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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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Project Work:

Maximising CSE's business potential


This Written Report aims to maximise Chinatown Social Enterprise's (CSE) business potential to generate greater profit, hence granting it the financial capacity to better help its elderly beneficiaries while pre-empting the possibility of a crisis should CSE close down due to its unsustainable manner of operation. We drew inspiration from The Batik Boutique, which has employed effective strategies to successfully increase its social outreach and the appeal of its products to customers.


We would like to express our gratitude towards our tutor, Ms Janet Lee, for her patience and guidance throughout the course of this journey.

We would also like to thank Mr JK Tan, manager of CSE for giving us the invaluable opportunity to conduct interviews with him.

Lastly, we would like to extend our sincere gratitude and appreciation towards our FGD participants, family and friends for their unwavering support.

Content Page:

Chapter 1: The Indispensable Role of CSE


1.1 Financial inadequacy faced by the elderly in Chinatown


1.2 Limitations faced by CSE


1.3 Desired outcomes


Chapter 2: Model - The Batik Boutique


2.1 Model


2.2 Learning Point 1: Diversify range of products


2.3 Learning Point 2: Effective publicity


2.4 Proposal framework


Chapter 3: Augmenting CSE's current range of products


3.1 Appealing to corporate companies: Diversification into popular dddcorporate gift choices


3.2 Appealing to a younger consumer market: Fashionable modern apparel dddinfused with local culture


3.3 Appealing to tourists: Toys representing historical icons of Singapore


3.4 Conclusion


Chapter 4: Bolstering CSE's publicity


4.1 Featuring CSE on CNA Insider


4.2 Creating a visually appealing website to engage audiences


4.3 Connecting with customers through FaceBook


4.4 Enhancement of standing poster to attract walk-in customers


4.5 Conclusion


Chapter 5: Conclusion of the proposal


5.1 To greater heights


5.2 Looking towards the future


5.3 Final words




Appendix A


Appendix B


Appendix C


1.1 Financial inadequacy faced by the elderly in Chinatown

Chinatown, an area where 17% of inhabitants are seniors  , highlights a worrying problem - financial inadequacy plagues seniors' well-being. The Institute of Policy Studies conducted a survey, with 46% of respondents aged 50 to 74 rating their level of financial adequacy as “poor/below average/average” , accentuating the necessity for supplementary income to support their needs.

Limited aid from the Singapore government compounds this crisis. Only Singaporeans earning less than $2,000 monthly and working consecutively for the past 6 months  are eligible for the Workfare Income Supplement. The needy, unemployed elderly are neglected, forcing them to depend on support schemes like the Silver Support Scheme  or the ComCare Long-Term Assistance , which are not one-size-fits-all schemes that may leave out certain groups of seniors .

In such a social climate, the Kreta Ayer–Kim Seng Citizens Consultative Community (KAKSCCC) established Chinatown Social Enterprise (CSE) in 2010 to supplement the income of Chinatown's elderly residents . CSE hires seniors to create handicrafts sold at its retail store, paying them approximately SGD$250 per month . However, limitations faced by CSE hamper its ability to maximise its potential in alleviating the financial plight of its beneficiaries.  

1.2 Limitations faced by CSE

1.2.1 Financial constraints

According to an interview with CSE's manager (Fig. 1) , Mr JK Tan, CSE is “making a loss” (Appendix A) and “relies on community leaders at KAKS to top up [its] expense budget” . This indicates that CSE's operations are unsustainable and CSE faces the risk of closure without financial support from the government. As one of the few organisations in Singapore providing opportunities for supplementary income for seniors, CSE's closure would result in a crisis as seniors would lose a valuable source of remuneration.

Fig. 1: Interview with Mr JK Tan, manager of CSE

Furthermore, CSE only employs about 20 seniors , a small percentage of Chinatown's elderly population, highlighting its incapacity to support more seniors with its limited budget. If CSE can maximise its potential in generating increased revenue, it can acquire the financial capacity to help more beneficiaries and increase their wages, alleviating their financial burdens.

1.2.2  Inadequate business and publicity strategies

CSE has made efforts to introduce a variety of products and publicise its retail shop but these have had limited effectiveness. CSE's inadequate business and publicity strategies hamper its ability to maximise revenue, preventing it from supporting more seniors.  Narrow range of products

CSE's products consist mostly of toys, bags and pouches (Fig. 2). According to Mr Tan (Appendix A), CSE's handicrafts appeal “more to the elderly and middle-aged people”, limiting patronage by the younger generation and restricting CSE's consumer base. Although bulk order service is provided, CSE's limited range of handiworks hinders its ability to attract bulk orders from companies looking for more diverse corporate gifts.

Fig. 2: CSE's main products: toys, bags and pouches  Insufficient publicity measures

CSE has a website with online shopping services to reach out to a wider audience. However, their product photos (Fig. 3) are of substandard quality with a low resolution of 248 x 300 pixels and shadows obscuring parts of products, limiting their appeal to customers.

Fig. 3: Screenshot of CSE's products on their website

Shown below are high-quality product photos on Natures Collection's e-commerce store (Fig. 4). Compared to CSE's photos, photos on Natures Collection's website are of high resolution and feature 360-degree product views . According to Volusion, an e-commerce store builder, “It's imperative your product photos are enticing and make your product as appealing as possible to capture the sale as quickly as possible” , indicating how high-quality photographs play a pivotal role in increasing consumer purchases.

Fig. 4: Screenshot of e-commerce store of Natures Collection

A standing poster (Fig. 5) lacking attention-grabbing visual hierarchy , is placed at the CSE storefront, in an attempt to attract walk-in customers. The poster is cluttered with many photos, which are unnecessary elements that distract

viewers .

Fig. 5: Standing poster outside CSE store

1.3 Desired Outcomes of our proposal

Although Mr JK Tan mentioned that the “social aspect of CSE precedes its commercial viability” , we believe that improving CSE's business strategies enables it to better serve its beneficiaries.

Our proposal aims to maximise CSE's potential and avert a possible crisis by:

Increasing range of its products to tap on a larger consumer market

Raising public awareness about CSE's activities to boost sales

We looked to The Batik Boutique, a successful social enterprise selling handmade products, as a source of inspiration for a paradigm shift in CSE's business strategies.

2.1  Model

The Batik Boutique - a social enterprise working to alleviate poverty amongst women in rural communities in Malaysia  - is a suitable model as it aims to provide employment to an underprivileged group in society, just like CSE. The specific strategies by The Batik Boutique that suit our proposal are product enhancements and successful publicity.

2.2 Learning Point 1: Diversify range of products

Appeal to companies through corporate gifts

The wide range of corporate gifts The Batik Boutique offers, such as travel and office accessories (Fig. 6), is worth emulating. Wholesale orders form 80% of the enterprise's total revenue , emphasising the effectiveness of this approach in building a wider customer base. Thus, expanding CSE's range of corporate gifts will widen its limited consumer base.

Fig. 6: Travel, office accessories as part of The Batik Boutique's corporate gift catalogue  

Fashionable products to target a wider consumer base

The Batik Boutique's infusion of batik art into modern fashion garments

(Fig. 7) has been effective in increasing product demand. For example, its biggest breakthrough has been inking a deal with US fair trade label Raven + Lily for which it produces silk loungewear, scarves, outerwear . Similarly, CSE can increase its popularity by selling products that are well-received by consumers.

Fig. 7: Infusion of batik art into modern fashion garments

2.3 Learning Point 2: Effective Publicity

Contemporary design of online store

The Batik Boutique employs a modern, minimalist approach to its online store, presenting a professional image. The Batik Boutique presents clear, high-quality images (Fig. 8), providing customers with greater ease of viewership and understanding of its products, inviting them to make purchases . Hence, CSE can better present its handicrafts to customers, who may be enticed to make purchases, thereby increasing CSE's revenue.

Fig. 8: Screenshot of The Batik Boutique's online store

Utilising social media to increase exposure and gain public support

The Batik Boutique's social media engagement has augmented consumer outreach, increasing its brand presence. With over 3 billion social media users

today , The Batik Boutique uses many platforms to reach out to consumers and build customer loyalty through regular updates. Inspiring beneficiary stories (Fig. 9) introducing The Batik Boutique's workers and the life-changing impact that the enterprise has had on them are posted on its Facebook page, appealing to the public emotionally and motivating them to make purchases to support the enterprise. Similarly, CSE can capitalise on social media to publicise its products and cause.

Fig. 9: Screenshot of Batik Boutique's Facebook page

2.4 Proposal framework

Drawing inspiration from The Batik Boutique, we crafted a business blueprint to widen CSE's consumer base and enhance its publicity. Our proposal is outlined below (Fig. 10).

Fig. 10: Overall proposal overview

3. Augmenting CSE's range of products

In this chapter, we hope to enhance the appeal of CSE's products, which forms the basis of its business goals as a social enterprise, to consumers. Our primary aim is to augment CSE's consumer base to appeal to companies, youth and tourists (Fig. 11), building rapport with consumers and allowing CSE to generate more revenue.

Fig. 11: Overview of Chapter 3

3.1 Appeal to corporate companies: Diversification into popular corporate gift choices

The corporate gifting industry recorded over 150% growth per annum in

2017 , indicating a thriving industry that CSE could make gains from. We propose that CSE infuse popular corporate gift choices such as office accessories, the second-most popular company choice in the 2017 Corporate Gift IQ Survey by Incentive , with its unique Singapore-themed designs. One example is a laptop case with a Samsui woman figure sewn onto it (Fig. 12). These popular corporate gifts, enhanced by CSE's unique, handmade styles, drive a higher value perception and consumer demand.

Fig. 12: Design of laptop case

3.1.1 Evaluation of appeal to companies

Besides being popular corporate gift choices, companies would consider purchasing CSE's office accessories as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), to improve their public image , while appealing to altruistic clients through meaningful gifts . Although Mr Tan feels that the laptop case will not appeal to companies due to the availability of more visually-appealing cases in nearby shops (Appendix B), a 2013 study by marketing firm Cone Communications and Echo Research revealed 90% of shoppers are likely to switch to brands supporting good causes , given similar price and quality. Recently, an increasing number of consumers in Singapore are appreciating handmade products for the time and effort invested in production . Hence, CSE's unique workmanship and philanthropic cause may appeal to corporations, allowing it to fetch greater revenue from more business transactions to support seniors. CSE can regularly update its catalogue with new, popular choices among companies to ensure its products are constantly well-received.

3.1.2 Evaluation of feasibility through trial

The laptop case is made of felt sewn together via blanket stitches. Being one of the basic sewing stitches , blanket stitch is easy for seniors to learn and apply. We showed a grandmother the design of the laptop case and she successfully sewed it (Fig. 13), demonstrating our proposal's feasibility.

Fig. 13: An elderly person sewing our proposed laptop case using blanket dddddddstitch

Although the final product (Fig. 14) is not of top-notch quality, the trial proves that sewing blanket stitch is possible and would only require a little guidance to improve its durability and visual appeal.

Fig. 14: Actual, completed product of our proposed laptop case

3.2 Infusing fashionable modern apparel with Singapore's local culture

We propose that CSE release a new line of uniquely Singapore-themed apparel to appeal to younger consumers, which CSE has yet to make an impact on (Appendix A).  Singapore's rich cultural background can be a source of inspiration for clothing designs, just as how The Batik Boutique met much success in implementing batik art in its designs.

Much optimism surrounds the fashion industry's outlook and the projection of a 3.5 - 4.5% growth in industry sales in 2018 by the McKinsey Global Fashion

Index , could be CSE's chance to hop on the bandwagon. Moreover, clothings account for 19% of teen spending , showing that fashionable clothing is of high demand amongst youths.

Our proposed modern fashion apparel include bell sleeve shirts (Fig. 15), hoodies (Fig. 16) and t-shirts (Fig. 17). By drawing inspiration from Singapore's iconic features such as Merlion  (Fig. 16) and Teh Tarik  (Fig. 17) , CSE can breathe new life into modern fashion, lending a vibrant character to these silhouettes. To ensure that its products are constantly well-received, CSE look out for fashion trends in the market, and manufacture new apparel accordingly.

 Fig. 15: Samsui woman-inspired bell sleeve shirt

  Fig. 16: Design of Merlion inspired hoodie   Fig. 17: Design of Teh Tarik inspired dddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddshirt

3.2.1 Evaluation of feasibility

Since it is highly unlikely that the elderly would be able to create such complex products alone, we propose that these products be outsourced to students taking Fashion Design and Textile course at the LaSalle College of the Arts . The students and elderly can share ideas while sewing complicated apparel together, with the elderly working on more manageable components. Such interactions can address the non-material well-being of seniors, allowing them to engage with others beyond their typical social circle.

Mr Tan is willing to explore this idea (Appendix B). The produced goods, designed by the elderly and students, will be of higher quality, increasing physical appeal to consumers , generating more revenue from increased sales.  

3.2.2 Evaluation of appeal to younger generation

Big-sleeved apparel (Fig. 15) are amongst the hottest teen trends . Participants of our focus group discussion (FGD) (Fig. 18)  described the hoodie “cute” (Fig. 16) and would consider “purchasing the shirts” (Appendix C) (Fig. 17) , highlighting the appeal of proposed clothes to Singaporean youth.

Fig. 18: Focus group discussion with Singaporean youth

3.3 Toys representing historical icons of Singapore

3.3.1 Expanding CSE's range of toys

We propose expanding CSE's range of toys to cater to tourists. Handmade toys, similar to those of Samsui women (Fig. 20), can be produced for other important icons and figures of Singapore, including Dhobies (Fig. 19)

(Indian washerwomen)  and Sir Stamford Raffles. The elderly can easily apply their current sewing skills to these new products.

   Fig. 19: Design of a Dhobi  Fig. 20: Samsui woman toy, a current aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaproduct of CSE      

3.3.2 Evaluation of appeal of new toys to tourists

The new line of toys representing historical icons of Singapore will appeal to tourists searching for memorabilia. They can be released in conjunction with Singapore's 2019 bicentennial commemoration. Since a variety of events will be planned to celebrate Singapore's 200th founding anniversary , greater awareness and interest about Singapore's history will be generated amongst tourists. Hence, limited edition toys representing historical icons will be CSE's unique selling point to tourists. This is exemplified by the success of Playmobil's sales . In 2015, Playmobil sold in 72 hours, 34,000 tiny plastic toys of Protestant reformer Martin Luther, introduced for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation . This highlights how a historical figure, who played a pivotal role in the society's advancement, can be of great public interest, leading to increased sales and revenue, which CSE can use to provide higher wages to its beneficiaries.

3.4 Conclusion

Expanding its product range allows CSE to widen its consumer base and garner greater public support. The increased revenue will enable CSE to provide higher wages and employment opportunities for more seniors, alleviating their pressing financial needs. However, enhancement of products is insufficient if people are unaware of CSE's presence.

Next, we discuss how adequate publicity measures can increase CSE's visibility in Singapore.

4. Bolstering CSE's publicity

This chapter highlights another aspect of CSE we hope to enhance - publicity measures. Through different media platforms, the website, social media and physical advertisements, we aim to increase CSE's visibility while advocating its cause, encouraging people to make purchases (Fig. 21).

Fig. 21: Overview of Chapter 4

4.1 Featuring CSE on CNA Insider

4.1.1 Use of the platform to reach out to public

To reach out to a larger audience, CSE could be featured on CNA Insider, which focuses on investigative journalism and provides insight into Singaporean issues . With 68,399 YouTube subscribers and thousands of views per video , CNA Insider can increase CSE's visibility to the public. The choice of CNA Insider is appropriate as it has featured other organisations serving a good cause including Unity Kitchen in Malaysia . Its short, info-packed videos will allow viewers to understand CSE's cause quickly and conveniently.

4.1.2 Content of video

This short 10-minute tutorial video will teach viewers how to make CSE's signature Samsui women toy, while promoting its cause. According to Google Trends, the search term “DIY (Do It Yourself) crafts” has not dipped below a score of 50 on the popularity scale worldwide for the past year  (Fig. 22), indicating sustained interest in DIY products . Thus, viewers will be intrigued to visit the retail shop to view the handmade products .

Fig. 22: Trend of searches for “DIY crafts”

Scene 1 (Fig. 23) briefly outlines the video. Scene 2 introduces the elderly, whereas Scenes 3 and 4 portray the elderly making the toy while being interviewed. The smiling elderly woman (Scene 5) evokes a positive brand image, encouraging viewers to purchase from CSE as more than 90% of purchase decisions by customers are based on brand image . Scene 6 depicts CSE's store interior while publicising its cause. The last scene contains details of CSE's shop and website - a call to action , encouraging viewers to discover more about CSE.

Fig. 23: Storyboard of the video

4.1.3 Evaluation of appeal of the video

Participants of our FGD affirmed the appeal of our video, saying they would be interested in visiting CSE's website after viewing it (Appendix C). Hence, this idea will improve public awareness of CSE, and could increase the likelihood of customers purchasing products to support CSE.

4.2 Improving e-commerce store on CSE's website

4.2.1 Quality images to appeal to consumers

We propose that CSE replace its current grainy catalogue photos (Fig. 24) with high-resolution pictures, so that viewers enjoy sharper images that do justice to the handmade products. These images will present CSE at its most businesslike manner and capture viewers' attention, encouraging customers to make

purchases .

Furthermore, CSE can include photos from various angles to give customers an experience of seeing the products in person (Fig. 25) .

Fig. 24: Current product photos on CSE's website

Fig. 25: Proposed product photos shown from different angles

4.2.2 Evaluation of feasibility

Our FGD participants affirmed that the proposed product photos look “much better” (Appendix C) than the original photos. As Mr Tan is unable to regularly update CSE's website due to time and monetary constraints, we propose recruiting students from Photographic Societies  in Singapore schools to carry out photoshoots for CSE's products half-yearly. This would provide opportunities for students to practice their photography skills, and allow CSE to enhance the quality of its website photos. With greater public interest, increased customer purchases will fetch greater revenue for CSE to better help seniors.

4.3 Connecting with potential customers  through regular updates on Facebook

We propose utilising Facebook, a social networking site with the largest influence and 2.2 billion monthly active users , to extend CSE's online outreach. A study by TNS Global market research company in 2015 showed that Singaporeans use Facebook to discover products and brands , indicating that Facebook can be tapped on to promote CSE's retail shop.

4.3.1 Evaluation of appeal of Facebook post

Regularly updating CSE's Facebook page with relatable beneficiary stories gives CSE a more authentic touch to connect with customers , encouraging wholehearted support of CSE (Fig. 26). Furthermore, posts including designs of latest releases (Fig. 27) may keep consumers expectant of new products. Including captivating historical stories in Facebook updates could elicit consumer interest , prompting them to make purchases. Additionally, questions can be asked in the posts to create dialogue and engage potential customers .

Fig. 26: Proposed post: personal anecdote of an elderly beneficiary

Fig. 27: Proposed caption and pictures used to promote newly-released product

4.3.2 Evaluation of feasibility

Although Mr JK Tan is unable to update the Facebook page due to “time constraint” (Appendix B), Kreta Ayer–Kim Seng Citizens Consultative Community (KAKSCCC) can recruit volunteers from the People's Association (PA)  to post regularly, since CSE and KAKSCCC are organisations under PA.

4.4 Enhancement of standing poster

While we acknowledge the importance of a standing poster in attracting passers-by to visit the store, we find that CSE's mundane, cluttered poster may not be eye-catching enough (Fig. 28). We suggest a minimalistic design with few words (Fig. 29).

As supported by design company, Canva, a contrasting colour scheme, especially the opposing white words on a dark brown background, attracts the eye. Furthermore, instead of having many unnecessary photos, a poster with a large background image of an elderly doing handicraft, and important details including CSE's motto and purpose superimposed onto it will present a clean, readable

layout . Thus, it would effectively communicate CSE's objectives to passers-by, generating revenue for CSE, which can provide a greater degree of financial aid to more seniors.

Fig. 28: CSE's original poster      Fig. 29: New proposed design of poster

4.5 Conclusion

Our publicity ideas are carefully aligned to strategies of involving various media platforms, while also customized to fit our aim to increase CSE's visibility in Singapore and present it in a positive light. Overall, we believe these ideas can potentially increase CSE's public outreach, garnering greater public support.

5.1 To Greater Heights

Our proposal acknowledges CSE's strengths - its unique handicrafts. It works to maximise CSE's potential to generate greater revenue to help more beneficiaries, by appealing to unexplored consumer groups through a broader range of products and garnering support through publicity strategies. The proposed ideas, inspired by The Batik Boutique and expert articles, are tailored to CSE's current situation. The appeal and feasibility of the new products and publicity methods have been affirmed by our FGD participants and Mr Tan.

5.2 Looking Towards The Future

However, our strategies require long-term commitment by CSE to restructure its operations to attain optimal results. Moreover, elderly well-being entails more than financial needs, which our proposal solely focuses on. Nonetheless, our proposal may still be worth considering, since our suggested strategies can generate ripple benefits to address non-material needs of seniors. For example, the elderly may derive enjoyment from the company of the LaSalle students whom they collaborate with to create fashionable clothing.

As demand for CSE's products increases, their capacity to offer employment to more seniors increases. Hence, CSE can meet this greater demand by reaching out to more seniors through flyer distribution at Chinatown's elderly-populated flats . For instance, flyers can be distributed during monthly events organised by Happy People Helping People (HPHP) when Chinatown's cardboard collectors gather to receive HPHP's rations .

The sample flyer (Fig. 30) aims to inform seniors about CSE's services. Its large print and concise messages make it readable for seniors , and the image helps the elderly understand CSE's work .

Fig. 30: A sample of flyer to be distributed to the elderly

5.3  Conclusion

We aim for CSE to revamp its ineffective business strategy, thus pre-empting a potential crisis where CSE goes under, leaving the financially vulnerable elderly in the lurch. We do not expect that our proposal will transform CSE into a self-sustainable enterprise in the short run. However, the increased public support will allow it to cater to the needs of the elderly who require a higher wage, and eventually reach out to more beneficiaries. CSE's success can serve as a prime example of how a social enterprise can alleviate financial inadequacy amongst the elderly, thereby inspiring other Community Centres (CC) to provide similar opportunities to seniors across Singapore.

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