Upholding the pride and integrity of the trade and bringing the entrepreneurship spirit into business, Mr Francis Ng is the embodiment of the attitude which is more than just the food he serves and accompanies it with a innovation that doesn't age like he does. Coming from less than impressive beginnings, he remains as humble as he was before he became a recognized entrepreneur that he is right now and participates in serving customers at the same level his staff does, which allows him and his staff whom he calls his colleagues and family to keep up with overwhelming daily operations and many times over achieve beyond old records set before. When asked what gave him such determination to push to the extent he did, he said that he does not do it for himself, he does it to accommodate to his ever growing family and customers, which was his intention in starting a business in the first place, which was giving back to the community through under boasted and subtle ways.
The house of seafood aims to be a gathering place for families and friends where bonds and friendship are forged, which is why their locations focuses so much on serenity, wanting to encourage that very thing that can't be bought with money no matter how much money anyone has, in contrast of that, which also explains why Mr Ng is still single at his age as he joked. However, a business is still a business, The house of seafood has an unspoken motto, which is to serve customers with worthy service worthy of the price they pay no matter what the circumstances are.
It came to me as a shocker to see Mr Ng wearing the restaurant uniform with a walkie clipped on, which I instantly realized that he was one of the serving crew, despite the fact that he was the owner, disregarding the position he held. Many times throughout the interview, I found myself very distracted by the aroma of their signature dishes going in and out of the place. Mr Ng emits an aura of humility, in which I as an interviewer, does not feel unwelcomed and gave me a sense of comfort in this foreign place. Despite his humility, I felt subtle ferocity as he spoke as a businessman and provided me with content more than I bargained for and that was when I truly felt that I have many things to learn from this man.
- What is the nature of your business?
The house of seafood is a family orientated place, we want to encourage the forging of bonds in this place and stay true to our values as we did with our first humble restaurant and also to make sure very customer gets the food and service he pays for in this place, short and simple.
- When and why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I was 21 years old when I first got the idea of starting a business, I was fed up with feeling undervalued by my bosses and that was when I swore to myself that when my ambitions takes off, I wouldn't allow any of my staff to feel the way that I did.
- What are your reasons for choosing to do business in this particular industry?
I am a simple man, I liked the idea of being paid on the spot with nobody owing money to anyone and I liked the feeling of always being on my toes from day to day, it keeps me from having a dull life.
- How did you put together all the resources needed to start your business?
To be honest, I had nowhere close to having the resources needed to start the business I wanted. I started planning ahead, I got into car sales, and also playing middle man in many other sales. I managed to buy my first car at 10 grand a few years afterwards which was one of the proudest moments I ever had at that point.
- What are some interesting stories you have about your first few customers/first few years in
business? Well, just when I accumulated enough money for a little shop in 2008, what I thought was supposed to be a moment of clarity and s start of success, I didn't manage to receive any support from my friends nor relatives, it was all the same over and over, words like you're never going to make in this line was constantly being preached, but I managed to get a shop started up after all, i could only afford to hire one chef, in which he said to me that he could only cook one dish, which was black pepper crabs, it didn't bother me as much as it did to him, and a few months later into the business, he wanted to leave me for another place, reason being that my name and the restaurant's name wasn't big enough in the industry. I had two choices back then, which was to either swallow my pride and convince not to go, or let him leave and keep my pride. I didn't choose the latter and that turned up to be both my lowest point in business, and my turning point.
- What is your company vision and mission? How do you convey these to your company staff and team members?
There are many ways of saying it but they all have the same core values, it is that even with no talent, you can accomplish just as much with hard work and determination, never give up, and that whatever doesn't kill you, only makes you stronger. It is actually really simple, I do it through storytelling, I make sure that I know each and every one of my staff and that I make an effort to get to know them personally and that they know me personally as well. It's a family over here in the house of seafood, if my family is happy, I am just as happy.
- What are some of the challenges you faced when you first went into business?
Wow, I don't even know where to start. Well first of all, I had no F&B background, which was one of the biggest problems I faced, many times I will think that maybe giving up would be an easier alternative, and it was incredibly difficult to secure talents in this industry, and not to mention, my rent actually increased 300% just when business slowly took off.
- How did you overcome these challenges? Please share some specific examples of the action you took to overcome the challenges.
I make it a point to always think of the box, especially when people would call me crazy for making a certain decision, I would challenge myself to prove those people wrong. Like for example, when MOM threatened to revoke my license because of the parking problems my location caused, I didn't just give in, I pulled through and my food's popularity solved the problem for me. In the aspect of talent shortage, I would do what the market wouldn't in that economy, I offered higher wages for my talents, flexible hours and I in turn buy into the market no one dared to and opened up many smaller scale brunches to keep up with my rent, which sounded crazy but it all worked out in the end.
- Can you remember your worst day in business or a time when you felt like giving up? What happened that made you feel that way and how did you triumph over it?
Of course I can, It was during my early years, everything was not going according to plan, like when my rent went up 300%, and MOM threatened to take my license away, I reminded myself of what brought me to this day, which was to cool my head first, next to the support I receive from my staff, before rushing into anything and taking my time with my choices and options, it still runs in my head very now and then. And on a side note, my worst day in life experience was when I only had 7 dollars in my account, and I had to borrow 3 dollars from a friend to draw that money out.
- Can you share some of the lessons you learnt from overcoming your own business challenges that you think will help other businesses?
First, it will be to realize what your talents are and focus on them, take your time to form up your ideal mindset of what you want to accomplish. If you dare to dream, and determined enough to discipline yourself, the path will open up to you eventually. Lastly, most important of all, you need hard work, especially when you know that you weren't born with everything provided for you, you need to work double as hard as anyone else and when your business do take off, you must lead by example and be prepared to sacrifice more than what you're comfortable with.
- When was the moment you first realized the business would work and support you?
It was my during my early months, my initial plan was keep it as a side job while I can focus on other things and it all became clear to me when a reporter came over to dine and actually written a really good review on our food and service, people started talking, people started coming and it really brought me to enlightenment when my staff was proud to dawn the restaurant's uniform.
12. What are some of your proudest business achievements to date? And why are they so important and meaningful to you?
My proudest achievement to date would definitely be the Punggol restaurant, it was here where it all began and where I found the one thing that motivates me, my staff, who are also my family.
- Can you describe the company culture that you have? How does it contribute to the performance of your company growth?
My culture is simple, it is to have trust and faith in my staff, making an effort to never stop learning .
- How do you promote learning within your Company? What are the training opportunities that you provide your staff?
I lead by example, I do everything my staff does, I teach hands on the life experiences I've gathered through my years. I also try to realize what my staff are most suited for in the industry, like how I would appoint the open and active staff to the front desk and provide leadership opportunities to those who deserves it.
- What do you see for your business in the next 5 years, and does it include any plans for expansion?
Well in the next five years, definitely. I plan to expand my business into mainly Asian countries, such as Cambodia, which is already in the process of planning actually and in the long run, I plan to achieve 5 to 10 branches all across Asia.
- In your opinion, what is a good and ethical business? How do you think this helps you in your Company/ business?
For me, a good and ethical business is paying the suppliers on time and early if possible, providing the food and service a customer pays for, and honoring your word most of all.
- How will you describe your working relationship with your customers, suppliers and service providers?
I would definitely say that all of us work very well together, I don't believe conflict in this or any other industry will benefit anyone. I make sure I pay my suppliers within 7 working days, not just because I can afford to, but because I want to. I also make sure that my staff receives the welfare better than the market and shorter hours compared to the market, I will treat people the way I want to be treated. Key is working together to help each other.
18. Can you share the working terms (e.g payment terms) that you have established with your suppliers?
Like I mentioned before, I will pay my suppliers within 7 days, this benefits everybody, that I get the freshest ingredients, and that I also get to help out the smaller supplier companies out there.
- How do you differentiate your business from your competitors? Please provide specific examples.
I welcome competitors, like when the restaurant next door moved in, I did not see it as my swore enemy, I saw it as an opportunity, to bond this entire area as a stop for the best seafood, to further advertise our name and through that, and to accomplish an even bigger play in the market .
- What are some business ideas you have implemented that created great results in your business?
I implemented this vacuum seal for our crabs through many trials and errors in order let customers takeaway the crabs to let relatives overseas and back home to try, to taste Singaporean food again. This actually increased our sales by 30%, which came to me as a big shocker.
- Where or who do you get your business ideas from?
No one, and nowhere, I had no mentor and I'm a strong believer of independency . I judge people by m y own ruling, I even deigned my restaurant interior myself.
- How have these business ideas impacted your Company or business? Please specify the qualitative and quantitative terms of the impact.
Well, the most obvious one would be the increasingly good response brought forward by the implementation of the vacuum seal, it keeps the crab fresh for up to a week with no refrigeration and it increased our sales by 30%.
- How do you think your business have made a positive impact or contribute to the community that you serve?
By employing Singaporeans, the elderly and the foreign talent under my care of course, by giving them jobs to support their family and keeping them from swaying to the wrong paths. My oldest staff is 78 years old this year, she has already worked with me for 7 and a half years, almost a decade.
- What does entrepreneurship mean to you?
It means thinking out of the box, being brave to pursue what you want and welcoming challenges.
25. What are some entrepreneurship qualities that you have which has helped you come this far?
My qualities are my life experiences, it is the fact that I started from nothing that has continued to push me this far, it has molded me into a leader that has brought my business to where it is now.
- In your opinion, what other qualities does a person need in order to be successful in business? And why?
Haha, the world of business has drastically changed over the years but the core basics that never do, are capital, people skills, determination which I cannot emphasize enough, a system, of course, patience.
- In your opinion, what does it mean to have the “spirit of enterprise”?
It is to keep the fighting spirit inside of you well lit, not letting it sway away in the face of any challenge.
- Who or what motivates and inspires you?
Myself, the people who depend on me, my family.
- What are some of your business values and what would you like to pass down to others, particularly the younger generation?
Fighting spirit, determination to never give up no matter what happens, and of course not take anything for granted in life
30. Can you share some of the more significant events / incidents that affected or shaped your business philosophy and the way you conduct your business?
Definitely, like when MOM set a ban for me to bar me from hiring anymore foreign talents, it is really not about the money to me, my roots are that of helping people, giving chances like that which was given to me. However a ban is a ban, I couldn't hire anymore foreign talents but the least I could do was to make operations faster and easier for the current staff, I purchased Ipads for the crew to take orders faster and deliver faster which turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
- With the changes in the market today, do you think it has become harder or easier to succeed in business? Why do you say so?
It has definitely become harder to operate in these times, for newer businesses especially, I personally welcome challenges, but for others, competitiveness has become rather harsh as compared to the old days, that's why I make it a point to always help out the younger generations as much as I can.
- What advice would you give young people who want to start their own business?
Be persistent, be open to ideas, be flexible, understand why you chose to do what you do, know that it is more than hiring people and making money, and of course most importantly, hard work.