KUALA LUMPUR, May 10 — When Covid-19 hit the country hard, some Malaysians turned to cottage industries and home businesses to survive when repeated lockdowns prevented them from continuing with their usual work.
With Malaysia transitioning towards Covid-19 endemicity, however, the reverse has increasingly become the case for some of these pandemic entrepreneurs.
According to videographer and visual effects supervisor MK Wong, he and his wife started Jumble.my, selling homemade hummus, wraps, and poke bowls online when they could not work during the various movement control orders (MCO).
At its height, Wong said they sold as many as 300 tubs of their popular hummus — a dip made from chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, and spices that is commonly eaten in the Middle East and the Mediterranean — per month.
Sales slowed, however, as more and more sectors were opened up and Malaysians again ventured outdoors.
“Plus hummus is a niche market. Most people who went abroad will know how to enjoy it but others would not,” Wong told Malay Mail.
“When the MCO ended and we got to go back to our old jobs we decided to slow down on the marketing as it is a lot of work to pack, market and deliver it. We also tried collaborations with restaurants but they would ask us to commit to delivering so-and-so kilogrammes per week and we were not ready to commit to that.”
As such, Wong said they would maintain the venture as a side hustle while they go back to their day jobs.
Football coach Zurin Wayne reported a different experience with this home-based food business, WAYNE’S, through which he and his wife sold Western cuisine via food delivery services.
Prior to the MCO, he ran a football school with a programme called Little Kickers that trained children. But while WAYNE’S has done well based on word-of-mouth promotion, he said this was nothing compared to the clamour for him to restart the training.
“The parents were calling me non-stop. They were telling me how restless the kids were at home and they needed to have some exercise, group interaction and most of all play football.
“I (also) knew there would be more food options for people once the MCO ended so I said no point continuing mine as I felt people would be going out to get their food.
“Sports came back after two years and that was something a lot of people missed. It took awhile for everyone to return and after the paranoia subsided almost all the kids and parents were back and I am also back to it full time,” Wayne said when contacted.
Malaysia went through various stages of lockdowns and restrictions from 2020 until the end of 2021.
At the end of April, however, the government announced it was lifting nearly all of the preventive measures save for the requirement to still wear face masks in indoor settings outside of one’s home.
It also rescinded the negative list of businesses that may not open inside the pandemic, effectively allowing all to resume operations.
When the lockdowns hit, Norliza Samingon moved her business selling Muslim garments, prayer mats, as well as arts and crafts online.
When it became apparent that masks would be in demand during the pandemic, she also expanded to offer these as well, but stopped when cheap Chinese imports flooded the market and made it difficult to compete.
Still, Norliza said her business did well enough for her to hire single mothers and housewives to make items such as table cloths, children’s clothing, rugs, mats, coasters and many more.
With the country entirely open again, however, she said it has become tough to keep up with solely operating online.
“Can’t market on Instagram properly, as there are a lot of fake reviews. Plus when the malls opened many shops have returned to business and the bazaar’s are back, too.
“It’s affected my business as even during pre-Raya time I had low sales and I told the guys we may need to look at other things to make and sell. I’ve stopped promoting anything seriously on social media as we are losing out to other people's promotions as well. Prices are too low for us to compete,” she added.
“For now, we’ll do the smaller stuff like the embroidery and see how it goes.”
Even some who became viral sensations during the lockdown are choosing to go back to their former professions.
Captain Azrin Mohmad Zawawi, the pilot who became known for selling curry mee in his flight uniform after being retrenched, said he has stepped away from the business to fly again, this time for Bangladesh Airlines.
Azrin said he got the job two months ago, and was now back in Malaysia to celebrate Hari Raya Aidilfitri.
He said he gave the business to his brother-in-law to manage and they were in the process of finding a more permanent location.
“Business is still good. We were at around 400 bowls per day when we went viral. Now it’s around 250 bowls per day so I want to take the next step and we’re looking for a shop lot to move into.
“We want to try to make it a proper restaurant, somewhere in USJ that has good access to delivery services as well,” Azrin explained, adding that he has had to assuage several customers who called out of concern when they found the business closed for now.
“I still love to fly and hence I felt so blessed when I got the job and I couldn’t turn it down. So when they call I’ll update them on the status of us looking to move,” Azrin said.
Not all pandemic entrepreneurs are returning to their old lives yet, however, with some such as Madiana Karip saying she was not ready to go back to her previous programming job despite the country gradually returning to normalcy.
The owner of DD Sews With Love, Madiana decided to start a home business as she was away for long periods of time from her eldest son and, during the MCO, she expanded her offerings to include face masks, pillow cases, coasters and clothes.
“I got my own brand of iron board covers that is doing OK while the rest are side items I make when I have some free time as I did not want to sit at home doing nothing apart from looking after the kids,” said the mother of a 10-year-old boy and a girl aged four
“Even though the margins are small I feel I can handle more and at least I have my own pocket money. I feel going back to the old job would be a no go for now,” she said.
Malaysia began its transition to the endemic phase on April 1, 2022 by relaxing more SOPs and ease on restrictions,
Almost all industries are back to normal capacity but wearing a face mask indoors, in public and in e-hailing vehicles is a must; however, the use of face masks outdoors and in open areas is optional but highly recommended as face masks are able to reduce the spread of infection.
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