Bespoke Cakes and Luxury Catering from a Humble Bakery
Words by Julia Chan

Discover how one seemingly unassuming neighbourhood bakery redesigned jobs to pivot towards a new norm.

Nestled in a quiet HDB residential area in Senja Road, Yi Bakers is a neighbourhood bakery with more than meets the eye. It is not just another regular bakery that sells the standard, ubiquitous confectionery. Behind its traditional appearance, Yi Bakers has an inspiring story for other F&B businesses to emulate, especially during this global pandemic.

Yi Bakers outlet at Senja Road (Image courtesy of Yi Bakers)

Founded in 2015 by baking enthusiast, Koh Guan Chau, Yi Bakers began operating as a small, humble bakery providing retail confectionery directly to consumers in the neighbourhood. Some of its best-selling products include waffles and home-made tau huay (read: beancurd).

Waffles are one of Yi Bakers’ bestsellers (Image courtesy of Yi Bakers)

Yi Bakers’ enterprising founder decided to bring in new confectionery machines in the same year to manufacture their own in-house confectionery items. It the quickly started supplying to other businesses and confectionery stores in schools, cafes, and coffee shops.

Seizing opportunities in the latest bakery trends

With the proliferation of both retail and home bakeries, it was becoming extremely challenging to flourish and survive in such a competitive environment. And even having a secret recipe to baking the most palatable confectionery may not necessarily guarantee success in this industry. By studying data and understanding current market demands and trends, Koh discovered that there was an increased market trend for the customisation and decorating of icing cakes.

A customised Panda cake (Image courtesy of Yi Bakers)

Eager to secure a market share in this niche area, Yi Bakers launched its own cake customisation and decoration services in 2016, providing customers with uniquely crafted cakes to suit the special occasions they were celebrating, such as birthdays and wedding ceremonies. These services have since become a hit with Yi Bakers’ regular customers.

High tea catering (Image courtesy of Yi Bakers)

Two years later in 2018, Yi Bakers further expanded its offerings and services by venturing into high tea catering services, serving pastries and confectioneries to corporate events as well as supplying to catering businesses.

Redesigning jobs to become easier, smarter and safer for mature workers

Due to the long working hours and labour-intensive nature of the job, Yi Bakers has had difficulty attracting and hiring younger workers. As of today, their nine staff (of which eight are local) are all mature workers. With the increasing workload, the company is actively looking into ways to re-engineer and improve the work processes for its mature workers.

Some of the most error-prone and time-consuming processes their workers faced were the placement and delivery of orders. Traditionally, workers took down orders manually on paper via orders received by phone, SMS or walk-ins, before assigning the deliveries to the drivers after the orders are packed. 

The packers sometimes faced issues of illegible handwriting which resulted in the wrong orders being delivered. Tracking of orders was also done manually. This meant that during occasions when customers called in to check on their orders, the admin staff could only contact the drivers by phone to check on their current locations. However, this posed a safety risk to the drivers especially when they had to answer the calls while driving.

Fortunately, Yi Bakers was introduced to NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) via its trade partners. With the consultation and assistance from e2i’s Job Redesign Grant, Yi Bakers successfully implemented a smart delivery management system and mobile application. This system provides a centralised platform for both the staff taking orders and delivery staff to communicate with one another seamlessly. 

With e2i’s Job Redesign Grant, Yi Bakers adopted a smart delivery management system and mobile application and redesigned jobs to improve productivity (Image courtesy of Yi Bakers)

Upon receiving orders, which are keyed in electronically to create delivery orders, the delivery orders are automatically assigned to an available delivery worker who also has an overview of his daily schedule on the app – instead of having a return to the store repeatedly to get his schedule of the day.

The admin staff can track his current location easily using the mobile app, which allows for real-time delivery status updates and e-signature acknowledgement of delivery orders. This means that delivery workers also do not need to return to office with the signed delivery orders as customers are now able to e-sign on the mobile application to mark a completed delivery.

These enhancements helped to streamline the work processes, especially for mature workers, and cut down the man-hours by approximately 40%. With the productivity gain, several mature workers will receive a wage increment as well.

When asked whether the mature workers were able to adapt to the new technology, Koh said, “Our workers welcome the idea of new system, as we often educate our workers that times are so much different now as compared to the past. We need to digitalise in order to keep our business afloat ahead of unforeseen circumstances. They are able to use the system easily as our delivery management system was designed in a user-friendly interface without much complications in the features.”

“e2i has helped us a lot in terms of assisting us and advising us on how we can go about redesigning work processes of our employees. Without their assistance, we will not be able to improve our working processes and productivity levels,” he added.

A mature worker checking his schedule on the new mobile app (Image courtesy of Yi Bakers)

Pivoting to a new norm amidst the Covid-19 pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted Yi Bakers’ business negatively, as its walk ins were reduced drastically. However, as the bakery implemented home deliveries, this new revenue stream helped it tide over this period as it saw an increment of users placing orders and requesting for deliveries island-wide as well.

Customised icing cake (Image courtesy of Yi Bakers)

“We learnt that investing early in automation makes a huge difference as we can stay ahead of our competitors and also be creative in our business model. Sending workers for training is equally important so that they can upgrade in their personal skills which are essential in today’s business,” Koh explained about the lessons Yi Bakers has learnt during this crisis.

The next plan in this local bakery’s pipeline is to set up an online e-commerce store. Its more ambitious plans include exploring the possibilities of implementing robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to make the checkout process much simpler with the use of AI technology for its store to operate 24 hours.

With a courageous mindset amidst this pandemic, this neighbourhood bakery provides a much-needed spark of positivity and hope for our local businesses.

Yi Bakers is located at 635C Senja Road, #01-02, Senja Gateway, Singapore 673635. It also has a retail outlet called Odense Baker at 628 Senja Road, #01-03, Singapore 670628

For more information, call Yi Bakers’ hotline at +65 9367 0105.

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