Starting her own business taught Marlin Xu many lessons, including how to put into practice the things she learned in church.
Sitting in an unobtrusive corner of a quiet mall is a bakeware shop called Mold Mart, and a baking studio, Class Avenue. Most business owners would lament the lack of traffic, but not City Harvest church member Marlin Xu—she is perfectly happy that her walk-in customers are those serious about baking.
“I really don’t like crowds so this place is good,” she explained. “This means that only those who really want to learn baking or buy baking items will come to us.”
Mold Mart, as its name suggests, carries a wide range of baking items, from cake and chocolate mould to cake stands and cookie cutters. Any baker walking into Mold Mart, located at Kensington Square, will feel a surge of excitement: there are unusually shaped moulds, from tiny furniture to a large diamond ring; and a whole shelf of cake-toppers of all kinds, not just the “Happy Birthday” or “Happy Anniversary” ones, but diamond rings, and cut-outs for 21st birthday celebrations. Sitting in the window is a pretty selection of three-tier trays that will elevate any afternoon tea.
“We are one of the few places that carry such a wide range of moulds—that is why a lot of people come to us,” says Marlin. When she first bought over the business, moulds made up 80 percent of Mold Mart’s sales. The company has since expanded its inventory to include other baking accessories and ingredients.
“Moulds are very versatile,” Marlin explains. “You can make jelly, chocolate, soap, or even resin art with them.”
PUTTING GOD IN THE CENTER OF THEIR BUSINESS
The idea of opening a baking studio first came to Marlin when her ex-colleague told her that the former owner of Class Avenue and Mold Mart was looking to sell her shops. “I’ve always wanted to do something different from my nine-to-five job and I felt God impress upon my heart that it was something He wanted me to do. So when the opportunity came, I decided to take it on,” she shared.
However, neither she nor her husband was ready to give up their day job for Mold Mart: Marlin is a pre-school principal and mother to three young children. Thankfully, she found herself two business partners in fellow church members Jessica Lou and her husband Seth.
Jessica, a financial planner, had flexible working hours and could tend the shop during the day. Marlin and her husband would pack items and deliver them to their online customers in the evenings and on weekends.
Located at Kensington Square along Upper Paya Lebar Road, Class Avenue conducts ad-hoc baking lessons while Mold Mart only operates five hours a day with an online presence on Carousell. Yet it generates enough revenue to make Marlin and Jessica, happy.
“This is what we have been praying for: that we would have a business that will not take away our time for God,” says Marlin, a member of City Harvest Church. “So we can still go to church, serve in our ministry and attend cell group meetings. Although we’re doing it as a business, we also want to give our time to God. We really believe in putting God in the centre of our business.”
GOD SHOWED UP IN THE TOUGHEST TIMES
Mold Mart reopened its doors in March 2020—just one month before Circuit Breaker started and Singapore went into full lockdown.
“When the lockdown happened, we had to apply for a permit to open our shop. They denied our request initially because we are not an essential business. But subsequently, they gave us the permit to serve customers by appointment. In those days, we’d do delivery and the shop opened two hours a day for customers with appointments,” she recalls.
“In those crazy times, God showed up—that was the period we earned the most,” she added. “There was a baking frenzy going on and orders came pouring in. We couldn’t sleep because people were ordering things throughout the night and notifications from Carousell kept going off! We didn’t even have time to put up a website in those days—Carousell was our only online platform.”
As for Class Avenue, baking classes came to a halt and some of their instructors from Indonesia went home and never came back. “We had to refund many of our customers and close the baking studio. We only managed to reopen in Phase 2,” she relates.
But Marlin and her partners never lost hope in God. “We all felt that God would show up, and God has never forsaken us,” she shared. Even though it was hard going, they would celebrate every small victory and give thanks for every success. “I would give thanks to God for daily sales breakthrough sales at every cell group meeting. In the end, God really surprised us in every way. Now, we have walk-in customers from big companies putting down large orders, and we don’t even know where they come from.”
THE FUTURE OF MOLD MART
Marlin is no stranger to doing business. She has tried all sorts of small businesses from a cleaning company to starting enrichment classes at home.
But when it came to Mold Mart, Marlin and her partners found themselves learning everything from scratch. “From sourcing for suppliers to taking photos of our inventory for the online platforms, we had to do lots of research: to find the right pricing, how to set up the shop and the baking studio, how to display the items in the shop. We had no clue when we first started,” she shares.
But as time passed, the team got a hang of the ins and outs of the business. “We learned many things along the way. And one thing we learned is to never say no to our customers. Our church has always taught us that everything is possible with God. So even if we don’t know if what they are asking for is possible, we will try to find out for them. We believe that God will lead us to the right person who can help us.”
That positive attitude opened many new doors for Mold Mart and Class Avenue. Many of their customers have become friends and this has inspired new ideas. One example: “Recently, we’ve also started making customised moulds for our customers.”
Being down-to-earth and realistic, Marlin prefers to grow the business steadily and allow God to take the lead. That approach, coupled with her courage to venture into the unknown has helped her stay grounded in the business.
“I always tell my husband, we started with nothing when we first got married, and when the kids were young. I believe that we cannot be afraid of failure; if we are afraid of failure, we will never shine,” she says. “Even if I fail, I know that failing is part of the journey, part of the process. We just have to try again to make it work. As long as we don’t give up, one day we will get there.”
Marlin’s dream for Class Avenue is to bring education into the baking classes. Currently, Class Avenue rents out its studio for baking instructors to conduct their own lessons, but it also collaborates with some of these instructors to conduct baking classes designed by Class Avenue.
“What we want to do is to work with schools to do some baking-related activities. Being an educator, I know that teachers find cooking lessons very tiring. The thought of washing up after the lesson, spending time preparing ingredients—it’s all very messy. Yet, children love cooking! They can’t go into the kitchen at home, can’t go into the kitchen in school, so I want to create a space for them to learn about food preparation. I aim to come up with food art lessons, so children can learn about art and food at the same time. I think that’s something interesting that children will love.”