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Tech sweetens deal for Donut Empire

Steven Chiew and his brother, Sky, started their business amid the donut craze that hit Singapore some time in 2006-2007.Their company has now grown to become Singapore's largest donut chain, with 13 outlets across the island-state and plans for regional expansion that includes Malaysia, Dubai, Indonesia and India.
Written by ZDNet Staff, Contributor

Steven Chiew and his brother, Sky, started their business amid the donut craze that hit Singapore some time in 2006-2007.

Their company has now grown to become Singapore's largest donut chain, with 13 outlets across the island-state and plans for regional expansion that includes Malaysia, Dubai, Indonesia and India.

Aptly named Donut Empire, the company bakes egg-free donuts that feature over 34 flavors, including its best-seller Typhoon Oreo, and others like Mocha Madness, Latte Hill and Almond Pit.

I met Steven, who's also the company's executive director, a couple of months back to discuss his interest in blogging for Tech Podium. Technology is unfamiliar territory for the guy, but he's more than willing to try new tools that he thinks make business sense for the company.

Whilst I munched on my Typhoon Oreo during our conversation at the Donut Empire café, Steven talked enthusiastically about blogs, Facebook and the prospects of how these new media tools can help his company better connect with customers and gather key consumer information.

Alright, enough said...read on to find what Steven has to say about IT in general.

As Donut Empire is a new startup, setting up the IT infrastructure can be quite a challenge.

Given our limited knowledge and capability, the approach we took was to engage and outsource our IT infrastructure strategy to external consultants. The key fundamental issues we face include implementing an office tech infrastructure and Internet policy to prepare ourselves to succeed in the F&B (food and beverage) industry of the future.

We need to use whatever that is available to create that much needed awareness, interest; and eventually, we will see a greater demand for our products and services. Technology and the Internet help to smoothen communication between us and our customers, and we even have a Facebook group for our fans where they can communicate to us one a more informal basis.

We also upload interesting Donut Empire videos on YouTube as it reaches out to millions of users daily. On our official Web site, we allow our customers to place donut orders online which is convenient for them. This helps to boost sales because Web sites are available 24 by 7, and hence, customers can place orders any time of the day without having to drop by our outlets.

Our corporate blog is another avenue for our customers to keep in touch with our updates. It is another tool for us to keep in touch with our consumers, who are perhaps not active users of Facebook. In our blog, we touch on more business-like updates and we include our media features in it. We do get featured in newspapers and magazines regularly, hence, our blog is an avenue for us to showcase our media features and more business-oriented updates. Our blog also lends a personal touch to our Web site, which makes it easier for our customers to relate to us.

As Donut Empire's clientele is largely made up of youths, including young professionals, we use social networking tools such as Facebook to reach out to our customers. Most of Facebook's users are under 35 years of age, hence, Facebook is perhaps more helpful for businesses that target the youths. Our target market spend a lot of time online hence, reaching out to them via Facebook is a logical step. Through our Facebook group, our fans can keep in touch with us, find out new products we've launched, and communicate with us openly through a fun platform. We upload photographs of our recent events on our Facebook group, which allows our fans to download those photos and relive the moments they've experienced at our events. It's a great way to keep in touch with our fans and moreover, Facebook is free.

The older generation may prefer traditional Web sites and blogs to get their information, hence, having all three means of reaching out to consumers (Web site, blog, Facebook) is highly effective in raising awareness for our business.

Initially, we were torn as to whether Facebook is necessary for our business, since we already have a Web site for our consumers. Some of our staff were concerned that Facebook is not a proper channel to raise awareness for our business, as it is informal and is more geared toward social networking. However, I believe we have to follow IT trends and work smart. If our clientele are active users of the Internet, why not leverage Facebook for our business? On the downside, Facebook gives our fans the freedom to write anything they wish on our message boards and comment on the photographs we uploaded. This may pose a problem if our fans abuse this freedom, but so far, this has not happened.

If there are more social networking tools such as Facebook, available in the near future, we will make full use of them. To create a more effective platform for communication, we will also leverage on the "Community" and the "Forum" functions of our Lotus Connection site. Social networking tools are helpful and help form a bond between us and our customers and also add a personal touch to companies.

All in all, I would advise entrepreneurs to be more open to IT and new tech developments as more often than not, they are beneficial to business, if used correctly.

Having a good corporate Web site is essential these days and add-ons such as blogs and Facebook, can raise awareness for one's business. These social networking sites also allow your consumers to interact with you informally in a relaxed setting, which creates better customer relations.

I would encourage businesses to first of all, have an informative Web site as a business Web site is almost similar to having a sales promoter who promotes your products or services 24 by 7.

For Donut Empire's Web site, we have to make sure the information featured is accurate and up-to-date. Many consumers and even the media obtain information from our site and a minor misprint can lead to misunderstandings. Accurate information is important.

We also provide a downloadable delivery form for our customers, such that they can place their donut orders any time of the day. E-commerce is definitely in the pipeline to make online purchases easy for our customers. Right now, we are aiming to make full use of available technology to help us in our business as well as provide convenience to our customers.

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