How I started an $8 million/year grocery chain

Gek Teng Pang founded Surrey Hills Grocer in 2021.

Success didn’t come easy for Pang Gek Teng.

The 35-year-old serial entrepreneur went through five failed business attempts before her efforts to build a multimillion-dollar grocery store chain in Singapore finally bore fruit.

Today, she is the proud founder and CEO of Surrey Hills Grocer, an Australian-inspired grocer and café brand with five locations across Singapore.

Her business brought in about $8 million in sales last year, according to an unaudited company statement shared with CNBC Make It.

Growing up in Singapore, Pang never expected she would become an entrepreneur.

I think most people are pretty surprised where I am in life. I [was] always the forgotten kid in the crowd.

Pang Gek Teng

Founder and CEO, Surrey Hills Grocer

Her mom, a homemaker, and her dad, an engineer, have always encouraged her to pursue the traditional path of success: go to university and get a stable job.

That’s just what she did — but she was not happy.

“I don’t quite grasp the whole idea of education, so I basically go to school to answer to [the] needs of society and that’s about it,” Pang told CNBC Make It.

“My approach towards school is — it’s something I need to do, so I just get it done. It’s something that my parents would like me to do.”

Ditching her banking job

In 2008, Pang moved to Australia, where she attended university.

After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in management and marketing at the University of Newcastle, she landed a job as a banker — but she did not feel fulfilled.

“I knew that it was not a job that I could work until I retire,” Pang said. “I have this thing about me [where] if I don’t believe in that thing, it’s very hard [for me] to do that task.”

Eventually, she started casually brainstorming business ideas to start with friends and by 2015, Pang decided to quit her job as a banker and took the leap into entrepreneurship.

Navigating the entrepreneurial world

Between quitting her job and starting Surrey Hills Grocer, Pang founded five different businesses.

The first was a tour agency, where she hosted running tours. That was followed by a real estate rental business, a watch business called Daybook Watches, a brick-and-mortar grain bowl business called Surch, followed by a home-cooked food delivery business.

Unfortunately, none of those business ventures worked out.

Gek Teng Pang inside her grain bowl business, Surch.

When Pang moved back to Singapore in 2021, she had just 362 Australian dollars ($235) to her name.

“Honestly, I never quite thought that I will go into business again because of all the other things that happened …and I think my parents tried to tell me to be more practical with my life, to be more normal.”

The million-dollar idea

For Pang, sixth time’s the charm. She did not give up despite being jaded from the years of trying to get her businesses going.

One day while driving in 2021, she began reminiscing about her time in Surry Hills, Australia. That’s when she started toying with the idea of bringing an Australian grocer-café concept to Singapore.

Nobody really was supportive to be honest. I have never proven myself to be worthy of that chance, you know, so I definitely don’t blame them.

Gek Teng Pang

Founder and CEO, Surrey Hills Grocer

That same year, a family friend Alvin Lau decided to invest 400,000 Singapore dollars ($293,800) into her business. Today, he is the founding shareholder of Surrey Hills Grocer.

“He always [told] me if I say the moon is yellow, he will believe the moon is yellow …. The trust is a blind trust, so I really appreciate what he has done for me,” Pang said.

Pang opened her first Surrey Hills Grocer store in December 2021, and eventually went on to open four other locations.

She told CNBC she’s on track to surpass her 2023 revenue of $8 million (SG$11 million) and has been bringing in an average of SG$1.4 million in monthly sales this year, according to unaudited statements seen by CNBC.

As of April, Pang said she’s also manufacturing her own line of pet products called Furry Hills. Additionally, she is working on developing a new Japanese ramen restaurant, Spanish restaurant and Taiwanese shabu restaurant, all set to open in the third quarter of this year.

Biggest lessons

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