Determined to live a less than ordinary working life, CUHK Business School student Ashley Chan was inspired by her student exchange experience in New York into taking over a bagel factory while studying in accountancy. Promoting healthy eating habits with a vision and a new attitude, Ashley founded Blendit Superfood Eats — a health food store which sells smoothies, homemade bagels and other health products.
Ashley Chan (Professional Accountancy Year 4) originally shared the ambitions of many. She planned to work in a bank or an accounting firm upon graduation, but her career plan changed after her internship and exchange experiences in Year 3. During her internships at a bank and a Big Four accounting firm, the long working hours turned her focus on her physical and mental well-being.
Turning Experience into Expertise
The inspiration to start Blendit came when she noticed that many wage earners were eager to adopt healthy diets, but had neither access to healthy ingredients nor the energy to cook after work. While many shops were selling smoothies and bagels back when she was an student exchange in New York, this was an opportunity ripe for exploitation in Hong Kong.
She first collected and researched different styles of smoothie recipes online, and produced smoothie kits for sale. Later, she discovered that HongKongers were not used to replacing meals with smoothies. She then introduced handmade bagels to meet the needs of different customers. In order to fulfil her ambitions, Ashley rented a factory in Fotan to produce bagels and sold them online via its Facebook and Instagram channels and at pop-up markets. In one of the pop-up markets, she met Scott, co-founder of Bagoes, a specialist domestic producer of bagels. Scott offered to sell her not only bagel machinery at a low price, but also access to recipes, customers and his experience.
In her early entrepreneurial days, Ashley was the only worker in her factory. She got up at 5am or 6am to make bagels and handle kitchen work until the afternoon. Meanwhile, she also dealt with customers, orders, marketing plans, and finding business partners. After six months of hard work, she opened her first offline store in Tai Kok Tsui in March 2019. Knowing that opportunities did not wait, Ashley took a year off school to focus on her business.
Blendit’s proposition is to promote a healthy lifestyle without sacrificing taste. It sells not only bagels and smoothies, but also superfood powders and products from different local health food brands. Superfood powders are made from natural ingredients, and can be enjoyed by mixing with cheese, smoothies, and water to achieve therapeutic effects. The shop currently offers around 40 types of superfood powders, each with different effects, from anti-oxidising benefits, lowering the three highs (high blood pressure, high blood glucose and high blood lipid), detoxification, to helping digestion. One type of superfood powder, called Camu Camu, has 60 times more vitamin C than oranges, and has become highly popular.
Under the economic uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, Ashley took several measures to maintain Blendit’s business. On the wholesale side, she launched cross-promotion partnerships with coffee shops to boost her business, while on the retail side, she introduced a “6+1 weekly bagel plan” (buy six get one free) online hoping that even those who work from home can get a taste of her bagels and gradually develop a healthy eating habit. Disinfection efforts have been stepped up in her store – customers and staff are required to wear a mask before entering, and food-tasting activities have been suspended. Ashley also noticed that many customers in the neighbourhood could not buy masks and disinfection products at first, so she sourced and sold some masks, wet paper towels, and hand sanitisers to people in need at cost.
Resuming her studies this year, Ashley said the shift from traditional to online lectures during the COVID-19 outbreak has been beneficial. In addition to saving transportation time, online learning via Zoom and Blackboard gives her more flexibility in her scheduling. She can watch archived video lectures at night while spending time to look after her business during the day. She finds such a flexible mode of learning suitable for working students like herself.
Chasing Her Entrepreneurial Dream
As long as I do my best, even if I failed, the learning journey would have been invaluable. — Ashley Chan
Ashley revealed that Blendit has achieved break-even, with an average monthly turnover of about HK$100,000. From the creation of Blendit to the takeover of Bagoes, she spent about HK$600,000, of which more than HK$100,000 consisted of prize money from CUHK’s entrepreneurship competition, another HK$100,000 from her internship and part-time income, and the rest was funded by her family.
From a business student to a business owner, the change has been anything but easy: Ashley has put her heart and soul into learning the art of business management, alongside on-the-job training and countless experiments. She said the sense of satisfaction from running a shop is unlike working an ordinary job. Despite the long working hours, she remains persistent: “As long as I do my best, even if I failed, the learning journey would have been invaluable.”
Ashley is proud to be part of the CUHK community. She expressed, “I’m grateful for the understanding and flexibility offered by the School of Accountancy in support of my entrepreneurial and learning journey.” She would also like to thank her customers, some of whom are CUHK students, for their continuous support. As a student entrepreneur, she encourages other students and HongKongers to pursue their dreams while they are young and to live without regrets.
* Photo courtesy of Apple Daily and HK01