Geylang Serai bazaar vendors face costs of up to S$30k, but for some breaking even is not the goal

Rent alone can range from S$8,000 to S$15,000 for the duration of the event.

Celeste Ng | March 15, 2024, 01:18 PM



The annual Geylang Serai Ramadan bazaar has officially returned, just in time for the fasting month of Ramadan.

It is set to run from now till Apr. 10, and has 500 stalls, including about 150 food and beverage options.

Though maximum rental cap of S$15,000 was imposed for this year's bazaar, a few of the vendors Mothership spoke to still estimate their total costs (including labour and other overheads) to amount to about S$30,000, possibly more.

This might raise a concern for some stall owners, as to how they would set about making a profit amidst long hours and gruelling work.

Yet, for these three vendors, breaking even doesn't seem to be their main focus.

Finding joy in what they do

Running a food stall is certainly tough work, but for the owner of this taiyaki stall at the bazaar, 14-hour shifts is something she doesn't mind one bit.

Photo by Celeste Ng.

"It's my free time," explained Ahae, the 30-year-old owner of Ahae Taiyaki. The stall is open from 9am daily, and Ahae only reaches home past midnight.

Hailing from Thailand, Ahae started running pop-up stalls across Singapore in July 2023. Since then, she has run over 20 booths, including four pasar malams in Bugis, Hougang, Tampines and Yishun.

Like Ahae, Hafiz, 34, and Sheila, 33, are also seasoned vendors.

The husband-and-wife pair own Smooth x Hotlekor, which sells Hong Kong-style waffles with ice cream, Nutella tarts and lekor, a traditional Malay fish snack.

Photos by Celeste Ng.

If you're wondering why they sell these, it's because Sheila is obsessed with Nutella tarts, and Hafiz loves lekor.

"We believe that if you sell something that you like, you will know the product well," Sheila elaborated.

"Thus, when we sample our food, we will know what works and what doesn't, and what needs to be improved."

The couple has participated in several food festivals held at Expo Convention Centre, and owns a small store at 116 Changi Road.

Photo by Livia Soh.

A familial affair

While most stalls have hired help, Tapao, a drinks stall situated at the far corner of the bazaar, is run by a family of eight: 40-year-old Fazli, his two brothers, their wives, and his two cousins.

Photo by Celeste Ng.

Though the brand has a few years of experience catering nasi padang for weddings, this is their first time setting up shop at a bazaar, much less a drinks shop.

When asked about his experience so far, Fazli answered endearingly with a smile:

"It's been fun, perfect. From day one, we already [told] ourselves that, 'Eh, let's not stress about sales.'

Of course, sales being sales, we want to sell items, that's the end goal. But let's make it a fun thing. We get together, we break fast together, you know, at the same time we're selling our things."

The stall sells drinks in a variety of flavours. Some menu items that piqued our interest include "Grimace's Taro", "Barbie Girl" and "Maliblue".

Rent: reasonable or exorbitant?

With March being the fasting month of Ramadan, slow business during the day is also a common grievance among the three stalls.

According to Ahae, customers only come in around 5pm.

Crowd at 7pm on a Wednesday evening. Photo by Livia Soh.

When asked if she thought she'd be able to break even, Ahae painted us a picture of her costs:

"Rent is around S$15,000. [I pay my] workers S$12 per hour. [They] work 12 hours a day. My ingredients are [imported] from Japan, so the bill is higher. By the end of the event, [the costs will add up to] maybe around S$30,000?

Even I don't know [if I can break even]. [This is my] first time [at the bazaar]... I [have been] open [for] five days [yet] business [is still] slow. [My taiyakis are priced only at] S$3... not easy [to] make money."

Photo by Livia Soh.

Despite this, Ahae trusts that with higher rent comes a larger footfall, so she doesn't mind it.

"I tried to open in a small pasar malam already," she lamented, "some [locations] S$180 a day also have. But [the] crowd is not many."

"Brand awareness" as their ultimate goal

Both Tapao and Smooth x Hotlekor are hoping their participation in the bazaar will help raise awareness of their respective brands.

"It's the first time for us - we want to try and break into the market; more of our brand awareness this time around," Fazli said.

"But whatever that comes to profit at the end of the day will be a [blessing]."

The brand gives out complimentary testers to curious customers for this cause. According to him, this tactic has helped.

Photo by Celeste Ng.

Hafiz and Sheila share a similar ideal, explaining that exposure is especially imperative since they have two brands under their company.

We posed the two stalls the same question we did Ahae: do they think they'll be able to break even?

"We have to work hard," Sheila sighed. "[So far], our five days [of operation have been] good, but we expect more from the crowd."

On the contrary, Fazli seems more hopeful. "I'm [a first-timer] but I have many friends here who have done [the bazaar] before. Based on experience, it should be difficult to make a loss."

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Top photos by Celeste Ng.