There are many skills an entrepreneur needs to succeed but one has become increasingly indispensable is online marketing – and newlyweds Ben Ali and Nadiyah Shahab got it down pat.
The pair, who started cake business Absolut Chocolat, took to the internet to create a ‘pour it yourself’ campaign. The video showing a moist and fluffy chocolate cake being poured over by glistening chocolate sauce got people’s attention.
“There are over a thousand cake brands out there. So, we came up with the pour-it-yourself concept to differentiate ourselves from other brands – and it quickly became our brand identity,” says Nadiyah.
The post prompted large enquiries from customers. What helped their online marketing further, the former actress and TV host got her celebrity friends to showcase her cakes on social media too.
There are over a thousand cake brands out there. So, we came up with the pour-it-yourself concept to differentiate ourselves
“We do play that to our advantage,” says Nadiyah. “Having said that, we don’t leverage only on that. We also make sure that our brand is something that is fun, relatable and inventive.”
“So, when we had a few key people from the (entertainment) to spearhead our campaigns, it was very easy for the trend to catch on, and for other influencers and celebrities to want in (to be part of the trend) as well.”
The pair prides in having all their cakes made by hand. “Even the sauce is stirred by hand from scratch – from chocolate until it becomes molten lava,” says Nadiyah.
“We produce at least 100 to 150 whole cakes per day and 400 to 500 boxes of sliced cakes, that we send to the petrol stations,” says Ben, who manages a team of 18 people.
Absolut Chocolat cakes are available in major fuel retail outlets like Petronas, Shell, Petron and Caltex – a strategy the pair deems necessary to reach a wider market.
“When you are strong online, you reach people that are tuned in to you but there are so many people are not, like the taxi drivers or working mothers who do not have time to be active online,” says Nadiyah.
You are going to be getting your petrol from somewhere and that’s where we want them to see our cakes
“You are going to be getting your petrol from somewhere and that’s where we want them to see our cakes.”
Absolut Chocolat’s customers are predominantly from one segment (‘Ninety-five percent of our customers are Malay’). Ben views that going ‘offline’ will also help improve the brand’s reach.
“We want to expand our business by entering more physical stores, hotels or even 7-Eleven outlets too, so that we can reach out to more Chinese and Indian customers,” says Ben.
The couple also employs ‘agents’ to market the cakes, that has helped pushed the brand into Singapore and Brunei.
“We figured this was the best way for our cakes to reach people from all corners of Malaysia. So, our agents help expand our business, at the same time, earn a living too,” says Nadiyah.
The couple, who’s been married less than a year, is aiming to expand the brand aggressively. “It feels surreal. It feels like it was only last month that I brought the cake to Ben and said, let’s do it!” Nadiyah says with excitement.
“Of course, we had all kinds of challenges. We are strong online, most of our sales is dependant on our campaigns. So, when they hype dies down, we get that anxiety that sales will slow.”
For that reason, the young entrepreneurs want Absolut Chocolat to have a stronger physical presence.
Our target for 2019 is to open a kiosk in Pavilion or KLCC mall
“Our target for 2019 is to open a kiosk in Pavilion or KLCC mall,” says Ben. “We do not plan to open a bakery yet. It would be great for branding but it is less accessible because we will be in one location.”
“It will be easier for people to reach us through our distribution model,” he says, adding they aim to bring the brand out of the cake mould under a bigger brand called Absolut Brands, that will house a snack food and event organising businesses too.
“We will launch our new product called Absolut Chips in March or April,” says Nadiyah. “The product is salted egg fish skin chips – which are popular now, so we are riding on the trend.”
“Absolut Events is the one that we are most excited about because we will be hosting a major food festival in April.”
The event is will highlight major local food and beverage brands and products.
“We believe in supporting local (businesses) because, after all, that (support) was given to us, and after all that we’ve received, we want to do the same for other local brands too,” says Nadiyah.