Given the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in Singapore, Honbebee announced last month that it would temporarily suspend the operation of its habitat supermarket in Pasir Panjang because "traffic has declined significantly".
It said it will close habitat by February 23, but will later extend until February 29.
Despite the closure, ehrlichbee said its online grocery delivery services will continue to operate. While the living space remains closed, the company will take the opportunity to improve its technological infrastructure to improve the customer experience.
Kenneth Forbes, vice president of living space, left the company in the last week of February. Previously, he was general manager of the habitat and declined to comment on his reasons for leaving.
Habitat furniture found in Honestbee CEO's home
On March 2, the Business Times reported that Honestbee had cleared its furniture and furnishings from the living space.
The Honestbee lease is scheduled to run until September this year, so the reasons for the early closure were unclear. However, it is clear that the landlord LHN Space Resources is not willing to extend the lease.
According to BT, at the end of January Honbebee had furniture and furnishings worth S $ 1.97 million, store equipment worth S $ 3.87 million and office equipment worth over S $ 84,000.
It was also reported that the furniture was moved to a warehouse on Genting Lane, a new space that was rented by Honbebee on March 1.
Trucks bring furniture to the living space / Photo credit: Vulcan Post
However, Vulcan Post received an anonymous tip that furniture from the habitat's private dining room was instead being transported to the home of Ong Lay Ann, CEO of Honbebee.
Trucks unload furniture at Onbe Lay Ann's house / Photo credit: Vulcan Post
This furniture was stacked on a truck parked in the driveway of its two-story corner terrace in Jalan Tembusu.
It is unclear what arrangements have been made for this furniture. it could be that Ong just kept the furniture temporarily with him.
Honestbee knee deep in debt, but his goods are taken for free?
Several sources close to the habitat also revealed to Vulcan Post that Honbebee management and executives were seen freely taking habitat goods such as groceries, cutlery, and furniture for personal removal.
Based on their understanding, these officers have not paid for any of these positions.
Later on February 11, Ehrlichbee's HR department sent an email to all employees informing them of an "internal sales event".
Internal sales event / picture credits: Vulcan Post
According to the email, the food team "staffed" on February 14 to "reduce the waste of perishable goods and items with a short shelf life during the temporary suspension."
Employees could also buy “excess equipment and office furniture” such as laptops, tablets and office chairs in the old Delta House office.
On the other hand, a CCTV footage in the habitat that had leaked to Vulcan Post showed Ong and his wife serving and personally cutting and packing meat at the beef counter. Anthony Ung, Honbebee's Vice President of Corporate Strategy, was also present.
Ong Lay Ann (in green) and Anthony Ung (in blue) / Photo credit: Vulcan Post
Sharon Ong (center), Ong's wife and in-house legal advisor to Honbebee / Photo credit: Vulcan Post
The anonymous source said they had bought the premium beef at "well below the cost."
Later, on February 22, the couple returned to the home with their family. The footage showed that they leisurely searched and selected items from the shelves.
Ong's family chooses items from habitat shelves / Photo credit: Vulcan Post
When searching an empty habitat / Photo credit: Vulcan Post
Unloading habitat goods in a car / Photo credit: Vulcan Post
The group was then seen pushing the car full of goods to the parking lot and unloading them into a car.
According to the anonymous source, there were no records of purchases at this point, which raised the question: did you put these foods in your pocket for free?
Honestbee eliminates around 100 employees in Singapore who owe salaries
On March 9, Honourbee fired around 80 percent of its employees.
Around 100 employees were fired from the 130-strong workforce. Most of those affected were employees of the habitat in the areas of culinary, service, retail and warehousing.
Redundancy notification from honest HR department / Photo credit: Vulcan Post
The above “Release Notice” was emailed to all affected employees on March 9, 6:00 p.m.
When the Vulcan Post spoke to eleven of the layoffs, everyone said the notification was a shock. There was no prior notification and they were upset that the company had no decency to personally inform them of this important news.
Foreign workers in particular were nervous when their work cards were immediately canceled.
Basically nobody saw it coming. In fact, a former employee said that "the budget for each department was still there." He emphasized that it was a normal business – since the Ehrlichbee online business had peaked, there was a "continuous order and replenishment".
Another said that because Honestbee had previously fired employees in Singapore, he didn't expect another round of cuts so quickly. In the previous exercise, each department was reduced to just 2 to 3 percent, he added.
After the termination, Honestbee said all affected employees will have one month's notice. The affected employees are currently owed salaries for the months of February and March.
Honestbee said the closure "has made it difficult for the company to meet payment terms until more funds can be secured," but "has no intention of stopping its employees."
The company had anticipated a $ 50 million cash inflow from a "retail conglomerate" despite the fact that the deal had stalled due to COVID-19 and restructuring issues.
Speaking to Vulcan Post, the former employees said they had no confidence that they would receive the money soon, especially if Honbebee didn't provide them with a repayment plan.
Uncertainty and confusion among employees
Before being released, the former employees said that the company's morale was very low because "there was no sense of direction."
“(The office atmosphere) was dark and restless. It felt like everything was going downhill very quickly, ”said one, adding that management hadn't helped keep the company's morale high.
"There were confidential conversations, and when the staff asked for updates, we didn't get any answers. Not really knowing what really happened made it uncomfortable to work with."
Another former employee agreed that there was a lack of communication and management updates. As the company did not provide clear communication about the business plans, there was great uncertainty.
"Top management employees do not answer questions about the plans. The only source of information for employees is the news," he added.
When asked why they didn't quit after news of the company's financial problems surfaced, most said they initially believed that Honestbee would be able to prevail.
"The top management has drawn an excellent future for the company, with (with) claims for potential investments and work on the restructuring and relaunch plans," said one.
Since there were "promising words for investment and financing," they believed that honest people had a chance to rebuild the business.
Some also said they tried to apply for other jobs, but it was difficult to secure one. The recent outbreak of COVID-19 worsened the situation as it continued to dampen the job market as many companies froze their attitudes.
It was particularly difficult for foreigners to find another job in Singapore due to the number of foreign workers.
Looking back at the cut, many were upset about the way it was dealt with, regardless of employee wellbeing.
"They are so heartless towards the staff that they have consistently helped them (all these years)," said one.
"It would have been better if the management had updated the employees regularly than to give this false facade that everything is in order."
Habitat no longer in bees, forever
On March 10th, ehrlichbee confirmed that it will close its supermarket with several million habitats.
Current state of the living space / Photo credit: Vuclan Post
Current state of the living space / Photo credit: Vuclan Post
In a previous court document, Ong said Honestbee is already considering closing the habitat permanently because the space causes "significant overhead and working capital".
However, this closure is in contrast to the previously announced plans to revise the supermarket and the app. In October last year, Ong shared its plans to update the habitat selection to reposition it in a premium category, and to create a standalone app.
What is also ironic is that this “new generation retail space” was once called the cornerstone of Honbebee's turnaround plan and was intended as a showcase for investors.
In the future, Honestbee has shared plans to switch to a pizzeria along the Upper East Coast Road.
It is operated from a shop unit that it has rented from Ong for one year “at market prices”.
Not many details about the pizzeria are known at the moment, as they are still in a "very early stage of installation". It is clear that it is an F&B concept with fast service and a tech-capable supermarket.
The concept will be similar to the living space – they will use the previously developed F&B concepts and use existing technologies to outsource fast food restaurants (QSRs).
These include the click-and-collect functions, the scan and go function and the proprietary BeePay wallet.
“We also have a fully developed hardware and software infrastructure that can be used for our new Honestbee concept, including our digital kiosks, POS systems and the Honbebee app. This means that we will work at a lower cost right from the start, ”said an honest spokesman
The next court hearing of Honestbee to restructure will take place on March 26, 2020.
It is still under judicial protection from its creditors, to whom it owes approximately $ 230 million ($ 319 million), and is currently trying to reach an agreement to restructure these debts.
Selected image source: Vulcan Post