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Cheaper food coming but people are still not happy—here’s a solution

Let’s face it: most of us aren’t hawkers, so if you read the news about a price cap in a hawker centre, what would be your response? Hoseh—let’s go makan there now! But hold your horses. While on the surface it’s beneficial to you, have you thought of the repercussions that will slowly seep in?

So here’s the story cut short for you: apparently, a new hawker centre in Bukit Panjang, managed by non-profit organization NTUC Foodfare, suggests imposing a price cap for at least two items in each stall. For example, in a stall selling noodles, there should be two dishes like fishball noodles and minced meat noodles capped at around $2.50 to $2.70—while the rest of the dishes sold in the stall can be sold at any price.

Yippee? Apparently not.

Hawkers immediately responded—citing high operating costs that would compromise their cashflow severely. In other words, while a group of hungry diners cheer on their way to the hawker centre, the hawkers might be working OT just so to make ends meet.

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The first consequence without a doubt would be a shortage of hawkers. Let’s put it this way: if you have two job offers, one offering $2,000 a month with 44-hour workweek and another offering $1,000 a month with 100-hour workweek, which one would you choose? The consequences of a price cap for hawkers could potentially lead to this.

But before you go “oh, poor hawker, let’s not have a price cap”, have you thought of what you really want? Do you honestly object to the price cap? We’re talking about necessities: once, when newspaper increases their price by $0.10, a person cried on national TV.

So, how?

It’s really a chicken and egg issue, but maybe everything boils down to this: a solution that is hidden deep within the bids and the need to stay competitive.  A series of grants and schemes are available for the successful tenderers, and Foodfare works to lower whatever monthly costs that are payable, for example cleaning costs or cost of raw materials. Whether these savings would justify the lower revenue has yet to be seen, though, but it’s nevertheless still a solution.

But in all honesty, it’s all business and a need to stay competitive. Like what Albert Einstein says, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

A price cap would potentially decrease the overall revenue, but any businessman would know this: be prepared for changes that can affect you and turn it into an opportunity. The other consequence of a price cap is increased traffic, leading to higher sales velocity. In other words, although the profit of one customer after the price cap is at, say, $1 instead of $1.20 without the price cap, the price cap could potentially bring in two customers instead.  A $2 sale instead of a $1.20 sale is potentially an increase in profit. Do it the Amazon way instead.

Of course, cost is more, but we’re talking about nett income (profit after paying the cost). The solution now is on the hawker to brainstorm for ideas to leverage on the price cap instead of dismissing it as something bad.

This could have been a win-win situation: both the hawkers and the consumers.

When e-book hit the bookselling industry rapidly, severely crippling our print books revenue, we’ve already got our e-book system ready, and now, our e-books are selling better than our print books. It works the same way—in fact, through the years, difficulties keep on hindering the industry but it’s all about finding the opportunity within them. After all, what’s easy is already done by everyone.

Then again, we’re not hawkers so we’re just commenting and ranting and doing nothing. What do we want then? Well, this question was posed in the office and this takes the cake: “Air-con hawker!”

So…is that a solution for that?

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