With outlets in seemingly every neighbourhood in Singapore, Swee Heng has established itself to be a household bakery brand.
Like many inspirational stories, the chain’s success today didn’t come without challenges.
Its executive director and the youngest son of Swee Heng’s founders, 40-year-old Mr Eric Ng, recently spoke to 呼呼Call: 阿公故事 — the Mandarin offshoot of Our Grandfather Story (OGS) — about his family’s bakery chain.
Opening 88 outlets across Singapore in 34 years has been no easy feat, and Mr Ng attributed this to the company’s desire to stand out.
Leading his interviewers into the central kitchen, he showed that his employees were already hard at work.
The process requires quite a bit of labour, from slicing up the dough into equivalent portions, baking them and then packaging them for delivery.
Such a process typically takes four to five hours but Swee Heng cuts it short by baking the delicacies in-store, so customers get the freshest bakes. Their central kitchen only produces the dough for the various products, essentially the prelude before the ovens do the magic.
The volume of bread also differs between outlets, depending on their specific needs.
Among the bakery’s items, Mr Ng’s favourite is a popular delicacy known as ‘Pandan Coconut Bread’.
Filled with sweetened coconut shavings, Swee Heng staff wrap the buns with pandan leaves before baking them.
Swee Heng’s cakes are also popular among customers, with American-made cutting machines used to dice up the portions and employees manually designing them with icing.
Most importantly, the bakery prides itself on producing cakes with a consistent quality for customers to enjoy.
Other popular products by Swee Heng include ‘Crolo’, a cross between a croissant and a polo bun — a concept that Mr Ng came up with during the pandemic.
“That’s when I started using croissants and experimented with different variations,” he explained. “Inspiration often strikes when you have free time.”
The bakery chain even opened stores under the brand name, specialising in sweet and savoury croissants with over 50 different fillings.
When it comes to developing new products, Mr Ng explained that he doesn’t have a specific timeframe for the process.
“When we have ideas we discuss and work on them,” he said. New products then take the place of items not selling well among customers, with sales kept under a close eye by the bakery.
However, Swee Heng’s journey to become the successful brand it is today wasn’t always smooth.
The bakery’s first attempt to open an outlet in a mall was allegedly met with rejection as the mall felt that Swee Heng didn’t “fit the atmosphere”.
“It’s possible the mall’s landlord didn’t know us,” Mr Ng admitted. “We were in the neighbourhood and they might have been concerned whether our products would fit.”
It was then that they began discussing the idea of creating a new image to market the brand, before finally opening up an outlet in 2014 at West Mall.
The Swee Heng 1989 Classic outlet there became the first of many of its kind, which have since become mainstays in many neighbourhood shopping centres.
The chain’s growth only accelerated from there, with Swee Heng now boasting 88 outlets across Singapore — a result of quick expansion over 34 years.
Even as a large enterprise, however, Swee Heng continues to stick to its roots as a neighbourhood bakery.
For instance, Mr Ng spends three to four days a week visiting different outlets and listening to customers’ feedback.
“When a new outlet opens…you can hear customers’ opinions and feedback about the company,” he shared.
He also described feeling a sense of satisfaction when he saw customers exit Swee Heng outlets carrying bags bearing the brand’s logo.
For him, a mark of success for any business is whether it has been managed well and how good the products are.
“Our goal is to offer reasonable prices but within that reasonable price range,” he said. “We can’t compromise on the quality of ingredients we use.”
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