreak, at MyRack. Eric Wong, the manager of Scarlet Avenue, says, “I think it’s great that MyRack is helping local artistes to reach a wider audience. They play our music videos at the store, and fans actually have a physical shop to go to purchase our music albums. We look forward to placing more of our merchandise and future albums with MyRack.”
NOT AN EASY JOURNEY
Ng faces his own challenges as an entrepreneur, the key ones being staff management, negotiation with merchants and the uncertainty of the future. But he, together with his mother, are committed to run their business based on the Word of God.
Currently, the store has a staff strength of 10 young people, two of which are full timers. Most of them come from broken families, single parent families or are school dropouts. Ng sees his businesses as a ministry to reach out to his troubled employees. To him, every staff member is part of the family; he organises company outings and monthly dinners to create bonding among the staff. Ng and Chee adopt practical application of Biblical principles in staff management. They urge their staff to forgive and empathise with one another, and often act as counselors when staff encounter disagreements or personal issues. On-the-job training is provided, allowing staff to learn from mistakes, and staff are encouraged to go for retail training courses, which opens up opportunities for them to obtain professional certificates and full time retail jobs at established shopping malls.
Given the nature of MyRack and MyBox, Ng has to control the merchandise types sold in the store to ensure that not every merchant is selling the same products. He also has to ensure that those merchants selling similar products maintain similar selling prices, and avoid a price war. Ng’s communication with the merchants happens on a weekly basis, with him advising them on how to market their goods.
“Having no product, customer base or content creation of my own, it’s hard to predict in the near future how the success would be like for MyBox and MyRack, as a gatherer who brings merchants together for business,” says Ng. He sees his store as a micro-version of Chinese online marketplace Alibaba, and draws inspiration from such successful companies on his businesses’ progression five, 10 years from now.
A SOCIAL BUSINESS
Ng has partnered with different organisations to involve his staff in corporate social responsibility activities yearly. He is planning a company trip to Singapore Children’s Society this year. He does this to remind his staff and himself that there are people out there with needs and that as a company, they should give back to society.
Ng also works with Indonesia Harvest Church in Medan on his initiative, Project Vision. Engaging the local opticians in Indonesia, Ng provides underprivileged children a free pair of prescription glasses each. By correcting their vision, Ng hopes that these children will be motivated to study and to complete their education. One optician was so moved by this project, he offered these children a five-year “warranty” that allows them to change the lenses or frames for free. To help fund Project Vision, Ng is selling a book he wrote, Vision Driven by Passion, at MyBox at $25. For every two copies sold, a pair of prescription glasses will be donated under Project Vision.
“Support from family, friends and a great mentor are the way to success for an entrepreneur, and I am blessed to have these,” says Ng. “I always tell my staff not to despise their youth. The same goes for budding young entrepreneurs. Try to do everything you can and when you are young, make all the mistakes you can make so when you grow older, you can learn from the experiences you had.”
“For those who are established business owners, it’s good to always remember to give back because there are always people who have more needs than you. God puts you in this position of success so that you can bless others. Elim taught me that whatever one does in life, do it well and do good,” says Ng.
MyRack is located at *SCAPE Underground, 2 Orchard Link, #01-B10A, Singapore 237978.