The last six months have been a wild ride filled with unknowns and uncertainty, especially for sustainable business owners and entrepreneurs. We recently caught up with Emma Paris, owner of Balanced Living and The Living Cafe in Singapore to hear how they survived the COVID storm, and how its loyal community is helping them thrive once again.
Finding a place that feels like a personal sanctuary is vital in today’s go-go-go society. We all want a safe space in which we can step away from our demanding lives, take a deep breath, and feel connected and supported. That’s what Balanced Living and The Living Café have been offering Singapore residents since 2011. Their wellness clinic, yoga studio, and plant-based café provide everything from reiki workshops to raw foods, and healthy gut programmes to hearty meals. But how do you offer sanctuary during a pandemic lockdown? We chatted with the company to find out the challenges they’ve faced during the pandemic, how they’ve continued to support their customers, and what they’ve learnt.
Can you tell us a little bit about Balanced Living and The Living Café?
Balanced Living was the brainchild of our founding partner, Dana Heather, who was on a very simple mission to empower people to make informed and educated choices about their health. Shortly after, in 2011, The Living Café was opened to support this lifestyle, foster a positive community, and look after our planet with a healthy consumption agenda. That mission stays true to this day.
Both businesses traditionally rely on in-person patronage. How have you worked around this during the pandemic?
The nature of our services are very much about the experience; the food at the café is prepared from scratch every day and our customers come to us for sanctuary. With only four days’ notice to close down our day-to-day operation, we had to quickly reset our business. Many customers wanted our services to continue so we provided island-wide delivery for the café, launched a series of free webinars and clinic consultations for Balanced Living, and increased visibility on our e-commerce platforms to provide daily delivery services for all our health products.
Why did you decide to provide online services and what kinds of thing do you offer?
We expected people to feel anxious, concerned, and even lonely as the lockdown situation worsened and we wanted to do our part to support them. We hold Zoom webinars every two weeks, and clients can choose to just listen or actively participate by asking the practitioner questions. Our topics so far have included optimising immunity, managing stress and anxiety, strategies for better sleep, and managing a healthy gut. We also hold free 15-minute virtual clinics every Friday morning, where clients can speak one-on-one with a practitioner to get advice and discuss personal needs. It takes a lot of time to prepare the content for these sessions but they’ve been so well received we’ll continue to provide them for free indefinitely now.
How have both the team and the customers responded to the changes?
The team have been tremendously supportive. Even though our revenues dropped by over 60%, we went into lockdown planning to protect everyone’s jobs and we’re delighted that we were able to achieve that. Our regular clients have been amazing; many of them have been ordering takeaway food from the café, and community partners have been helping with promotions and joint activity programmes. The community spirit really helped us through this challenging time.
How has it been launching an updated menu for The Living Café during this time?
Like any F&B operator, managing day-to-day operations with the need for change is always a point of tension, but the lockdown was actually the perfect opportunity to try out new ideas in the kitchen and test them with our regular customers. The café has always been at the forefront of plant-based cuisine and raw food, and our new menu will continue to focus on the science of food. We’ll be working with some of the best chefs here in Singapore and the amazing variety of Healthforce superfoods we retail in our store. Watch this space!
Has it been a challenge to remain sustainable while having to implement new hygiene measures (e.g. face masks, hand sanitiser, etc)?
Obviously disposable masks aren’t sustainable; I hope that in time we’re able to find reusable face masks that are as effective as the disposable ones. Outside of that, we use sustainable products for hygiene control wherever we can, relying on our range of essential oils and natural cleaning products such as ETL and Soapnut Republic. The natural world provides all that we need! There’s a significant cost in running a sustainable business; it’s easier to go for cheap(er) options, but now more than ever it’s vital that all businesses do their bit and put the planet’s agenda first.
What do you think the post-pandemic future looks like for Balanced Living/The Living Cafe?
Now that lockdown is over, we’re already seeing new customers in the café eager to learn about the benefits of plant-based cuisine, and the clinic is fully booked for the next six weeks as more people address their health issues. One big lesson for everyone during this pandemic has been how we prioritise our wellness going forward. As a business rooted in this space, we hope the pandemic reiterates the importance of personal health. We’ll continue to support our customers on their journey, encouraging them to implement prevention as the best defence.
Has your outlook on life/business changed during this time?
The pandemic has opened our eyes to how adaptable people can be. Things that seemed impossible a few months ago are now part of our everyday lives. Also, we came to understand the importance of agility; if there was ever a time to move quickly, write a new plan for tomorrow, and keep a smile on your face, this was it. During the pandemic, we quickly sold out of our immunity support products and had to control supply to ensure everyone had access to the products they needed. We’ve also been taught to cherish our community of customers and partners. As the saying goes, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
This article is brought to you in collaboration with Balanced Living
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