‘The expat entrepreneur’ is a Yay For Today Q&A series with expats who have set up their own businesses
Wynona is mum to two lovely girls, wife to an English guy and the owner of the thriving catering company Lush Platters. Lush Platters creates grazing platters, grazing tables and cheese platters for clients in Singapore.
Her family immigrated from Vietnam to Australia in the late 70s and she grew up in Sydney. Eight years ago the family moved to Singapore having never set foot in the country before! Prior to Singapore Wynona lived in Hong Kong and London. She has a background in advertising as well as food and beverage. Lush Platters is a year old and it is her second business in Singapore, having sold the first one several years ago.
How did you come up with the concept for your business?
I discovered the concept of ‘grazing’ from social media in Australia. This style of food presentation was unheard of in Singapore, no one was doing it. I have a background in food, so I like to keep up with the trends. Our family loves traveling and entertaining and we are always looking for new ways to cater for parties at home, using unique flavours and artisan food.
I decided to do a small grazing platter for my daughter’s birthday party. It was such a huge hit amongst our guests young and old. I enjoyed putting it together so much, it gave me the motivation to start a grazing business in Singapore. Catering is a notoriously wasteful industry and I wanted to put an eco-friendly spin on it. I recalled the ‘boodle fight’ feast my Filipino friends and I put on months earlier and that’s how the idea of using banana leaves as a base came about. I found suppliers for sustainable packaging, including palm leaf products, recycled paper boxes and containers, coconuts and birch cutlery.
Some of Lush Platters amazing grazing tables and platters.
What was your mission at the outset?
To create a strong brand, with a consistent voice, aesthetic and message. I wanted to bring the wow factor into catering services. The boring corporate buffets were really tired. Food in plastic and foil takeaway boxes were underwhelming. I wanted to create unique, beautiful and delicious food that brings joy into people’s home, offices and event spaces. Meh just doesn’t cut it!
Did you chose your current location or did it chose you?
My husband’s job brought us to Singapore and we love it! It doesn’t feel like 8 years already that’s for sure. We were always excited about new horizons and the move was a fairly easy decision. When we had our second child in Singapore we said right let’s make Singapore our home, we became Permanent Residents. We are very active with both our girls, the local school, neighborhood and the social scene we have here.
Do you think being an expat contributes to your success at all?
Actually we’re pleasantly surprised about the mix of customers that love our products and services, such a wide variety. The nature of our products initially appealed to the expat market who are used to boutique, local village dairy farm produce. The local taste, however, for artisan cheese and gourmet products is emerging quickly. We have certainly unlocked and tapped into a market for the well travelled local and also those who want a taste of when they traveled, lived or studied in Europe and Australasia. We wanted to engage with both locals and expats on a personal level, to give them the quality and service they hoped for at a local deli.
Do you face any unique challenges because you are an expat running a local business?
What qualifies as an expat? We don’t really think we fit into the generic stereotype, we are PR and have been PR for 6 years, our kids go to a local school and catch the local bus with the other friends from school. We often eat locally in our neighborhood hawker and keep fit in East Coast Park.
In terms of owning and running the business, the government have made it very straight forward for permanent residents and citizens to start a business in Singapore. To rent, refit and build a shop and then obtain food certification license was as tough as you would expect. The government have really strict policies around starting a food business in Sinagpore for good reason. With the climate we must attest to rigorous checks to make sure we pass – it keeps food business on its toes so we can continue to serve the public fresh, healthy food.
If you had one piece of advice for an expat entrepreneur just starting out what would it be?
If you are thinking of starting a new business and you believe you have a great product and the means to give it a shot, don’t hesitate! Life is too short for what ifs. Be authentic, be genuine, be humble and don’t be afraid to ask for help! Be prepared to work hard… your social life may come second. Sure things will be tough at first but don’t give up, have capital in reserve for those tough unforeseen moments, there will be some.
Also and most importantly know your customer, seek feedback all the time and continuously improve what you are doing. What you initially set out to do may not be what you end up doing, be agile and flow with the change. It’s far better to have really tried and fail rather than not try at all. Also you must love what you do, give credit where credit is due, align yourself with good people, think outside the box and go the extra mile for your customers – this will manifest itself in the service you offer or work that you do and people warm to this. Most of all have fun and live to learn, it’s all an experience that is a part of your journey!
Wynona Leach is from Australia and is a entrepreneur based in Singapore currently running her own catering company. She has also lived in Hong Kong and London. You can follow her on Instagram @lushplatters.