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Surviving the Bubble with Koi

This heavyweight that is dominating the global bubble tea scene shares their secrets to success!

Words by Hoe Ziqian

Koi has been synonymous with bubble tea ever since its first outlet opened in Singapore in 2007, just a year after the brand was established in Taiwan’s Taichung. It triggered the wave of enthusiasm for Taiwanese bubble tea in our city state, and it did not take long before competition saturated the local bubble tea scene.

Fast forward 14 years; many of the competitors have come and gone, but Koi has stood the test of time. In fact, it now boasts of 60 outlets across Singapore alone. It has a strong presence in the Southeast Asia region, and has seen its global footprint extend to the likes of Japan, Xiamen, Macau and even the United Sates.

Since opening its first outlet in Singapore in 2007, Koi has never looked back, emerging as the mainstay in the highly competitive local bubble tea market (Image courtesy of Koi)

While Koi has always been confident of its product, especially with its traditional strong focus on research and product development, the company realised early on that it needed to differentiate itself to stay ahead of the curve. That is why the company has been actively partnering with NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) to find innovation ways to enhance its workers’ productivity. Through e2i’s close collaboration and support, Koi was able to onboard key HR solutions, such as e-attendance and e-appraisal systems.

Hong Yiping, who has been with Koi for the past five years, believes that the partnership with e2i has been fundamental to the company’s competitive edge over its closest rivals. With its strong industry knowledge and deep network, e2i has also helped the company to address the issue of manpower shortage and bridge skills gaps among job seekers.

In her capacity as the HR Business Partner, Hong works closely with the hiring managers to discuss the job duties and performance expectations of the available positions. She taps on her cross functional knowledge to design a detailed training plan that is geared towards helping each new hire to adapt to the new environment faster.

One of the training requirements at Koi is a month-long attachment to an actual outlet. This allows the new joiner to understand the core functions of the business and gain a deeper appreciation of the in-house operating procedures at the operational level.

There is still an inherent risk especially when hiring candidates from different industries or those who are making a career switch, but the availability of the government funding helps to pave the way for more of such candidates joining Koi. Reflecting on e2i’s support, Hong shares that the funding helped to lessen the burden on the company’s budget, which in turn made the company more receptive to provide opportunities to a larger pool of candidates.

She added, “As the pool of candidates is limited with our fast (and often last minute) expansion, we must be open to hiring people from different industries. And this increases our cost due to the additional training or adaptation phrase required. The government funding helps the company to partially defray the cost of hiring without compromising the necessary training provided to a new hire. The training is essential for them in terms of adapting and understanding the industry demands and challenges, as well as the company vision and culture within a reasonable timeframe.”

One beneficiary of e2i’s collaboration with Koi is Leow Li Yi. She joined Koi in April 2020 as a Training Executive. Leow was previously a Front Office Executive with a major hotel chain but the onset of COVID had put a huge strain on the hospitality sector, so she decided to take the plunge and make a bold career switch.

Leow Li Yi moved out from the hospitality sector to join Koi as a Training Executive (Image courtesy of Koi)

Leow revealed that a role in training and development was something that she had been wanting to try but was not able to find any opportunities in the past due to a lack of experience and qualifications. She recalled, “My family and friends find that I am a suitable fit for such a role because of my personality and character. They are very supportive of my decision to make this career switch and feel that I would benefit in the long run.”

As part of her on-the-job training, Leow was placed in an outlet for about a month to gain hands-on experience and a deeper understanding of the day-to-day operations. She also had the opportunity to attend online classes of her choice like “Management Skills – New Manager Training in Essential Skills”, “The Secrets of Body Language” and “Productivity and Time Management for the Overwhelmed”. The diverse range of training topics was a carefully curated training plan aimed at maximising Leow’s potential in the company.

Leow gained a greater appreciation of the day-to-day operations during a one-month stint at the Koi outlet in Novena (Image courtesy of Koi)

Leow looks back on the training sessions fondly as she felt that the interactions with different individuals opened her eyes to new perspectives and that there is always something to learn from everyone. She is also grateful to her managers and colleagues who have also played a big part in helping her feel at home in the Koi family. One such mentor was Pang Wai Kuen. Leow was first introduced to Pang at the Novena outlet for her on-the-job training stint. Pang was helpful and patient with her questions and went above and beyond to ensure that Leow was well taken care of during her short stay at the outlet.

With such a strong support system, Leow regards the influence of her fellow Koi colleagues as the highlight of her onboarding, “My mentors were helpful and thoughtful in their own unique ways to make me feel accepted and answered all my questions without judging, even sharing their experiences with me and encouraged me. They would check on me periodically to ensure I adapted well to the environment.”

Part of Leow’s job scope includes visiting new employees and checking in on their learning journey, and she intends to return the favour by being an equally inspiring mentor to all the new joiners.

For Hong, Leow and the team at Koi, there is a sense that the investment in human resource will come full circle and propel the company to greater heights. While the onslaught of competition will never cease, having a strong foundation built on the basis of a culture of acceptance and growth can certainly do the company no harm.

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