Written by Debbie Too
IN JUST four years, a seemingly unsuccessful business idea flourished almost instantly and is now planning to open its fifth branch.
Mr Baker’s started their business in Batu Bersurat occupying a corner unit and owner Eric Pui, has always been interested in providing a healthier alternative to cakes and pastries.
By observing trends in Brunei, he noticed that people in the country are moving towards a healthier lifestyle, something that wasn’t always the case explained Pui.
“The first two years were very tough, of course being new in the market is one thing but the concept of going into a healthier lifestyle was very hard for people to accept at that time,” said Pui.
He explained that especially for cakes, many customers favoured sweeter cakes and had the mindset that “if a cake wasn’t sweet then it wasn’t good”.
He was also battling a difficult market which was very price conscious. One of the challenges he faced was that many people viewed Mr Baker’s products as being more expensive than other bakeries. “We are always seen as pricey, but if you look at our items, sometimes our popular items are priced a bit higher because of certain ingredients we use… but looking at it item by item, it is actually more or less the same,” he said.
Mr Baker’s also sells fresh bread loaves, which has a shelf life of three days. This is because his bakery is free from chemicals such as anti-mould agents or dough improvers to make dough spongy and cotton-like. These products, said Pui, also extends the shelf life of the bread.
During tough times, Pui had a blog in which he posted a question asking his local readers whether they preferred fresh bread that had a shorter shelf life or a bread that could last longer. “I was surprised that quite a number of customers prefer to have bread that can last them longer because it saves them the hassle of going to the shop frequently,” he said.
He said that at that time, Mr Baker was making monthly losses and Pui had reached a point where he questioned himself on whether he should give up trying to produce “healthier” desserts and go back to the traditional method of baking.
Pui said that it was one conversation with a local elderly customer that gave him the motivation to stick to the healthier option. He explained that during a normal day at the bakery, an elderly woman in her early 50s came into the bakery and without hesitating took two loaves of Mr Baker’s white bread and proceeded to pay. This surprised him as he was getting to used to the idea that the local market wasn’t interested in his products. Pui said that he asked her whether she liked their bread and she replied that she buys Mr Baker’s bread because of its freshness and that it is known to be a healthier option. “She said that her family is big so one loaf is not enough and I then realised that there are people in Brunei that appreciate healthy products,” he said.
He realised that he needed to expose his business more and took his friend’s advice to promote his business through social media networks. “I was never on Facebook or Twitter and I don’t like spending time on Facebook,” he said. After he posted his first photo on Facebook, the response he got was “not promising”, but he kept at it and promoted Mr Baker’s more aggressively.
“It went up just like that, in the third year and it hasn’t stopped so for me it was a blessing or you could say it was because of determination,” he said. Pui explained that one of their best selling products, the Red Velvet Cupcake, sold 12 pieces in August last year, and has gone up to an average of 80 cupcakes now.
“We are always sold out for that product and it is mostly due to our production capacity. I believe that if we increase our production capacity we could sell more than 100 of them,” said Pui. Mr Baker’s has four branches under its wing, in Batu Bersurat, the Airport Mall, Fitness Zone and the Jerudong Park Medical Centre. Pui revealed that they will be opening a cafe in Gadong Central soon and have plans to stay at five branches for the time being.
“People say that expansion is good, but I don’t believe in expanding too much so I will keep it at five for now,” he said. The Brunei Times