The Peak Next Gen: Lee Hui Jing

Lee Hui Jing wants her BilaBila Mart to be the cornerstone of suburban convenience
Lee Hui Jing of BilaBila Mart.

Lee Hui Jing of BilaBila Mart.

Truth be told, Lee Hui Jing perhaps caused some concern among everyone when she arrived heavily pregnant at the studio where her photo shoot and interview was set to take place!

But the seemingly unflappable 35-year-old gingerly sat her expecting self down, before unleashing a quick dose of humour… perhaps for the benefit of calming nerves down a bit! Already with a young son, Lee reckons that she and her husband will be blessed with another offspring only in about a few weeks’ time. “So, don’t worry, I promise no one needs to drive me to hospital just yet,” she chuckles.

This is how she’s always been like, explains Lee – keen to go off the beaten track, while always having a genuinely friendly manner about her. “And you know what? I’ve also always been drawn to the unconventional, and let’s just say that my parents didn’t always agree with my choices in life back in the day!”

Groceries Like in The Good Old Days…

“Over the years, I’ve been in f & b, worked in skincare, I was even on the business side of the radio industry for a while! Then, I went into things like education and even motorsports! But my first, you might say, real job, was with a tobacco company… at British American Tobacco (BAT),” she reveals as she goes further down memory lane. “Quite unconventional, right? Especially for a lady, as some might also say!”

The Peak Next Gen.

The Peak Next Gen. (L-R Tan Kay Zhuin, Group CEO T7 Global Bhd, Lee Hui Jing, Co-Founder, Bila Bila Mart and Jason Ang Founder & Managing Director, Content T Digital Agency.

“But in spite of all the challenges that came with being the only female employee in the sales department at BAT back then,” she goes on, “The experience I gained there built a great foundation for the start of my own business later on. I got a better idea of how my own business would be like, and what kind of culture I’d like to drive it with.”

That was then followed by a stint as an insurance agent. And again, Lee remembers her folks being not too thrilled with her new gig as it was completely commission based! “And that was when I first felt the uneasiness of not having enough income, especially when I didn’t manage to close any sales in a particular month! Yet, this was another experience that gave me a taste of how entrepreneurship could really would be like.”

The Start of BilaBila Mart

In no time at all, Lee got restless and got bored of selling insurance as she felt that it was way too uneventful for her liking. “And at about this time I met the man who later became my husband, and together with another one of his friends, we decide to start BilaBila Mart as partners!”

“My future husband’s own experiences positioned him as a bit of an expert in the property market in Malaysia, plus he actually knew many landlords across the city personally – this helped tremendously in our own business development plans. It also gave us a head start when sourcing for suitable locations for our future outlets. You know how it is with conveniences store: It’s all about location, location, location!”

Lee Hui Jing of BilaBila Mart.

Lee Hui Jing of BilaBila Mart.

Lee goes on: “Our other partner, well he’s a financial guy. He’s in the banking industry so he’s quite well-versed with the art of fundraising and also cash-flow management. And that is his area of speciality in our partnership!”

Before the never-ending mall and convenience store invasion throughout the Klang Valley, these were once that unflappable neighbourhood institution, the go-to places for grocery staples, snacks and other basic necessities. Yup, many would surely easily remember that long-standing kedai runcit experience from recent past, yes?

The Kedai Runcit Exprience

“And this was what we wanted to replicate, albeit with plenty of modern customisation, with our own BilaBila Mart,” Lee proudly reveals. “Depending on where the outlet is, we don’t just operate as your run-of-the-mill convenience store, but also sell fresh produce like fruit and vegetables – just like a proper, old-fashioned kedai runcit would.”

“Every BilaBila Mart is set up as a neighbourhood store that sells all sorts of knick-knacks and also serves the needs of the community. The kedai runcit have lost out with the convenience of hypermarkets and larger supermarkets. Hence, with BilaBila Mart, not only did we wanted to rekindle the nostalgia of this old school shopping idea, but also wanted it to be a more sustainable and sensible way that better caters to modern needs.”

And in spite of the three partners different unique strengths, they do share one thing in common, and that is a love for high quality groceries! They also wanted to champion the fact that affordable, locally-produced food and drinks as not necessarily that of low quality. So, they painstakingly pinpointed quality local brands across multiple product categories to stock at their chain.

Sourcing Local Products

From cold brews to kombucha, artisanal chips to low-calorie ice cream, and fresh fruits and vegetables, one can easily whip up all three meals by visiting BilaBila Mart. “But we don’t stock anything that we ourselves don’t absolutely love,” swears Lee!

“We also carefully scrutinise packaging, nutritional information and HACCP [Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point] certification to ensure everything meets food safety standards. Yup, we have a real commitment to excellence and quality, while also championing the cause of local brands – it really is a win, win situation for everyone involved!”

Lee also reveals that the ratio of local to foreign products in BilaBila Mart is 70:30. Lee points out that specially curated products are matched with the demographics surrounding a particular store. “So, for example, if our store is located in a Malay-dominated area, we will not carry non-halal products. Our outlet at institutions of higher learnings also do not offer sin products like alcohol and tobacco.”

Since the first BilaBila Mart opened in March 2020, its management team has grown from just the three founders to over 100 people strong! This is commendable indeed, considering much of its growth was during the two years of the pandemic. And for the time being, BilaBila Mart has a total of 26 stores, all of which are located in the Klang Valley, with a few in more expat- and tourist-centric zones like Mont’Kiara and downtown KL.

The Future of BilaBila Mart

Best of all, it also counts property developer Exsim Group as a key investor, thus opening future doors to becoming a standard feature in all its residential projects!

“I think our greatest appeal, especially for residential areas, is that we sell fresh produce and dry groceries together, as most other minimarts only sell the latter. We found a sweet spot between convenience store and grocer, so now we label ourselves simply as the ‘convenience grocer’,” ends Lee with a wry grin.

Digital Director: Lira Jamaluddin, Content Producer: Janice Teh, Photographer: Edmund Lee, Hair and Makeup: Clara Siew, Videographer: Jackie Mah.

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