VMO Rocks with a Heart for F&B Operators

In the midst of the slowdown in the F&B and events industry, one company is helping players effectively ride out this period.

When it comes to food and beverage, Malaysia is truly blessed. There is no denying that Malaysians’ love for food has enabled a truly vibrant F&B industry in the country.

Its unique identity as a melting pot of cultures has resulted in the many different cuisines, with outlets ranging from full-service restaurants and fast food joints to cafes and bars, to street stalls and food trucks – we have it all!

Besides offering a diverse array of cuisines, many of these outlets also serve another vital purpose – as event venues. In the last decade, we have seen more and more F&B outlets offering events related services, even availing themselves for private bookings for everything from large weddings to small business events.

With so many options available, however, reaching out to the market and consumers could prove to be tricky.

Realising this, two veteran entrepreneurs – Vincent Kok and Tham Lih Chung – set out in 2014 to bridge this gap. Their solution was VMO Rocks, which is today Malaysia’s fastest-growing and enterprising digital platform that provides the essential match between F&B entrepreneurs and consumers.

A pioneer in its field, VMO’s digital platform allows consumers to book their event space and additional services such as caterers and photographers. Within a matter of minutes, quotations are provided for the booking.

Sizeable growth

With over 2,000 listings generating over RM180 million in event enquiries for operators on its platform, VMO Rocks is certainly an industry disruptor on its way to being the largest one-stop F&B ecosystem in the country. VMO Rocks brings the entire value chain under one digital space by putting SMEs on the map and matching F&B entrepreneurs’ needs to enhance the performance of their business.

Today, VMO’s business ecosystem includes beverage e-commerce platform, Boozeat; F&B discovery search engine, FoodAdvisor and bulk-buying platform, Bundle Up.

The company has also received a growing amount of interest from potential investors. In 2017, the company raised RM500,000 from Cradle Fund and equity crowdfunding site, CrowdPlus. In more recent times, VMO embarked on an equity exercise with crowdfunding platform, PitchIn, which had exceeded its target of raising RM2 million. Further cementing investor optimism, VMO had also concluded negotiations with early-stage venture fund and seed accelerator, 500 Startups.

Reaching out to the industry

While things are certainly looking up for VMO Rocks, the F&B industry took a sharp turn this year in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. This unprecedented time has seen the industry being considerably impacted with governments around the world restricting and even shutting down businesses to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus. In Malaysia, the Movement Control Order (MCO) dealt a deep blow on F&B businesses nationwide. Moreover, the ban on public gatherings has further added fuel to the fire in terms of loss of revenue from events.

“Being a digital booking platform which champions F&B venues and service providers, we especially feel their plight and share their predicament. With the current situation, we are already seeing considerable adverse impact on the F&B industry, both from a short-term perspective and in the long term,” says Kok.

“In the short term, the industry will have to endure a time when people will not dine out as much – we are already seeing this, even after certain restrictions on dining out were lifted. Industry players will have to be more adaptive to this shift, such as configure their business to be more delivery oriented. This is one example of measures in place at VMO Rocks to help F&B operators cope with this shift, which will hopefully see them riding out this period more effectively and efficiently,” he explained.

VMO initiated a food delivery and pick-up service on March 17th – a day after the MCO was announced. The service partnered with F&B outlets, connecting the users of its platform directly to these merchants through a specifically developed ordering engine powered by WhatsApp, making it easy for consumers to order food for pick-up or delivery. To date, the platform has more than 1,000 listings for this purpose and is seeing increasing demand – both by F&B operators and users alike – on a daily basis.

“I believe the rapid growth of this delivery platform truly showcases the plight of many F&B operators out there. Our ultimate aim is to help them as best we can, which is why we have made it very easy for them to join the platform. We don’t require our merchants to buy hardware or install software. They can be up and running on our platform in as little as 24 hours. All our merchants are assured equal visibility and we don’t take an obscene fee or percentage of their revenue. In fact, during the MCO, we didn’t even take a cent from our partners,” said Kok.

Brighter days ahead

Kok also opines that the industry will eventually get back on its feet, although players would have to change and adapt with the times.

“In the long run, I think we will see an eventual warming-up of consumers to dining out, and a gradual increase in demand for events-related services, which will certainly bode well for the industry. Nevertheless, the digitisation aspect trend of the F&B industry is here to stay, as I see it – and that can certainly be good for the industry as a whole, and subsequently, the economy,” says Kok.

“We need to embrace change and adapt to evolving technological trends, even in the F&B and events space. This is something that we champion at VMO. Today, we are witnessing more industry players working closely with technology solution providers in order to be more competitive, while exploring new value-added ventures.”

“We strongly believe the future of the industry can indeed look bright if industry players are open to change with the times and remain relevant, while not only adopting, but embracing new technologies. The alternative is to risk being left behind,” he adds.

Indeed, VMO Rocks is truly living up to its calling as an industry disruptor with a heart for F&B and event venue operators. And while there is optimism that Malaysia will once again see a thriving F&B and events scene, it is certainly heartening that there are companies such as VMO Rocks to help it get there.

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