New Hawker Stall Bid System like COE

By KF Seetoh - Tuesday, Jul 28, 2015

Over the weekend, a facebook post by Gen Y hawker Douglas Ng (https://www.facebook.com/douglas91/posts/10153045804407205?fref=nf&pnref=story) caught on like wildfire and even warranted a response from MEWR Minister Vivian Balakrishnan. Douglas was lamenting about how unfair yet tough, after attending a briefing by NTUC, bidding for a stall at the new upcoming Bukit Panjang hawker centre was. NTUC’s Foodfare foodcourt arm is tasked to operate and run this new hawker centre. “They say the 40% of the criteria accounts for rent and 60% for the “others”” and Douglas further adds that there is no mention of minimum or maximum bids and that “they just seem to tell us to bid as much as you like if you want the stall.”


Douglas and his sister Jocelyn at his Fishball Story stall at Golden Mile hawker centre.


Hawker centres, unlike food courts plays a very distinctly different role and responsibility to the public. This is the baseline eatery, it was created to feed the nation, regardless of race and class, conveniently and affordably so and generate entry level entrepreneurship. It is built by the government using public monies and should be powered by the hawkers and the people. Naturally, the government would need some long term returns so that more new ones can be built moving on (over a dozen been slated to be built in the next two decades). And of course, the private operators (which the NEA now looks to for managing these new hawker centres) should make some profit. But to determine and set minimum prices for certain items and not have a guideline of rental bids, makes the system very open to abuse. “They say my fishball noodle must be sold at a minimum of $2.70 as there are poor and needy people around. I understand and can accommodate. But they say if you sell pasta, you can sell at minimum of $5.80. This one is so unfair and just makes us all want to sell pasta and western food. Why can’t I sell cheap to the needy and poorer only, why should those who can afford the full price eat at this discount at my expense. I need to make some money too.” At his Fishball Story stall in Golden Mile hawker centre, he sells it at $3.50. I think this strange appreciation for pasta or western food will sound a death knell for local food heritage, the kind that the heartland masses had grown to love and adore.


Douglas laments that it’s hard to make money if he has to sell this at $2.70 as directed by the operators.


So, they control rents, determine menu and prices yet have a say on pricing policy and if Douglas’s sentiments are anything to go by, it does not indicate much for what a new hawker centre should be for tomorrow’s needs. I know that if you introduce a creative and new thinking on operating hawker centres, meant to benefit the masses, there can be enough profits to be had, not obscenely so but decent. Think about marketing, product development and a unique factor that can help lure the masses in and we can see a triple-win situation- for the people, operators and hawkers. In his reply to Douglas’s post, Minister Balakrishnan (https://www.facebook.com/Vivian.Balakrishnan.Sg/posts/10152898431871207?hc_location=ufi ) mention that our hawker centres are a unique feature of life in Singapore. Make it so operators, don’t just apply the tried and tested, copy and paste food court operation model.


Minister also said he made it clear to the Foodfare people not to charge high rents and that there are hawker stalls (especially those in Taman Jurong) rented out at as low as $10 a month. His suggestion, and mine too, since no base indicators are set, is not to “bid high”. You will know that rents are not you main bugbear, it’s the erratic costs of ingredients, utilities and manpower supply that will bite into your operation cost. But I fret upon knowing that some stallholders are paying as much as $3,000 for a stall in Chinatown and Maxwell food centres (and they are not sublet situations). Do not take advantage of fears and kiasuism of the simple minded hawkers, set a clear and crystal system for all.


Come on people, put on your thinking hats and create a new system of operation and business model, one that brings us to the next phase and one that’s as right as rain.