Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which make up 99% of businesses in Singapore, have felt the impact of Covid-19 heavily. TODAY’s Voices section features testimonials from small business owners and managers about the highs and lows of running a business during the pandemic.
In this episode, Mr. Gaurang Khemka, 48, recalls how his design firm’s projects dried up dramatically when Covid-19 hit while most of his clients are in the hard hit hospitality sector. touch. He and his staff took pay cuts to stay in business and tried to find work in other sectors. Although several employees have left along the way, Mr. Khemka remains confident that the company will emerge stronger as travel opens up.
I run a design consultancy that provides architecture, master plan and interior design services. We specialize in hospitality projects in the region.
Given the drastic impact of Covid-19 on the hospitality industry, our ongoing projects have been put on hold and the pipeline has dried up faster than expected.
We managed to collect revenue for work already done before the pandemic, but in June 2020 things started to look pretty bleak.
Out of six projects in progress and two that were about to be signed, we were left with only two near-completed projects in the Maldives that had little revenue left to realize.
Lack of work and inability to collaborate took a toll on staff morale in no time (design requires a lot of on-site sketching, brainstorming, and collaboration). Around July 2020, I spoke with our 14 staff members about the lack of revenue and asked them to think of creative ways to market us. Fortunately, the whole team took a pay cut. I asked them to indicate what they would be comfortable with and took that into consideration rather than implementing a general pay cut. I set an example by taking a 75% pay cut.
We dug into our reserves and continued to service some ongoing non-revenue generating projects. Unfortunately, we did not benefit from government support initiatives for the hospitality sector, as we were not considered part of this sector.
We then tried to tap into other markets less impacted by Covid-19, but most clients preferred a local consultant due to travel restrictions.
While I knew we had to enter the Singapore market, it was difficult for me since I didn’t grow up here and have a limited network in Singapore, even though I have been a naturalized Singaporean since 2010 and our company has done a few projects here.
We got a bungalow project through word of mouth and hope it leads to more. We have also changed course by taking on smaller interior design projects for homes, offices and retail outlets to survive.
This kept the team on our toes and we learned new typologies along the way. We have also ventured into furniture design with a partner and hope to start bringing it to market in early 2023.
The pandemic has allowed us to reflect on our work processes, focus more on sustainability, expand our repertoire, and most importantly, taught us to adapt in a number of ways that I would not have anticipated. .
Whilst I would love to see more of the good and stay positive, the truth is that it has been very difficult for us with six staff members having left on their own in the last two years.
While we lost money in 2021, we persevered and managed to keep going.
I remain convinced that we will come out of this stronger – as travel opens up, hospitality rebounds and we manage to enter new market segments based on our learnings.
ABOUT THE WRITER:
Gaurang Khemka, 48, is an architect and urban designer with over 25 years of global experience, who founded design consultancy URBNarc in Singapore in 2011.
If you are an owner or manager of an SME with an experience to share or know someone who would like to contribute to this series, write to voice [at] mediacorp.com.sg with your full name, address and telephone number.