Convenience stores are on the rise in the country, especially foreign brands such as Japanese and Korean which are trending lately.
"You see FamilyMart from Japan, 7-Eleven from the US, but we don't have any local Malaysian convenience stores selling Malaysian brands and products," the BilaBila Mart team claimed in an interview with Vulcan Post.
The team wanted Malaysia to have its own grocery store, so they built BilaBila Mart, a modern day Kedai runcit to house food produced in Malaysia.
“We've always been a fan of local brands selling on Instagram and we wanted to make it more affordable for them to get their products onto convenience store shelves,” they said.
Giving local brands visibility that they can afford
BilaBila Mart was founded by 3 friends who have backgrounds in sales and marketing, finance, accounting, banking and investing.
They realized that the listing fee brands have to pay to get on convenience store shelves wasn't cheap, which hindered the visibility of local brands. Her solution? Get rid of the listing fee and instead only earn from the profit sharing with the brands.
"Profit sharing percentages are in line with industry practice, some even lower," they said.
They currently have over 100 local brands in their store, but the BilaBila Mart team also have some overseas goods on their shelves. Local brands take up 70% of the area while the other 30% are foreign brands.
Some of the many local brands they host / Image source: BilaBila Mart
Land a spot on your shelves
In order to be at BilaBila Mart, a brand must be able to present itself well. By this they mean, for example, that the product must be visually appealing and that the packaging should contain sufficient nutritional and product information.
In addition, the product should have a bar code and be HACCP certified to show that it meets food safety standards. An example of this would be a local brand that we covered earlier, 3AM Coffee, which follows the standards of the BilaBila team in deciding which local brands to put on their shelves.
There is also no contract period for how long a brand can be listed on the shelves of BilaBila Mart. Some of the OG brands that have stuck with them from the start include startups like WonderBrew, Wild Kombucha, Kelava, and Kintry, to name a few.
However, there are some brands that they had to give up due to low sales.
You have the fresh produce you would find in a Kedai Runcit / Photo credit: BilaBila Mart
Their ability to house over 100 local brands today and expand to a total of 7 stores was thanks to their persistence as the BilaBila Mart team said it was a difficult start.
Perseverance is the key
“It was an extremely painful experience,” they confessed, recalling when they opened their first outlet in a shopping center in Mont Kiara on March 16, 2020, two days before the announcement of the first MCO.
“That was a big mistake because the mall had to be closed during the MCO. To make matters worse, we were still very new, so nobody knew about us. ”For this reason, her business didn't pick up even after CMCO launched.
Some local brands, especially the more popular ones, weren't very keen to join BilaBila Mart initially when the team scouted them because they were so new.
But the team also understood that these brands were only realistic and were gauging how beneficial this partnership from BilaBila Marts could be back then to relatively small following.
What hit BilaBila Mart really hard later was the rent. They just couldn't keep up as they had spent so much on renovations that they couldn't recover from due to low sales.
“Our landlord, who wasn't Malaysian, insisted that we pay full rent throughout the MCO. We had to talk to them a few times before they finally gave us a discount, but it didn't help that we had no business at all, ”the team said.
This eventually led to the closure of their first branch.
Hand sanitizer and face masks saved them
That was just the beginning of this convenience store saga, of course. Like most companies during the early MCOs, they focused on building their online presence and sales to stay afloat.
Coincidentally, there was a shortage of hand sanitizer and face masks, which they happened to have many in their store. The increasing demand for these products brought the BilaBila Mart team back on its feet.
In addition to these necessities, groceries like bread and milk were also in high demand at the time as people were too afraid to leave their home and thus also contributed to their online sales.
The BilaBila Mart team is busy stocking up before customers flock to their mart / Image source: BilaBila Mart
These items reached almost every state in Malaysia including Kedah, Perlis, Sabah, and Sarawak. BilaBila Mart was not yet subscribed to Grab at the time, nor did it have its own website, so their sales were only on Instagram.
Embodiment of the Kedai Runcit concept
Now, if you step into a BilaBila Mart, you will find that in addition to local brands that offer trendier products like Cold Brew and Kombucha, they also offer products from our simpler days like Murukku, Super Ring, and fresh and frozen goods from local farmers and fishermen .
In fact, some aesthetic of their store's branding resembles that of the famous Murukku brand that we Malaysians enjoyed in our childhood.
Don't these fonts and designs remind you of our famous baby brand Murukku? / Image source: BilaBila Mart
Overall, the brand places value on sourcing what they sell locally as much as possible, even including fertilizers. For a company that was founded a little over a year ago, the expansion to 7 branches in this short time is quite a milestone, which the team attributes to its group of investors.
“I think our convenience stores stand out from others in that you can prepare a meal from shopping in our stores because we have fresh food that you can't find in other convenience stores here,” the team concluded about their modern take on the concept of Kedai Runcit.
- You can learn more about BilaBila Mart Here.
- You can read more about other startups we've covered Here.
Image Credit: The BilaBila Mart Team