FarEastFlora.com is a household name in Singapore, mainly because they did something no other garden and landscape company in the 2000s was doing – adopting Ecommerce.
The bloom of E-commerce
The first things that come to mind when FarEastFlora.com is mentioned are Chinese New Year plants and Valentine’s Day bouquets. Lesser known, however, is FarEastFlora.com’s rocket ride to success.
Ryan Chioh, FarEastFlora.com’s managing director, knew it was going to be a big thing when the internet began seeping into Singapore in the 90s. Founded in 1965 by his father and uncles, FarEastFlora.com went online under Ryan’s direction in the year 2000.
Ryan, however, said success was not a surety at the time. “There were a lot of limitations to internet technology back then – remember, this was the time of Netscape Navigator,” Ryan says. He recalls issues of internet bandwidth during dial-up days, issues of not-yet-invented payment options. It was also costly, $20,000 dollars back then “was no small amount for us back then.”
It had to be done, however, as already his previous stint in the United States had shown him that they were 20 years ahead in the tech game – businesses were already widespread using online sales as the next big step.
“So we bit the bullet, went for it, and we were happy, we had the first-mover advantage then,” Ryan says,
“But we had to get things correct.”
There was a lot of learning to be done. Ryan attended seminars, events, tech talks on how to fit business into technology. He did so, and thereby changed the face of Singapore’s horticulture industry altogether.
“I knew it wasn’t just a fad,” Ryan says, highlighting the speed at which ecommerce began changing the local retail landscape. He knew he had to keep ahead, or at least, along the curve.
“The horticulture and garden industry in Singapore is very diverse,” Ryan says. “Retailers have to be tech savvy because you are exposed to the end-users, the consumers themselves.”
Ecommerce alone was not Ryan’s only strategy – he also made customer service FarEastFlora.com’s value-addition.
Back during times when loading screens would take ages and phone-calls could be even faster, Ryan’s business acumen focused not just on being visible and taking orders – but to also make good on them.
“We must make promises we can keep,” Ryan recalls himself saying. Due to their online portal, FarEastFlora.com is constantly exposed to demanding consumers. “We had to be all the normal things still, we had to be price competitive, we had to have trendy designs,” Ryan says. There is always a challenge to adapt to, like ensuring the tech and platforms are up-to-date, ensuring he keeps up with modern developments, like Instagram, are issues Ryan is always on the look out for.
Ryan refers to himself as the most ‘niao’ customer of his own product. “There are always lessons and learning,” he says. Ryan is referring to the business process of delivering just one product – flowers. “The one thing we do is ask ourselves ‘what benefits our customers the most?’,” Ryan asks. Customers want to get their flowers earlier, but with imported plants, there is certainly a lot of manual work to be done.
So while adopting internet technology has seen FarEastFlora.com a whopping eight times larger volume of orders since its inception, Ryan has the polar decision to ensure products are up to standard. “I’ve had to turn away customers if I knew the quality couldn’t be ensured,” he says – citing that operational efficiency was paramount.
Ryan’s best advice for budding entrepreneurs looking to go digital? “If you don’t move and place yourself where customers need, you’ll be outdated and discarded,” he says. Kind of like a used flower.
However, he also adds, “want to be the first to adopt everything? You have to also know what is right for you and make sense of developments.”