The Foundation’s involvement with Sweetlands began in the midst of their leadership transition, during which we served as mediators between the outgoing and incoming teams. The old management, having run the business for several years, had their own approach and would shy away from new ideas. On the other hand, the new management wanted to take the business in a different direction. This led to conflict and misunderstandings, which also demoralised the staff. The Foundation interceded to de-escalate conflicts, keep lines of communication open, and negotiate the handover terms to the satisfaction of both parties.
Once the new management settled in, the Foundation helped take stock of the business. While the new management looked outward and focused on sales, we looked internally to improve the business. Prior to our intervention, many of the bakery’s internal processes such as their accounts, order fulfilment, delivery roster, stock-taking, and record-keeping, were done entirely with pen and paper. Accounts were tallied only infrequently due to the inconvenience of doing them manually. The Foundation introduced IT solutions to handle many of these processes digitally for the first time in the bakery’s history. This included the purchase and setup of new hardware including networking, computing, and printing devices, amongst others.
By giving Sweetlands a technological facelift, the Foundation not only streamlined their administrative processes, but also helped them tap into new sources of business. Food delivery platforms were integrated into the bakery’s operations. Social media was introduced as a marketing avenue. In a sea of F&B competitors on social media, the Foundation consulted with the management team to help the bakery stand out and distinguish themselves as a heritage brand famed for their authenticity and traditional flavours.
When the Foundation turned our attention to the actual baking process, we had to strike a delicate balance between preserving traditional baking techniques whilst increasing production efficiency. Traditional bread-making is extremely labour-intensive and requires skilled and experienced bakers, which in turn increases production cost. To help Sweetlands compete with modern market entrants, we improved shop floor management and made minor alterations to production, while identifying traditional techniques and leaving them untouched. As veterans of the industry, the bakers were very protective of their recipes and techniques. The Foundation was always mindful of this, and worked closely with the staff whenever updates were proposed.
The Foundation also introduced proper record-keeping practices. Under the old system, many aspects of the business such as correspondences and agreements with commercial clients went undocumented, which led to missing records and occasional misunderstandings. Together with the management, the Foundation reviewed the bakery’s ongoing arrangements with suppliers and clients, and recommended new policies for better documentation, as well as mitigation of various risks such as clients changing or cancelling their orders at the last minute.
After acquiring new equipment for Sweetlands, the staff had to be trained in their operation. Some of the bakery’s older staff, although eager to learn, were understandably apprehensive about the new equipment. As such, the Foundation worked closely with the management to ensure that upgrading and training were carried out incrementally, to lessen culture shock and to give the staff more time for familiarisation. For instance, in phasing out the handwritten tallying of sales, the bakery first upgraded to a conventional cash register, before eventually introducing a modern point-of-sale (POS) system. A few aspects of invoicing remain handwritten for now, but are rapidly being updated.
The Foundation also facilitated a shift in the veteran staff’s mindset to increase their receptiveness to change. Though introducing some basic automation would have made the bakers’ lives easier, they were initially reluctant because altering the production process would require them to further adjust the recipe, which was already complex to account for many different variables. Moreover, things had been done the same way for over five decades, and so there was a lot of inertia surrounding the baking process. As such, the Foundation provided training throughout a gradual transitional period, and carefully monitored how every incremental change impacted both the bakers and their products, making the modernisation process as smooth as possible. The bakers have since become more receptive to the new tools they have available, and the baking process has been streamlined further.
Over the last few years, small changes by both the management and the Foundation have started to bear fruit. Although the process was gradual, Sweetlands’s operations today are markedly different from how they were in the past, and share far more similarities with their modern contemporaries without compromising the same authentic flavours beloved by their avid supporters. The Foundation continues to work closely with them, and stands ready to support them as they bravely take their business into new and uncharted waters.