Losing sleep and weight over the MCO

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Christy Ng, fashion entrepreneur and founder of shoe retailer and manufacturer Christy Ng Sdn Bhd, has not had a proper night’s sleep since March 17. She has lost 3kg and is on the verge of depression. 

As she watches her bank account depleting, and with no proper income stream, she thrashes about wildly for solutions, digging into her personal savings and selling whatever she has that is of value.

“Basically, we are manufacturers and retailers of footwear. So, I am being hit left and right. The shopping mall rent is hitting me badly. Of course, in normal times before Covid-19, we had no problem paying rent. But now…” she trails off.

It is not like Ng does not have grit. She started selling shoes at a night market, going without sales some days and wasting materials while designing her shoes. Coming from an average family, with a father who was an air-conditioning technician and a mother who was practically a housewife, she knew there would be no family money to tide her over if she hit any rough spots.

Ng’s first big break came when she won the Alliance Bizsmart SME Innovation Challenge in 2013. She used the RM250,000 prize money to build a 3D customisation engine for custom-made shoes for her website. In 2015, she received a RM500,000 grant from Cradle Fund, which she used for marketing and advertising the online business.

Ng tells Enterprise that of her 10 landlords, two — Sunway and the Ikano Group — have stepped up to offer free rent for the duration of the Movement Control Order (MCO). “They knew we could not  stomach this anymore. But not all landlords are doing this.”

The others are either giving partial waivers or none at all.

Ng’s company has been forced to stop manufacturing while still paying its staff their full salaries. “I have exhausted my personal savings and now I am trying to sell my one property — an apartment — to pay rent and my 100 employees,” she says.

The problem is that, this is not the time to sell property. Because of the MCO, real estate agents are not taking clients to view properties. And Ng is at her wit’s end, willing to do whatever it takes to stay afloat. 

“I am trying to cash out of my insurance policies, sell my house … My whole life is ruined. I am a first-generation entrepreneur in my family. My father was an air-cond man. I cannot be going back to my family to ask for money, unless I want to borrow their EPF savings,” she says.

“This pandemic is killing all business owners. A lot of us will be closed after this.”

While staff salaries and rents are the biggest fixed costs, these are by no means Ng’s only ones. “To give you an idea, I have to pay for my gmail account, data, insurance for retail shops, insurance for the staff as well. And I need to pay my loans that I took before Covid-19 for all my machinery. These debts are not going to stop. The moratorium on loans does help, but we just come out of this with more debt,” she says.

As bad as things are for her, Ng knows that many other businesses are worse off.

What help would she like from the government? “First of all, make sure that we can pay our staff. Save the small and medium enterprises (SMEs), save jobs. At least offer us some bridge subsidies,” says Ng.

What does she think of the RM600 wage subsidy? “There are too many caveats. First of all, we would have to have lost 50% since January. But that was before the Covid-19 really hit Malaysia. And then, there is a threshold — you cannot redeem for employees earning above RM4,000,” she points out.

“First, to verify that I had lost 50%, I would have to hire an auditor during this period when I have no money to pay for one. It is all too expensive and complicated,” says Ng. 

“I think the government should give subsidies according to industry. For instance, when it comes to retail, everybody knows the malls are closed. There is no need to audit, no need to check. It is obvious.”

She says the subsidies should be simple, like what the government is doing for the rakyat. “Like how it is giving Prihatin to everybody. What it did for the rakyat was great. For the businesses, not so great.”

Ng says the relief should not stop at companies with 100 employees. “For a manufacturer and retailer like me, having 100 staff is very common. And a lot of the larger companies are crying, not only the SMEs. It is all a big mess. 

“Why can’t we do what Singapore is doing, that is, subsidising every employee’s salary? It is very contradictory. You want to protect jobs, but you are not protecting the companies providing the jobs.”

Read also:
What businesses really want from the government, and why
Government, employers and employees must contribute to save jobs
Covid-19 & MCO: Tax relief proposals for SME