SINGAPORE - Accusations of sob stories and delayed as well as missing payments are emerging from suppliers and partners of beleaguered retailer Naiise a day after founder Dennis Tay announced he was liquidating the company and filing for personal bankruptcy.
Several brand owners took to social media to express frustration at how Mr Tay blamed Covid-19 for poor business and the company's undoing. Many said late and missing payments and mismanagement of funds have been a problem since as early as 2016, calling into question Tay's intentions.
Mr Ong Yin Hao, co-founder of Nom Nom Plush, told The Straits Times he dislikes "how (Tay) angled it as 'Covid did me in'".
Owed around $15,000 for his food-themed plushies, Mr Ong faced late payments on and off since consigning with Naiise in 2015. He continued as "their sales records were good", and he would eventually get paid - although six to eight months late.
"They were expanding, but we vendors were constantly owed money," said Mr Ong, referring to Naiise opening new stores in Malaysia (2018) and Jewel Changi Airport (2019).
He said he stopped receiving payments after Christmas in 2019.
“Dennis came up with a sob story saying they had no money to pay us. But Christmas is the peak sales period, so how could there be no money?” he said. “They played us for fools.”
The Forest Factory co-founder Laraine Tan consigned with Naiise in July 2015, shortly after starting her business, but started facing late payments a few months later.
“We needed the exposure and felt he could help us as newcomers in the industry. He was a good storyteller and always painted a picture of how he wants to help local designers.”
Her suspicions were raised around 2017 when good sales reports of her wares did not tally with the missing or delayed payments.
She stopped receiving payment in May 2019, and is owed about $7,500 for products, including Merlion plush toys and coasters. Since last year, she started receiving automated replies from the company. It has been radio silence from Naiise since January this year.
"I only found out they were going to close from online articles. Dennis keeps citing poor Covid sales, but that doesn't answer our question of where the money went," she said.
In a public Facebook post, she added: "Note that insolvency or personal bankruptcy is not a punishment; it's a form of protection, so no creditor can sue a bankrupt (company) for debts."
Local brands are not the only ones feeling disgruntled.
Owed a four-figure sum for retailing in Naiise Singapore and Malaysia, Malaysian artist Ling Hooi Yin of TinyPinc Miniatures posted on Instagram “pity e-mails” from Tay and recorded phone calls with him promising to make payment.
She also said in her post: “Every miniature takes a lot of time to make. My hard work (is) all gone to nothing in return.”
Ms Lilian Lee, founder of card game Say What With Friends, considers herself lucky to only be owed RM493.80 (S$160) for products stocked at the Malaysia store. She pulled her stock from the Jewel outlet in mid-2020 after growing concerns over late payments.
She eventually got paid for her Singapore stocks after calling the founders every week.
Vendors also shared that they were not given much notice to collect their remaining stocks at the Jewel outlet, which announced its April 11 closure a week ago. In photos seen by The Straits Times, boxes of goods were strewn all over the store, which was unmanned.
Meanwhile, some are stepping in to offer help to these beleaguered vendors. Ms Gin Oh, founder of lifestyle gift store Miss Hosay, has offered both local and international brands lacking the storage capacity to temporarily store their goods in her warehouse.
It comes after her own experience working with Naiise. A distributor since 2011, she previously stocked international brands like KeepCup and Awesome Maps at Naiise. She pulled out from the retailer in 2016, after being owed around $10,000 for a year.
Ms Oh had walked past the Jewel store and was surprised to see the stocks unmanned, and that there were overseas suppliers.
"It's quite embarrassing for a Singapore business. People didn't believe us about the late payments back then - it only became an open secret in 2017."
She added: "I just want to stress that this was not because of Covid-19. This is a snowballed event."