Would pay-as-you-want businesses pay off?

Yoga Seeds founder Wendy Chan says yoga is too often marketed as a luxury.
PHOTO: Wendy Chan

Money or no money all are equally hungry

WHAT: Indian vegetarian restaurant Annalakshmi.

WHERE: 20, Havelock Road, Central Square #01-04

MANAGER: Mr Suresh Krishnan

You eat, then you pay what you think the meal is worth.

As a business plan, it sounds risky, maybe even crazy.

But it has been working for the 30-year-old Annalakshmi restaurant since it was introduced 15 years ago.

Mr Suresh Krishnan, 60, manager of Annalakshmi, said: "There are those who have the means to eat anywhere they want, and those who are equally hungry but have no means to do so. We don't discriminate."

Customers can expect a mix of North and South Indian cuisines and they usually pay anything from $5 to $50 for a meal.

There are months where Mr Suresh faces problems paying the landlord or suppliers on time.

When asked what sustained Annalakshmi, Mr Suresh said regular customers and understanding partners made it possible.

He said: "They know this is how we do our business and I give them credit for their patience and faith in us."

Annalakshmi offers catering services as well. More than a hundred lunch packs are also sold daily.

Aside from the paid cooks, the restaurant is run by four volunteers for each shift of lunch and dinner.

CULTURE OF HELPING

Mr Andrea Jong, 27, a financial service provider who eats at the restaurant at least once a month, said he supports "the culture of paying for something and helping others".

Mr Suresh trains his volunteers to take on any job, be it manning the cashier or preparing food.

"You can complain and close the business, or you can manage with what you have," he said.

She wants yoga to be accessible

WHAT: Yoga Seeds

WHERE: 545, Orchard Road, Far East Shopping Centre, #16-01

OWNER: Ms Wendy Chan

She was previously a tutor and had taught at a private school, but she found teaching yoga more rewarding.

Ms Wendy Chan, 36, founder and director of Yoga Seeds, set up her own yoga studio three years ago.

"It was a big pay cut, maybe up to half the amount," she admitted.

She started Pay What You Wish (PWYW) Yoga SG in May last year to reach out to people who may not be able to afford yoga or those unwilling to invest in a package.

Citing expensive rent as a reason for yoga's high cost, she said that an average session could cost between $25 and $30.

MARKETING

"It is marketed in a way that it seems like a luxury for people who can afford spending on wellness," she said.

Her classes are held every Sunday at 3pm. One of the challenges of PWYW Yoga is the turnout of every session.

No budget is allocated to advertisements, so she relies purely on word-of-mouth.

Money collected during classes goes towards the studio rent. Yoga Seeds tops up any outstanding amount.

When she first started yoga, Ms Chan felt intimidated by the fancy studios and the budget.

She wanted to make yoga accessible to everyone.

"Pay What You Wish Yoga is more casual and friendly," she said. "People find it less intimidating to try out yoga."

She added that more men are attending these classes with their girlfriends and wives.

Apart from regular classes, PWYW Yoga also organises fund-raising yoga sessions.

"We have seen people giving $50 notes," she said. "People are more generous especially for fund-raising events."

Yoga Seeds is a long-time supporter of Club Rainbow (Singapore), which supports children with chronic and life-threatening illnesses and their families.

Ms Chan is also an ambassador for Yoga Gives Back, a charity organisation to build sustainable livelihoods for women and children in India.

She hopes to introduce yoga to more people.

"Our strongest motivation is that we are sure to meet someone new at every session," she said.

Art is not luxury, it's for everyone

WHAT: Artify Studio

WHERE: 200, Jalan Sultan, Textile Centre, #09-03

OWNER: Ms Tay Hui Jie

Sometimes, she takes home just $300 a month or even nothing at all.

This is after paying close to $4,000 for rent, utilities and art materials.

Yet, it is her dream that keeps her going.

Miss Tay Hui Jie, 27, owner and art instructor of Artify Studio, started Liberty Art Jam in August last year.

It is a pay-what-you-want initiative in her studio.

She told The New Paper: "Art is not a luxury; it is for everyone. I wanted something people can experience then decide what to pay."

Classes are open to anyone aged 10 and up, from Tuesdays to Sundays.

UNLIMITED PAINT

Materials such as unlimited paint, canvas and paint brushes are provided. Customers can pick any reference picture to paint from the studio's collection or bring their own.

At the end of the 2.5-hour session, they pay any amount that they want.

To supplement pay-what-you-want Liberty Art Jam classes, the studio holds regular art classes once a week for children. Miss Tay makes it a point to give a portion of the earnings to a social cause of the month.

In April this year, she went on a self-funded trip to Nepal. Money collected from art sessions went to food, art materials and school supplies for the children there.

"Money is meant to be shared," she said. "When I have more, I give more."

Miss Tay hopes to conduct more regular art classes for children in July while continuing Liberty Art Jam sessions.

One of her customers, Miss Clara Xu, 29, a market analyst, frequents the art studio at least once a month.

She finds the pay-what-you-want system very flexible.

"I can decide on how much to pay depending on how much I have painted without having to negotiate or feel bad about it," she said.

Miss Tay said that the best takeaway of a pay-what-you-want system is the genuine people she meets at her art studio because they are not her business clients.

The communal art space that she has created from her sessions is sustainable, but she admitted that it is not profitable. There have been instances where people walked out after a session or gave her $2.

Not disheartened, she said: "Some people think that I am siao (crazy in Hokkien), but I'm really happy to do such things."

Everyone deserves a chance to see S'pore

WHAT: Free walking tours by Indie Singapore

WHERE: Chinatown, Kampong Glam, Singapore River

OWNER: Mr Toh Thiam Wei

Dedicating all his time to telling stories about Singapore, he conducts free walking tours for everyone.

Mr Toh Thiam Wei, 35, a full-time tour guide, got his inspiration for Indie Singapore while backpacking with his wife.

He felt that tour guides play an important role in building one's experience of a place.

PASSION

"Tour guides on free tours tend to be more passionate because they're working for tips," he said.

Forget typical tourists attractions. Mr Toh prefers places of historical significance steeped in culture.

On Tuesdays, you can spot him at Chinatown, and at Bugis and the Kampong Glam area on Wednesdays.

On Thursdays, Mr Toh leads a tour along the Singapore River and through the Civic District.

Each tour covers about 3 to 5km and is around 3.5 hours long.

He also leads paid tours outside of Indie Singapore as a freelance tour guide for private tours.

Mr Toh said that his services are not always repaid in monetary terms. Some of his foreign guests bring items from home.

There are people who do not tip at the end of the tour, but "everyone deserves a chance to see the Singapore city", said Mr Toh.

Previously with the Navy, he admitted that there was a big difference in his pay before Indie Singapore started gaining traction.

"But on good months, sometimes I earn more than I used to," Mr Toh said.

Free walking tours are common overseas, but they are not easy to conduct in Singapore.

Traffic is tighter, so numbers have to be limited for each tour, said Mr Toh.

He finds leading these free tours enjoyable and rewarding.

"It is a happy job," he said. "It's satisfying when guests find things that they can't find back at home."

People might pay too little

Not all pay-what-you-want systems might work in Singapore.

Dr Ang Swee Hoon, associate professor of marketing at the National University of Singapore Business School, feels that people might not be aware of hidden costs and pay too little to sustain the business.

"It depends on how honest Singaporeans are in paying for what a product or service is duly worth or valued," she said.

Dr Ang thinks that pay-what-you-want systems are more suited for charitable organisations as people are aware that they are donating to a good cause.

"There are always big donors who will offset the smaller donations," she added.

Dr Ang suggests that businesses and organisations can educate customers on suitable price ranges.

She said: "They may display a range of prices they think is fair to guide customers, or furnish the average prices that similar organisations charge."

Still, pay-what-you-want systems might remain rare here.

"Until we have an economy of mature citizens with integrity, and a good sense of business costs, this model may not work for all," Dr Ang said.

yinghqc@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 20, 2016.
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