Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which make up 99% of businesses in Singapore, have felt the impact of Covid-19 heavily. TODAY’s Voices section features testimonials from small business owners and managers about the highs and lows of running a business during the pandemic.
In this episode, Mr Jimmy Ong, 42, whose business hires out cars to private drivers, describes how costs quickly rose when the Covid-19 ground came to a standstill. Despite this, the company chose not to take the easy way out by laying off staff or demanding payment from drivers. Instead, he relied on his reserves, as well as various support programs, to weather the storm.
Reliable Rides started as a small car rental company in 2016. Our core business is renting and leasing cars to private drivers.
We did well for the first two years, growing from 20 vehicles to a fleet size of 400.
We started to feel the impact of Covid-19 two months before the pandemic hit us hard in Singapore.
In February 2020 there was a significant drop in passenger numbers as many of us were already reducing outdoor activities.
Second, many companies were already working remotely. Our rental income started to drop when the drivers started returning their vehicles to us.
With the drastic drop in the number of passengers, the income of our drivers has also been hit hard. Many of them have seen their daily income drop by 50-70%.
As a car rental company, our source of income is rental income. If the income of our drivers is affected, the effect will reverberate.
The problem was exacerbated during the circuit breaker from April to June 2020.
Our drivers experienced a further drop in revenue of up to 90%. Many of them didn’t even have any income. Without income, they could not pay their rent.
We wanted to help our recruiters get through this difficult time together, especially those who have been with us since our inception.
We gave them a 50-70% rental discount and allowed them to defer their payments.
The business was caught in a situation where rental income was drastically decreasing and yet we still had to pay monthly costs such as salaries, car loans, insurance and maintenance.
Our losses quickly escalated to around S$500,000 a month.
It would have been easy to charge customers and lay off staff, but our mantra then was to “leave no one behind”.
We refused to waste years of hard work and tried different ways to keep the business going so that our customers, and especially our 10 members of staff, are taken care of.
We did this by drawing on our company reserves and our personal savings.
The government’s employment support program for SMEs has been crucial in helping us retain all of our workers.
Meanwhile, the Covid-19 Driver Relief Fund and Point-to-Point Assistance Package have helped our employees stay on the road.
More than two years into the pandemic, we have learned the importance of diversifying the business in times of prosperity.
For example, during the slow period, we encouraged our staff to learn new skills such as digital marketing.
At the end of 2021, when we were appointed as an authorized dealer of DFSK electric vehicles in Singapore, this training proved useful.
Our employees were able to set up digital marketing campaigns to collect commercial leads, a job that would have been outsourced before.
Looking back, the company has been greatly influenced by the resilience and courage of our previous generations.
It’s the “never give up” attitude that gets us through the tough times and will chart our course into the future.
ABOUT THE WRITER:
Jimmy Ong, 42, is the COO and one of the co-founders of Reliable Rides. He started the car rental business in 2016 and is inspired by the resilience and courage of Singapore’s Pioneer and Merdeka generations.
If you are an owner or manager of an SME with an experience to share or know someone who would like to contribute to this series, write to voice [at] mediacorp.com.sg with your full name, address and telephone number.