Every crisis is a turning point, says Carmen Chong, founder of murahshops.com, the first and cheapest RM1.99 online shopping discount store in Malaysia, carrying about more than 2000 items from wet and dry groceries to household items.
Bobbing along on track with the life plan blueprint that she had crafted for herself after reading a life-changing book, little did Carmen expect the sudden and unexpected pandemic to ruin all her carefully laid career trajectory and future plans for her to lead the dream life, just like millions of others forced to face this crisis head-on.
“One pandemic, one lockdown, and all of my work plans were turned upside-down,” recalls the former celebrity ONFM radio DJ in disbelief.
“This was how I decided to start an online grocery store with the lowest price of RM1.99 in Malaysia. Many were struggling trying to make ends meet. I thought this business plan would not only help the citizens of Malaysia, but I also realised that the potential will certainly be huge,” she shares excitedly.
Facing naysayers at every turn about her business idea, Carmen got very discouraged at first, but after much thinking, she figured that if everyone thought it feasible, it would probably not be her opportunity to do it.
“When one door closes, another opens as God doesn’t close one door without getting ready to open another with bigger and greater things. Serendipitously, within a week’s time, I found one partner who shared the same idea. Seemingly far away, but actually so close , my sister, Evon and my brother-in-law Kenny, eventually became my other partners. They are my family and also my business partners.
“I appreciate how they are so accepting and supportive throughout the entire journey even though my idea was turned down by so many people. We share the same vision, same values and same ideas. Our discussions go by so smoothly and all the ideas we discussed were in-sync, even the price that we thought of was exactly the same in our minds,” she says.
Life and Career Plans
Born into a traditional family, Carmen’s mum always advised her to “Get good grades so you can get a good job,” as is typical of what most parents drill into their kids from an early age.
“My mum always hoped for me to become an accountant because then she wouldn’t have to worry about me not having a job one day as every business needs an accountant,” says Carmen as she muses ruefully about the past.
“I thought that being an accountant would be my life’s goal until I read a best-seller called “Rich Dad Poor Dad” written by Robert Kiyosaki when I was 18. Reading that book was a life-changing “A-HA” moment for me,” she says with conviction.
Following Kiyosaki’s advice, Carmen began drafting out her own life blueprint. As planned, after graduating from university, she joined Young and Rubicam, a leading advertising firm to learn about advertising & promotions strategy. After that, she went on to work in an event planning company to learn about pitching proposals and event operations, as her final goal would be setting up her own event planning company and also hosting at the same time.
“I like planning, I like talking and I like the process where I can make planned concepts become a reality. In 2013, I set up my own small event planning company and started pitching. But then, when I was 26, nearly reaching 30, deep down in my heart, I knew I had a dream that is yet to be fulfilled, and I know I will regret it if I did not chase my childhood dream, that was to become a radio host/news anchor.”
Fortunately enough, Carmen successfully manifested this dream as she was later chosen by the Internet radio station, ONFM, which gave her a lot of room to develop and grow in the industry.
“I was lucky to be able to host different types of programmes while running my own events company, having 2 careers back then. After 4 years in that broadcast company, I was eventually selected to be the Mandarin news anchor. However, according to my plan, that was the year that I had to resign as I had already reached 30 years old.”
While hosting was her interest, she knew it wasn’t sustainable as a lifelong career. This job requirement was mostly based on looks and the competition was very high, and she was happy to have gotten the experience while still in her youth.
Starting The E-Commerce Journey
Due to the boredom of being stuck at home and while having zero knowledge about online stores, in July 2020, Carmen and her partners started exploring e-commerce by selling bras on the usual online marketplace platforms like Shopee and Lazada.
“We made a mistake and bought 200 pieces of bras which came with serious defects and a hideous bad smell. In order not to lose everything, we decided to take 4 big bags of those smelly bras and clean it at the nearby laundry shop. With our hard work and creativity, we slowly and fortunately expanded from being a bra retailer to a bra wholesaler, where we sold to local retailers and also Sabah retailers who purchased in bulk,” she says about the early beginnings of selling online.
In August 2020, with some help from a web developer friend, they decided to design their own shopping-cart enabled online platform using their own coding and start an RM1.99 online store. After nearly a year of preparation, the website is finally complete.
By August 2021, they had opened their platform’s first physical store, going both online and offline within a year, proving how lucrative their business model was.
“We never thought of setting up a physical store back then. We wanted to just focus on online stores. Due to the high demand and overwhelming requests from customers for bulk purchases, in August 2021, within a year, we set up our very own and first physical store in Bandar Baru Bangi. And, I officially changed my career from the event entertainment industry to the retail industry,” says the successful entrepreneur.
The Good and The Bad of Online Stores
In the beginning, Carmen and her partners faced many challenges which they eventually overcame with hard work and innovation.
Due to limited funds and space, they did not stock up on all the products listed in their online stores. The moment orders were received, they would go to different convenient stores or supermarkets to source the products for customers.
“Sometimes, we got exhausted after going to so many places to source for the products and we sometimes even made financial losses in customers’ orders as the price of the products we purchased are more expensive than the price we listed on our website. However, we still shipped the orders to our customers. After all, reputation and customers are far more important than anything else. Soon, we got more repeat orders and more traffic from different online platforms.”
During this time, they worked with 6 different platforms to attract more traffic, such as Shopee, Lazada, AirAsia Grocer, Shop.com, GrabMart, and Foodpanda Mart.
Carmen says that in being an e-commerce entrepreneur, there are two elements that played a very important role in murahshops’s success – Advertising & Promotions (A&P), and Pricing Strategy. Study the trend and customer needs, and adjust your strategy accordingly from time to time, she advises.
“Find partners that share the same vision and idea as you. Just keep on trying and sharing to people around you if you know this is the right thing to do even though a lot of people don’t think your ideas are viable,” she urges future online entrepreneurs like herself.
“I have to admit that I am neither a clever person nor a quick learner like a lot of people I know. Also, I have met many people who have a lot of fantastic business ideas in their minds.
“In fact, a lot of people have ideas, but there are only a rare few who decisively do something about their ideas right now. The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer,” she says passionately.
Carmen stresses that it is never too late to explore and to just do it. She says that the one thing one might regret is not trying.
“We are planning for more branches to open up next and we are open to licensing programmes for potential investors. We hope murahshops.com benefits not only Malaysians but also those outside Malaysia.”
Visit murahshops stores at their website: murahshops.com or at Shopee, Lazada, Grab, FoodPanda and visit their social media on Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok and even Youtube at : murahshops.com