Koufu founder Pang Lim on how tech solutions can help


The former Sungei Road fruit-seller shares Koufu’s experience adopting cashless payments

Starting as a kitchen helper at the age of 13, Pang Lim has had a long and fascinating journey in the food and beverage (F&B) industry that still continues today.

For five years he sold fruit at Sungei Road's famed Thieves Market in the 1970s, and later ran a Nasi Lemak stall at a coffee shop. He then progressed from running food stalls to operating and managing coffee shops and the food court business.

In 2002, Pang founded Koufu with the aim of preserving the unique Singaporean coffee shop culture. Since then, Koufu has achieved various milestones, including opening Rasapura Masters (a 24-hour food court with local hawker stalls) in Marina Bay Sands and launching its first overseas food court establishment in Sands Cotai, Macau in 2012.

Earlier this year, Koufu became the first foodcourt in Singapore to debut the full implementation of a DBS FasTrack-powered mobile app.

Launched at the Koufu foodcourt at shopping mall 100 AM, the app allows customers to conveniently place their orders and make payment without queuing. They only need to be at the food stall to pick up their orders when notified.

Why did Koufu decide to be the first foodcourt in Singapore to fully adopt this solution?

Pang, 62, says it was meant to tackle high operating costs and a persistent labour shortage. “Embarking on technology and automation to improve productivity helps not only in reducing operating costs, but it also improves our value creation ability,” he says.

"In just 15 years, Koufu has expanded its business profile from neighbourhood coffee shops to establishing large-scale modern foodcourts in residential as well as commercial shopping malls,” he points out.

"I believe in continuous learning and the importance of change so that the team can keep up the pace in the fast moving environment."

Koufu founder Pang Lim

Still, amid the challenges and rapid changes in the local food and beverage industry, Koufu continues to enhance its effort to preserve the unique Singapore coffee shop culture, Pang stresses.

This move towards cashless payments and digital solutions goes hand in hand with Koufu’s continuous evolution as it blends the traditional coffee shop experience with modern foodcourt design and management.

On the FasTrack

As with most new technology, there’s a learning curve and implementation takes time.

The challenges Koufu faced in rolling out the app included educating customers and convincing tenants to use the app, as well as revising the operating work flow on the frontline and backend, shares Pang.

“We told tenants the purpose of having this app was to provide convenience to customers and encourage return visits,” he says. “We also supported the tenants by waiving the hardware fee during the pilot phase.”

He notes that DBS helped increase awareness among customers by distributing flyers and teaching customers how to download and make orders through the application.

“The celebrity video that went viral also played a part in creating exposure on the use of the FasTrack application” he says.

When it came to implementation, the DBS FasTrack team also spent several days at Koufu outlets to observe customer behavior and the stall vendors’ operations. This was to ensure that the app would work in a food court environment.

"Old habits die hard, Singaporeans are so used to queuing and the stall vendors love queues because it means that their food is good," explains DBS vice-president for digital/emerging payments, cards and unsecured loans Paul Bedi.

"Our customer immersion helped. We interviewed and engaged with both customers and stall vendors. With the help of our Customer Experience team, we created a seamless journey for both customers and stall owners."

"DBS FasTrack is designed to be easy to use and completely intuitive, and it was very exciting for us when DBS FasTrack went ‘live’ in Koufu’s foodcourt. It was a Singapore first, being able to pre-order and pay for foodcourt meals with an app."

Jeremy Soo, Managing Director and Head of Consumer Banking Group (Singapore), DBS Bank.

Having overcome the initial resistance, Koufu is now reaping dividends from adopting the solution, which was jointly developed by DBS and Applied Mesh.

The company has seen the number of downloads of the app increase steadily month-on-month. More importantly, it has seen sales increase for the first four outlets in the pilot phase.

Pang is now exploring other tech solutions to help his business, such as a smart tray return robot, a self-ordering kiosk, as well as kitchen automation.

He advises other business owners to always keep the customer in mind when looking to adopt new technology.

He says: "We like to use technology that is user-friendly and convenient and yet enhances the dining experience for our valued customers."