Art Business Health

Malaysian business owners share how they’ve been affected by ever-changing SOPs

With SOPs changing with each successive C/R/MCO, the Cilisos office has yeeted so many plans out the window that the building owner banned us from having them. Windows, that is.

So, writing from MacOs, we wondered if other companies were facing similar issues and reached out to a few entrepreneurs to get their thoughts.


1. The swimming centre that kena scolded for not knowing if they were closed or open

Swimin12 is a company that guarantees that they can teach someone how to swim within 12 hours.

Socially-distanced swimming classes. Image sent by Eu Juan

Owner Eu Juan shared a timeline of how many times the SOPs changed in the 3 days after MCO 3.0 was announced, which probably gave him a butterfly stroke:

“It created a lot of chaos when it comes to communicating with our students – we got scolded a lot for being uncertain if we are open or closed.

It also created a lot of frustration for our team as well; planning whether or not to shift to online teaching mode, if their job is secure, if can they continue doing what they love or have to look for another job. The most basic thing we need is certainty so that we, as business owners, can decide to close down, or to continue business, to let go staff or to keep, to shift into other industry or continue serving our existing customers.  Without this certainty, a lot of irreversible regrettable decisions will be made.

For example, if we know we can’t afford to keep a staff when the pool closes for 2 months, we’ll tell the person “Sorry we have to let you go. When the hope of pools opening is there, we can’t just ask our team to come back, then ask them to leave again. Decisions like how many to hire, train, should we spend time training, should we sell certain assets etc. Certainty will help ensure that business owners can make decisive actions.”


2. The restaurant that narrowly avoided an expensive Ramadhan

Sköhn’s Canteen is a casual family restaurant that serves halal Western and local food AND (wait for it) ….scones.

BRB Ordering lunch. Image from Sköhn’s FB Page

With the end of Ramadhan just around the corner and MCO 3.0 announced at the time of writing, owner Iskandar Azaman shared a really close call:

“We were doing well before Ramadhan. Luckily. But the last minute change did cause some problems for us since we had to refund customers who’ve booked and paid deposit. The SOPs coming in hard at the last minute made it really tough. We would’ve been ok if they announced earlier and let us plan for our service.

I think for most businesses it’s tough on the cashflow when MCO is declared. Because of the unpredictability of the government policies, we’ve cut out a lot of items in the menu so we don’t hold that much stock in the restaurant and not get caught out. So for example, because I wasn’t sure whether they’d be doing dine-in or not, I left ordering stuff for my Ramadhan buffet to the very last minute – Thank god cos they suddenly decided no dine in. If I had ordered I’d be landed with thousands of Ringgit worth of stock I can’t move.

Due to MCO we’ve cut hours, reduced opening time, changed to more deliveries and basically our staff had to take on delivery duties too. I think for restaurants like mine where we are casual and can basically do whatever we want, we have more leeway to maneuver; but franchise businesses would be harder since they have to maintain their service no matter what.

I personally feel that dine-in should have been able to be continued even during MCO. Most restaurants follow strict protocols anyway.”


3. The gallery that had to sell veggies and durian to survive

MinNature is a gallery that features sculptures that capture Malaysian heritage and culture in miniature form.

Image from MinNature’s Facebook Page

 According to owner Cheng Huat:

“MinNature Malaysia is very young company venturing into the tourism industry at a very very wrong time.

We opened the business on March 3rd 2020. The MCO hit us 2 weeks later and we’ve been mostly closed throughout. We cannot do anything – even appeals were not entertained. We still had to pay the full DBKL license, despite writing letters to the mayor for exemptions (but tak layan). We also negotiating our rent with the landlord (lucky layan a bit).

We cannot do marketing at all during the RMCO period due to the fact, each time we spend, a month later, we are closed again indefinitely.

We spent during our opening, closed in 2 weeks.

We spent on CMCO for merdeka, a few weeks later shut down again.

Christmas and CNY marketing when down the drain as MCO 2.0 happened.

And recently, MCO 3.

We had to retrench all our staff in October 2020. We couldn’t sustain them without any opportunity to conduct any sort of business. We tried to pivot, but what can a miniature gallery do ? We have been trying to sell vegetables, making toys and, now, selling durians to keep afloat.

I just don’t understand why supermarkets and all the other crowded places can open and we can’t. Has the government visited museums and art galleries before? Lalat more than people…

If the government wishes to close economies, they have to thoroughly study the ramifications and the domino effects of their actions. I think its very unfair for us to pay for those types of policies. Let us open, we can adhere to very strict SOPs. Malaysia will just run out of these wonderful places, as all will just shut down for good. We are not on/off switches. Can’t just turn businesses on and off. Once we are off, we are off for good. 

We have no support what so ever from Ministry of Tourism despite multiple times writing and calling them. Probably MinNature was never meant to be. Thank you for listening.”


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4. The holistic healing centre that had to ask for help to pay rent

Prana World Malaysia is a holistic healing centre; using meditation, Pranic Healing, and Arhatic Yoga to promote spirituality, self-development, healing, and general health.

Socially-distanced workshop, when they still could. Image from Sundar Ramanathan

Instructor and Business Development head Sundar Ramanathan tells us:

“We’re HRDF certified and conduct trainings in-house and workshops at clients’ venue under normal circumstances. We can’t conduct trainings or gatherings under MCO or CMCO, so we’ve had to change the business model multiple times; from being a training provider to focusing on online healing sessions; offline, then online. Every time they change the SOP, we have to reschedule all our appointments. The company has effectively split in 2, and everyone is working double time, half pay, super confused, and really tired. Our main mission is on teaching people to self heal, but we had to ditch that to enter survival mode. Which sucks.

 We’ve postponed our in-house workshops so many times, some of our potential students have left the country, moved cities or simply requested a refund or cancelled their reservations.

MITI doesn’t approve training providers like us to operate our business. We’re in the process of getting TCM certification but paperwork has been halted. So we can’t go to the gomen to get certified (it requires an interview process).

We did not have sufficient alternative income to sustain the center, so we called on the community of people who have been healed to help pay our rent. We know everyone is doing their best and the gomen trying to control the situation… we’re just one of those industries that got hit badly.

Sorry a bit of ranting in there 🙏🏽”


5. The Comedy Club that had to deliver jokes… with their pizza

Crackhouse Comedy Club KL is no stranger to many KL and PJ-ites looking for a good laugh, since it’s Malaysia’s first and longest-running event space for stand-up comedy.

Image from Crackhouse Comedy Club’s FB Page

Co-founder and stand-up comedian Rizal van Geyzel says:

“Crackhouse Comedy Club KL opened in May 2014 and has hosted weekly international headliners from all over the world as well as budding new talent in a grassroots comedy “scene”. A lot of the club’s success was predicated on having locals, expats and tourists crowd the space for a comedy club experience.

Since March 2020, that vanished overnight.

We went from having 120 people to 25 following SOP’s guidelines, making it impossible to sustain on ticket sales alone. Luckily PENJANA/CENDANA came to the rescue, but we don’t know for how long. In fact, the funding period is over so we are on our own.

Heavily affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, we spent three months personally designing a brand new pizza menu, with every ingredient used prepared freshly in the recently-refurbished kitchen. Available on all major delivering partners. Staying true to its Comedy flagship, every order comes with a QR code containing a 1-min comedy clip provided by past International headliners, showing solidarity with the club as well as providing laughter during lockdown.”


It’s not really the MCO itself, but the prep time and clarity

For the most part, business owners understand the reasons behind the MCO, but it ain’t easy making preparations when they’re announced just a few days beforehand. Not just that, SOPs aren’t properly communicated or are inconsistent, leading to more confusion.

The last person we spoke to is someone who’s been chronicling the entire Malaysian Covid saga in the best possible way:

Image from Bro, don’t like that la, bro’s Facebook Page

Ernest Ng started the Covidball series on his Facebook Page back in March 2020. Since then, he’s drawn enough pages to publish 3 volumes in printed form. Not just that’s he’s also got a video production company called Macam Yes Studios.

“People now go to bookstores less so the sales of my books were affected – my books at bookstore all sitting on shelves only lol. Therefore I had to pivot and my most recent book titles are sold on Shopee. I actually never thought of opening an online store pre-pandemic but in a weird way this pandemic has made me step out of my comfort zone and take on new challenges.

As for video shoots, some projects got cancelled lo, even though they are already halfway thru pre-production.”

While the constant MCOs and other related shenanigans mean that Ernest may never run short of material, he may be working on the Covidball series for a very long time.


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