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13 Nov 2018
by 99SME Admin
Tan Choon Boon and Grace Tan, two generations of kitchenware product sales

At first glance, ToTT Store and Sia Huat seem like competitors, slowly encroaching on each other’s market territory. ToTT – that’s Tools of The Trade – sells kitchenware and tableware, while Sia Huat sells foodservice equipment. ToTT’s main audience are homeowners, private cooks and bakers, mostly the public who are interested in hosting at home. Sia Huat, on the other hand, has been in the business of selling to hotels, restaurants and cafes for over 50 years and is Southeast Asia’s largest distributor of said products.

In fact, Sia Huat chairman and CEO Tan Choon Boon once received a phone call from a friend informing him of an up-and-coming usurper to the Sia Huat throne. At their Dunearn location, ToTT’s flagship store showcased the finest kitchenware in their display.

It wasn’t until Choon Boon’s friend saw the common opening-celebration floral bouquets and placards labelled “congratulations Sia Huat!” when he realised it was less a competitor and more an offshoot.

Rather than being a competitor, Choon Boon says ToTT store has acted as a complement to Sia Huat’s work.

The idea to move into the wider array of household items came with Choon Boon’s idea of capturing new markets while leveraging on Sia Huat’s already established trade & wholesale business. “With the development of a lot of restaurants and hotels in Singapore, we were in the right place to grow, something we had been doing for the last 20 to 30 years until the early 2000s,” Choon Boon says.

At the time, he felt the houseware business signified another opportunity for his numerous suppliers. He says, “many of those brands we represent also made household items as well, so we could supply their wider range of products,” thereby strengthening their already-established relationships, benefiting both sides with economies of scale. This, in turn, ensure further competitiveness for Sia Huat and their partners.

As Southeast Asia’s largest kitchenware and tableware retail store, ToTT has made a name for itself doing a few things Sia Huat had not tried – customer engagement through cooking classes & team-building events, as well as online sales.

One of the things Grace Tan, who is also Choon Boon’s eldest, planned out was “in setting up ToTT, it was also part of our plan to diversify into the retail business,” she says.

Now described as “a one-stop culinary haven for anyone who cooks, bakes or hosts,” ToTT can be found at Century Square & Suntec City.

A main point to note is how ToTT store is geared for the local market. Grace says, “American stores in the vein of ‘Williams Sonoma’ can be successful in the US, but in Singapore, it’s not easy for them to survive.” Grace says ToTT is really a combination of said stores but is also uniquely suitable for our home-grown customers.

Described as “complete and comprehensive” by their customers, ToTT’s mainstay is the added benefit of having products sold online – something that it’s competitors, and even Sia Huat, was not doing in totality.

Nevertheless, both companies have had to adapt to changes. Grace says that the shopping experience, because of ecommerce, has changed mindsets. “Singaporeans from the East don’t go to the West” to shop, she says. A few small stores located over the island is their way of combating that.

It’s not all downs though. “The trend of cooking shows, like Masterchef, back 8 years ago, when we first opened,” Grace says had helped when launching ToTT.

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