There may be no Hari Raya bazaar this year, but there is no stopping former Singapore national team footballers Shahril Ishak, Aide Iskandar and Khairul Amri from enjoying the festive cheer.
In March, it was announced that all Hari Raya bazaars, including the iconic Geylang Serai Bazaar, will be cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation. Many business owners who planned for a bazaar stall were affected, including Shahril, Aide and Amri.
But the trio have found ways to adapt, by bringing their businesses online and tapping on the power of social media instead.
Shahril uses Instagram to sell the Hari Raya collection of inloveXtns, a clothing line he founded in late 2014 with his wife Nur Hidayah, leveraging on the social media platform's live video function.
"We had to quickly think of a way to interact with customers virtually while they shop online," the 36-year-old told Youth.SG.
"IG Live is a great platform where we can talk to them and answer their queries on the spot while they shop . We just started to do it recently, so to see the amount of viewers increasing from a little over 100 to 200 now is very encouraging."
Meanwhile, Aide helps his wife Ezreen Petom with Band of Braders - selling baju rayu - which has operations in both Singapore and Malaysia. While they used to run a stall at the bazaar in 2018 and 2019, they are relying on Instagram and TikTok this year.
The former player and coach has been posting videos of him and his sons performing TikTok dances while wearing their baju raya collection.
"We got to focus a lot on online marketing in various means through social media during this trying period," said the 44-year-old. "We're fortunate that we've a good base of customers who are aware of our products."
Aide Iskandar is making full use of social media to market his business.
PHOTO CREDIT: TIKTOK/AIDE ISKANDAR
As for Amri and his wife Eva Roslan, they are looking forward to resuming their home-based food business, Alif Galley, from May 12 when home-based food businesses are allowed to resume operations. They joined the bazaar for the first time last year, selling their trademark premium beef tauhu bergedil (potato cutlet wrapped in tofu skin).
Amri said they received plenty of encouraging responses, with many of their customers initially looking forward to their return this year before the bazaar was eventually cancelled.
To prevent their customers from feeling disappointed, they started to do pre-orders via Instagram.
"The responses have been great, especially from the regulars," shared Amri. "They kept messaging me and my wife, asking when we are going to open the orders. We even have to tell some of them to wait for the next batch of orders."
However, without the presence of a physical stall at the annual bazaar, business inevitably will be affected. Without hiring a worker, Alif Galley can only serve up to 500 pieces of tauhu bergedil daily - a huge drop from the 2,000 to 4,000 pieces they sold daily at last year's bazaar.
Shahril is also expecting significant drops in profits for inloveXtns, even if they do not suffer losses.
"Given last year's overwhelming sales, we have already prepared a significant number of stocks way earlier – we ordered our huge rolls of fabric last year and have already sent for production," shared Shahril, who now plays in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) with Lion City Sailors.
"That's because the preparations usually start as early as six months before, from selecting fabric, sampling and so on. However, when we got the news of the bazaar cancellation, we could only manage to put about 30 per cent of the production on hold and bring it over to the next year.
"Now we can only try to cut our overhead costs to limit our losses. The good thing for clothing is that we can keep the stocks for next year."
Amri and his wife used to sell 2,000 to 4,000 pieces of bergedil daily at the bazaar.
PHOTO CREDIT: KHAIRUL AMRI
While they are able to conduct their businesses online, Amri and Shahril acknowledged nothing beats having a physical stall at the bazaar – where there is the special camaraderie with the stall neighbours and the opportunity to catch up with their regular customers.
"What I miss most is the family-like atmosphere," said Amri, 35. "The neighbouring stalls, even the stalls with Chinese owners, we're really close and bonded with each other.
"It's nice meeting people and giving them samples of our dish. The Tampines (Rovers) fans are always there... And there are people who recognises me, saying 'Wow it's Amri, I need to try this'."
Shahril added: "We really miss serving our customers. We just love to talk to them, chatting with each other about our families, and we always look forward to their feedback so that we can improve."
"The ambience and atmosphere of the bazaar interacting with customers and vendors – such an opportunity only comes once a year," lamented Aide.
The trio hope that things will get back to what it used to be soon.
Amri believes that given the ongoing situation, cancelling the bazaar was for the best, even if they are affected.
"Now, the most important thing is taking care of ourselves… but I do understand the worries owners have of keeping their businesses afloat," said Amri.
"I guess the onus is on owners to find innovative ways to get new customers, especially through social media. At the same time, I would like to say thank you to customers for the tremendous support shown to our business. I just hope this pandemic will be over soon."
Shahril is expecting significant drops in sales for his business.
PHOTO CREDIT: INSTAGRAM/SHAHRIL ISHAK
Of course, with the extension of circuit breaker until Jun 1, it means that Hari Raya this year will be a muted celebration.
Shahril said it's a tough period, but they will find ways to celebrate the festive season at home with "style and tradition".
"I guess for my family and I, we'll still don our Raya clothing and maybe FaceTime with the rest of our families. We will keep the vibes up for my children as they will be the most affected with the whole COVID-19 situation.
"As much as we want to celebrate and be happy, we also have to think of the affected people around us," added the former Singapore captain.
The same goes for Aide, who also wishes to rally Singaporeans to play their part in abiding by the safety measures to "flatten the curve" and for life to go back to normal.
"It will be a simple Raya or celebration for me and my family this year – same for everyone else – but that shouldn't take away the celebratory spirit from us," he explained.
"We can still have our Raya delicacies, dress up and have virtual meetings to seek forgiveness during Raya. Everyone, let's do our part and better days will be ahead for all of us."
BANNER AND TEASER PHOTO CREDIT: TIKTOK/AIDE ISKANDAR, FACEBOOK/KHAIRUL AMRI, INSTAGRAM/SHAHRIL ISHAK