by AFIQ AZIZ/ pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL
WHO can resist buying rice and eggs to feed yourself and do good at the same time?
All things being equal, that is what Muslim preacher and well-known philanthropist Ebit Lew (picture; right) seems to be doing with his chain of ElewsMart stores.
ElewsMart stores are one of those ventures that doesn’t make sense on paper. Lew said it is a real business meant to make money, but at the same time, a big chunk of any profit would go toward funding any one of his myriad charity projects.
Lew said his objective is twofold — to give people a cheaper source of food and to provide funding for charity work. He has a third, extremely private objective. He doesn’t say it, but it is clear Lew is also operating his stores as a service to God and earn a few afterlife credits too.
The first of his planned chain opened in Bangi last month and judging by the long line of people queuing, it’s already working.
Speaking to The Malaysian Reserve a day before the launch, Lew said the first 10 ElewsMart stores will be opened in the next few weeks, at a rate of one a month.
Currently, there are already ElewsMarts in Kajang, Cyberjaya, Sg Buloh and Petaling Jaya.
“I hope to open more ElewsMart in the country after these branches are established.
“As of now, I am not sure by how many, but definitely I will plan to expand this mart to other areas.”
Lew said he plans for the stores to be viable, but at the same time, provide people with cheap essentials. So, it’s a delicate balance.
“It is not too cheap, but we will try to make a small margin out of it. If we can’t, we will sell them at the same rate,” he added.
A quick look at ElewsMart prices confirms that it is not a giveaway store. At any given time, you probably can get cheaper soy sauce at one of the big chains.
For instance, a 100plus (1.5L) is sold at RM3.75 at ElewsMart compared to RM2.85 at Speedmart. Milo 1kg pack retailed at RM19.54 compared to RM16.49 and Kipas Udang small soy sauce is priced at RM5.09 compared to RM4.95.
However, condensed milk per tin is RM3.23 at ElewsMart compared to RM3.63 at Tesco.
Lew said the shop will have special offers on certain items, like the more than 80% discount on certain dates to attract customers to his shop. This, he said, will give chances for the needy to spend at ElewsMart.
ElewsMart is considered as a social business — a concept whose purpose is to solve social problems in a financially sustainable way.
Lew said its products distribution centre (DC) in Bangi will also be a one-stop centre for a food bank programme.
“Originally, that is the main purpose when I went to the ground helping the needy during the difficult time of Movement Control Order.
“So, through this DC, we will think about how to disburse essential items to the needful group with all the facilities that we have in the whole chain.”
Lew said the challenge to ensure the success of ElewsMart is to convince suppliers.
“Some suppliers are sceptical if we can sell heir products, which is a normal risk for a new business.
“So, we just accept whoever wants to be part of this plan for now.”
Lew, who is also popular for his motivational programmes, is a trained human resources consultant. He also has other businesses such as Elew’s Design, a fashion business.
ElewsMart caught the public’s attention when word got out that it is meant to serve all people, regardless of creed and colour.
Lew said he received around 16,000 applications within the first two days when he opened job vacancies for ElewsMart.
Lew’s chain of cheaper food stores to help the people is not the first to attempt the concept.
In 2011, the same initiative was introduced by the government through the then popular Kedai Rakyat 1Malaysia (KR1M).
Spearheaded by grocery chain Mydin Mohamed Holdings Bhd and helped on through multimillion ringgit in government aid, KR1M offered relatively lower prices to the public, mainly selling its own brand via repackaging.
After a few rebranding exercises, supply problems and lack of branches, the KR1M brand is all but defunct as two-thirds of more than 160 KR1M shops in the country ceased operations as of 2018.
Lew’s business, unencumbered by politics and red tape, promises to be more agile and focused on his mission.
“InsyaAllah we will prevail,” he said.