Image: Rafidah Hamit

Small businesses across Brunei are feeling the financial crunch from the coronavirus restrictions put into effect in the sultanate on March 19.

This includes home businesses that have been looking for ways to keep their businesses afloat.

Home-based businesses struggle

For eatery, The Saucysside, they immediately experienced an 80 per cent lost when dining out limitations were implemented.

“My business mainly thrived through dine-in orders as people love to eat our food fresh,” said owner Mohammad Noh Awang Hamid.

“But since the COVID-19 pandemic, the business slowed down so much, I couldn’t even pay my rent.”

Image: Rafidah Hamit

As the business was his sole way of earning income, Noh sought for ways to sustain Sausysside and introduced delivery services, along with a takeaway option.

“We were trying to work out the logistics as there are only four to five people working including me.”

After several trials, the 32-year-old worked out a system and things went smoothly from there.

Noh himself handles deliveries while his brother and staff members handle the cooking and takeaway orders.

Image: Rafidah Hamit

“I personally deliver (the food) to my customers to touch base and personally thank them for supporting my business despite the current situation.”

“Alhamdulillah, deliveries have been increasing daily and we hope it will continue for the days to come,” said Noh who also credits social media for the success.

The entrepreneur updates the @thesaucysside_livecook Instagram regularly.

“Since this is now the fasting month, we’ve introduced a new method for the safety of our customers as well as staff.”

Noh said customers would only have to pre-order 20 minutes before pick up, provide details of their vehicles and their food will be delivered to their cars.

The cook started the business in 2018 with culinary skills passed down from his parents and brother who previously worked in the Food and Beverage industry.

Image: Rafidah Hamit

“We started small and news (of our stall) spread through word of mouth. Alhamdulillah our customer growth has been increasingly well and we will keep serving good food to everyone, old and new.”

Saucysside operates daily during Ramadhan except Thursdays, from 4.30pm onwards, selling kuey teow and fried noodles in various flavours as well as drinks including Thai Red Tea, Thai Green Tea and creamy corn.

“Customers can also try our newly introduced Charsiew Chicken rice which has quickly become a best seller,” added the stall owner.

For preorders, customers can text +673 8235303 and collect at Jalan 17, Lambak Kanan, infront of the Centre for Capacity Building (PPK), near the traffic light.

Another home-based business, Fatboy HM Kitchen, reiterated that their business was also impacted by the pandemic.

“Previously I would send Nasi Lemak Ayam to local convenience stores and it would sell out by noon,” said Mohammad Shahfizul Hj Momin.

“Other than that, I would take orders from family and friends as well as other customers from schools or offices around the Brunei-Muara district. So in total it would be about 70pax orders per day.”

However after the pandemic, the 27 year old said sales have gone down to only 5 to 15 pax orders per day and sometimes no orders at all.

“I had to stop sending my items to convenience stores as conditions have not been well but on the bright side, I still get orders for pick up or delivery.”

The delivery services were introduced before the pandemic began and has a regular customer base, according to Shahfizul.

Image: Courtesy of Fatboy HM Kitchen

“I think orders have declined because people are now working from home and being more careful with going out or coming into contact with people.”

“Hopefully orders will improve especially since this is fasting month,” he said adding, “however if the situation worsens, I would have to close for awhile until the situation improves.”

The home business owner started Fatboy HM Kitchen in 2017, continuing his mother’s Nasi Lemak Ayam legacy that has been around for years.

“My mother makes classic Nasi Lemak Ayam that reminds you of the good old days, a lot of people enjoyed it and that was when I decided to bring it back.”

Fatboy HM Kitchen operates daily during Ramadhan and customers can text +673 8676914 and visit their Instagram for regular updates.

While some businesses are able to capitalise through social media, some may not have the same access.

The birth of Brunei Will Be Ok platform

That was when Nor Amanina Md Zain and Ikhmarol Izzat Hj Omar decided to establish a platform on Instagram @bruneiwillbeok on March 30 to help promote Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).

“As my partner, Izzat is a business owner himself, I saw that he and a lot of others out there are greatly affected by this pandemic,” said Nina.

“It id definitely a tough situation for a lot of people out there whether its visible to the eyes or not.”

The closure of certain markets or tamu around the country has affected stall owners greatly, she added.

“From the beginning, we were particularly worried about those who are less fortunate, people that depend solely on their small stall businesses to financially aid their individual needs.”

“(Thinking about) their family was the one that concerned us the most,” said Nina.

The duo was then inspired to create @bruneiwillbeok to promote businesses to get the exposure they need, free of charge.

Currently, over 60 businesses have been promoted on the Instagram page.

“All they have to do is send complete business details along with their logos.

Some have sent them through Instagram’s Direct Message and email.”

“We have (also) reached out to a number of businesses that we saw needed the extra help.”

Vendors without logos will still be promoted however a number of them decided to make their own, said Nina.

“They made it for the sake of advertising so it is a good change because it can help with their business identity,” she added.

For now, details of the vendors are promoted once on the @bruneiwillbeok Instagram feed.

“However, if they request for us to promote again, we will be happy to do so,” said the university student.

Since the platform was established, the partners have received support from both businesses and members of the public.

“At first we were overwhelmed by the response because even on the first day, we had about 10 to 15 businesses reach out to us.”

“We received a lot of kind words and encouragement from the public and business owners.”

With the initiative they have taken, the duo hopes it will benefit others and lessen the burden of the affected parties.

“They are our people (therefore) we hope that this platform will be beneficial for both the MSMEs as well as the public.”

Nina added that the partners plan to expand the platform to Facebook in the future and to continue even after the COVID-19 situation recovers.



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