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The JellyHearts: The Recipe Behind How Husband-Wife Duo Went From Home Bakers To A Franchise Of 10 Bakeries In Singapore

The JellyHearts was a side hustle for the first 4 years.


The JellyHearts Founders, Candie Tan and Darren Loh

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Founder and CEO of The JellyHearts, Candie Tan always had a passion for desserts. In 2007, she started experimenting with cheesecakes, infusing her creativity with interesting ingredients. She also loved sharing her recipes and pictures with family and friends on her blog.

Naturally, they came calling – wanting a slice of her artistic and delicious cakes. Out of her 5-room HDB flat kitchen, she began baking cheesecakes in the evenings after work and on weekends.

Her most popular cheesecake order – dubbed the original jelly heart – consisted of just four simple ingredients. Jelly, heart-shaped strawberries, full cream cheese and a digestive biscuits crust.

Original JellyHearts Cake

All images from The JellyHearts

From Home-Baker To Franchise Business Owner Of 10-Bakeries

Candie quickly roped in her husband Darren Loh, who was a futures trader at the time. At first, he could also juggle his time delivering the orders at The JellyHearts and trading the futures market during the US market hours, usually after 9.30 pm.

Purely through word-of-mouth, Candie started getting more orders than she could handle. Increasingly, Darren had to put more time into the business, managing the corporate and administrative requirements, sales, accounts and finances.

In 2011, the duo poured S$50,000 to open their first bakery outlet at Downtown East in Pasir Ris. Candie devoted more time to perfecting her recipes, adding new and innovative cakes and other desserts into the menu, and ensuring a consistent quality of her desserts.

Darren quit his full-time trading job at the same time to take on additional responsibilities in outlet operations and cake production. Candie initially held on to her job in the creative industry, but left to scale up the business full-time in 2014.

In the space of 12 years, The JellyHearts has sold nearly 1.5 million cakes and now employs close to 50 workers across 10 bakery outlets in Singapore.

 

Jelly, heart-shaped strawberries, full cream cheese and a digestive biscuits crust

We were fortunate to interview the husband-wife team behind The JellyHearts to learn more about their business-building journey and the decisions they had to make.

Read Also: From Selling Popiahs In A Bedok Coffeeshop To Exporting Food Products In 7 Countries: The Story Behind How Mr Popiah Became An International Food Manufacturing Business

Dinesh: When your interest and passion is experimenting with new baking recipes, I assume there was some satisfaction in starting your home bakery as a side hustle.

However, opening your first bakery outlet must have been a tougher decision. The sheer number and quality of competition in the space would have also been daunting.

What gave you the confidence to start The JellyHearts anyway?

Candie & Darren: All of our closest customers enjoyed our products, and through word-of-mouth alone, we had more orders than we could manage.

We also had a unique product that nobody else in Singapore or even Southeast Asia was selling. By the time we decided to open our storefront, we had also been constantly innovating and improving our products for about 5 years.

JellyHearts Cakes

Dinesh: Businesses in the F&B industry, like any other industries in Singapore, cannot survive without automating manual processes and just relying on hand-made products.

Which parts of The JellyHearts production process have you automated?

Candie & Darren: Unlike many other bakeries, we cannot produce our cakes in advance, to store and wait for orders. All our products are customised and made with fresh ingredients.

When we started the bakery outlet, we purchased the necessary equipment to speed up the manufacturing process that were done by hand previously. For example, we invested a five-figure sum to customise a machine that pressed biscuit crusts more efficiently. From taking 4 employees about 5 hours to make 80 biscuit layers, we reduced it to one employee taking 30 minutes to make the same 80 biscuit layers.

Soon after that, we invested another S$250,000 to automate our cheese production and assembling process. We could now automatically mix our cream cheese and dispense layers evenly – improving product consistency and increasing our productivity.

We could afford to minimise our headcount, reallocate employees to do other important tasks, and raise salaries.

And we were rewarded as our first bulk order came after 4 months of opening. Anglo Chinese School (ACS) ordered 400 cakes which is 10,000 pieces from us. To be honest, we needed help from friends to fulfil the order!

Read Also: Giving Robots “Vision”: How One Singapore Company Is On A Mission To Replace Human Inspectors With Smart Robots

Dinesh: Cash flow is a main challenge for many F&B businesses. You have to take up a location, renovate, and hire employees, before you even have a chance to make a sale.

How do you balance the financial risks of starting a new store location?

Candie & Darren: We first tried to open in a location that has a good chance to succeed. We had to survey the location and ask for customers’ feedback.

We also have to plan ahead before any decision. Cash flow is the main concern, because even in successful locations, we will never know how the business will perform in the initial months.

Due to the pandemic, we’ve also noticed changes in the buying habits of our customers. Predicting sales figures is not as clear-cut as before.

Dinesh: When did you decide to start your central kitchen, and what made you decide to do it?

Candie & Darren: When the pandemic hit in 2020, we realised that all businesses faced a certain level of uncertainty – and we had to evolve or slowly become forgotten.

We took a leap of faith to expand to a central kitchen – initially funding it with an SME Loan from OCBC to avoid disrupting cash flow for our day-to-day operations. With a bigger space to centralise production, we were able to reduce our production cost but needed scale to start enjoying this benefit. We were looking to open more outlets after that.

Dinesh: After working so hard to build up The JellyHearts brand, you’ve also developed a successful franchising model.

Can you briefly share how your franchising model works, and what franchisees can expect out of the collaboration?

Candie & Darren: With the help of Enterprise Singapore (ESG), we engaged a franchise consultant to set up a franchise model for us.

As the franchisor, we supply all of our proprietary products to franchisees. Franchisees can use our name, The JellyHearts, and have the rights to our logos and promotional material. We assist with the store set-up, such as selection, layout and design, and offer training guidelines to smoothen operational workflow.

In Singapore, a single-unit Franchise Fee starts from $30,000, and there is a monthly royalty fee of 5% of the sales turnover.

TheJellyHearts

Dinesh: What is one piece of advice you have for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to start their own bakery?

Candie & Darren: Don’t be afraid of failure, it is what makes you stronger.

A Good Cheesecake (Like A Good Business) Requires Consistency

The original jelly cake, has four layers – jelly, strawberries, cheesecake and biscuit crust – that each offers a unique taste. Only when combined consistently, they serve up desserts that “no other company in Singapore or Southeast Asia has”.

Similarly, building a successful business requires a recipe comprised of different operational inputs. Only with consistent effort over time, did The JellyHearts business scale up.

One key area of the business Candie and Darren were always looking to upgrade was payment collections. The business was spending a lot of time tallying daily takings and banking the cash each day. Often, human errors further prolonged this relatively straightforward task.

About two years ago, they took the conscious step to pivot to digital payments for his outlets. Digital payments have significantly shortened the waiting time for payments to go through and boosted productivity. At the same time, costs were also becoming more affordable.

Darren shared that all of their outlets offer a range of payment collection services today, including OCBC OneCollect for QR code payments, NETS and credit cards for card payments, and digital wallets.

For customers, they have the convenience of paying the way they prefer. For employees in outlets though, the simpler the payment process of each method, the better.

When the OCBC OneCollect solution was first implemented in their outlets, it was a very user-friendly process. They just needed to sign up for a mobile plan, install the OneCollect app and assign a phone number for the payment.

Employees did not have anything extra to do. In fact, the real-time notifications by OCBC OneCollect reduced the need for employees in the stores to make clarifications with the finance team for payment collections.

At the same time, both Candie and Darren were happy that OCBC OneCollect routed payments directly into their business bank accounts. As a business owner with multiple outlets, they got a more accurate overview of daily takings at each outlet – which allows them to understand sales and business trends better to make more informed decisions.

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