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Achieving Business Growth with Technology and Standards

Discover how William Goh and Thomas Lim, founders of BBQHouse, are transforming a humble satay business into a fledging food exporter.

Achieving Business Growth with Technology and Standards

Back in the late 1990s when they were polytechnic classmates, the young William Goh and Thomas Lim found handling food and supplies a hassle whenever they planned barbeque parties. However, it was precisely this problem that led them to embark on their business venture in 2001: BBQHouse, a one-stop shop that provides on-site barbecuing services and delivery of pre-grilled food items.

“My father has been running a satay business in Katong since the 1980s. So in a sense, BBQHouse was inspired by the opportunity to continue building the business he established,” Mr Goh said.

Manual Mode

For three years, the duo was — literally — hands-on with their business. In the early days, BBQHouse did not have specialised machines in the central kitchen, and cooks had to be hired to fulfil every single order. This meant that BBQHouse was often unable to meet overly large orders owing to a lack of production capability.

Mr Goh recalled that orders were taken by phone, then painstakingly jotted down in pocket notebooks — sometimes even during delivery runs. “The orders often did not tally, or there would be mistakes. It was very difficult in the beginning,” he said.

Perhaps the biggest problem was managing payment, which was cash on delivery. Aside from the hassle of preparing money, customers would sometimes cancel orders at the last minute on rainy days. “No barbecue: no payment. It’s very simple, and it happened a lot,” Mr Lim said.

A Tech-Driven Business Growth

A major turning point for BBQHouse came in 2003 when the company started to leverage various online tools to enhance its marketing strategy.

In the past, the company relied mainly on newspaper ads for marketing. With the help of a group of university students who collaborated with BBQHouse as part of their course project, the company began using digital advertising and social media platforms to publicise the business — resulting in an increase in business demand.

Furthermore, all orders and payments are now performed through BBQHouse’s website. Not only did this streamline the entire order and payment process, but it also became easier to manage last-minute orders or cancellations.

Achieving Business Growth with Technology and Standards

In order to meet increased demand, BBQHouse invested in new equipment and facilities to ensure more efficient production. Multi-purpose ovens, for example, now produce up to 30,000 satay sticks per day, compared to just 10,000 previously. The company also adopted blast-freeze coolers, which can rapidly freeze food items and prolong storage times, so that food can be prepared ahead of time with better preserved quality than before.

In 2015, the duo made their biggest leap forward. With help from SPRING Singapore’s (now Enterprise Singapore1) Capability Development Grant, the company adopted the internationally recognised ISO 22000 Food Safety Management Standard. This certification allowed BBQHouse to explore business opportunities in China, Hong Kong and beyond. “We were able to showcase our products at the Hong Kong Food Festival, and we are now able to build partnerships with overseas suppliers. It’s made us more competitive,” Mr Lim explained.

Think Big — But Take Calculated Risks

Expanding into the export business, however, was not originally part of the plan. The couple initially planned to adopt the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point certification, which looks at product quality and food safety. However, with their consultant’s recommendations, they decided to aim higher and adopt the more comprehensive ISO 22000 certification as it will lay the foundation for future expansion.

The certification and business expansion process was not without its challenges. For one, BBQHouse had to rent additional industrial space to house its new operations. This went through extensive renovation to meet the ISO 22000 standards. A drainage system had to be built and the entire production flow had to be restructured, then assessed by an inspector. All in all, it was a huge commitment of time and money — around half a million dollars, to be exact.  

However, judging by the increase in production capacity and export potential, the duo is confident that their commitment will pay off. Looking ahead, BBQHouse plans to expand to several Asian and  Middle-eastern markets with its halal-certified offerings. Despite the Middle East being a relatively unknown market for BBQHouse, they are confident that this is the right move to take in order to grow.

“Of course there are risks,” Mr Goh said, when asked about the hefty upfront investment in his ISO certification, “but you have to move out of your comfort zone. Even in the barbecue business, we must continue to do things differently and keep improving. Never be stagnant. Think big!” 

Visit https://spring.enterprisesg.gov.sg/CDG to find out how the Capability Development Grant can support your productivity improvement projects.

1SPRING Singapore merged with IE Singapore to form Enterprise Singapore on 1 April 2018.

Last Modified Date: 04 Oct 2018