The Cookie That Doesn't Crumble: Regine Sum
There’s nothing half-baked about this cookie! We speak to Regine Sum, the founder of Nasty Cookie, to find out the key ingredients to success.
From a certified personal trainer and professional bodybuilder, to a cookie connoisseur, Regine’s entrepreneurial journey as the founder of Nasty Cookie has been an unpredictable ride from the very beginning. For many budding business, Covid-19 was a huge roadblock, but Regine knew she could turn adversity into opportunity—within the span of a year, she expanded from her first outlet in Funan to three, including her flagship store in Techview at Kaki Bukit. From a half-baked idea to the cream of the crop when it comes to cookies, we spoke to Regine at her cafe at Techview to find out how this tough cookie braved through all the ups and downs.
1. Can you share with us a little more about Nasty Cookie and what it means as a brand?
Nasty Cookie is a creative outlet for me to showcase my character and my inner-self. When I first started Nasty Cookie, it was an online platform, so I had the freedom to be cheeky with my captions and explore the things I wanted to. We strive to be bold and create things from the heart. Now that we have physical stores, they’ve become a platform for me to introduce quality service in Singapore. The service staff in Western countries are friendlier and more sociable, so I’m trying to cultivate a similar culture here.
2. What was the inspiration and influence behind the brand and design of the store?
When I first started out, I didn’t think of it as a business since I was just casually baking. The first cookie I baked looked horrendous, and my mother commented that it looked nasty, so that’s how I got the name. In terms of the store, I know that blue isn’t a warm, appetising colour, but I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to show that no matter what the colour (of the store is), the cookies can still look and taste good.
3. We understand there was some pushback from your family initially. How did you convince them and was there any moment where you faced self-doubt?
(I’m the type of person where) the more you ask me to not do something, the more I’d want to do it (laughs). I like a good challenge and I had a goal—I wanted to hit 500 sales within a month. My capital startup was $800 so I worked within that. I had to bake non-stop, sometimes until 5AM, to complete the early batch of orders. Now, my entire family is helping me with the business, because they see its potential.
4. As a young woman entrepreneur, what are some unexpected setbacks you’ve faced?
I’d say I have not faced any setbacks in terms of gender but there have been setbacks because of my age. People don’t believe I can manage a central kitchen. I’m still a normal 24-year-old girl, but that doesn’t mean I can’t handle a business.
5. While your cookies have always been popular, they really took off last year.
Share with us some things you’ve learnt from expanding your business during a time of uncertainty.
Before Covid-19 struck, we were already receiving many orders, but we only had one shop in Funan with a small home-style kitchen. I struggled badly with the bottleneck because no one else knew how to make the dough so the waiting time was very long initially.
So when Circuit Breaker came around, I took it as an opportunity to keep my profit margin and expand. It gave me the chance to grow from a 10-men team to a 60-men team, and change things, like investing in a commercial oven. Instead of spending all my time in the kitchen, I now have an office.
6. What’s something you wish you knew before you started your own business?
I wish I knew that there’s no such thing as work-life balance when you own a business. You can’t really escape, even when you’re overseas. I struggled in the first year because I felt like I really gave up my entire life to the business and I didn’t want to let it go. If I accepted this fact, and knew it from the start, things would have progressed faster and I’d have saved a lot of time.
7. What challenges do you foresee for the business down the road?
The F&B industry in Singapore is very competitive, so there are definitely challenges in store. One of the easiest way to compete is by lowering your price, but I feel that it’s not the way to proceed because I’m a start-up and I don’t have as much funds as compared to other businesses. For now, I’m focusing on building brand loyalty, so that people will keep coming back for my cookies instead of just looking at the price. That’s also why I focus on service quality. We pay our staff well because I see them as partners—if you treat them well, they’ll treat the customers well. A lot of my part-timers started from Day 1, so they’ve seen me through the journey so far. I also encourage my staff to showcase their personality, because I wish there was someone who told me this when I was younger.
With my staff count expanding, I also have to adapt to different working styles. Previously, because I was working alone, I wasn’t very meticulous about tracking finances and cash flow. Now, I’m learning more from people who’ve previously worked in MNCs so there are a lot of perspectives to learn from.
9. Lastly, could you share with us a teaser about any upcoming new flavours?
April Fool’s is coming up, so you can keep a lookout for a six-piece chicken nugget set from us—and yes, it’ll come with the curry sauce.
8. Share with us how you came up with the different flavours for your cookies! What was the experimentation process like?
Depends on my monthly craving (laughs). We had truffle cookies during Christmas—I got the inspiration because I was eating a lot of truffle fries. It also keeps my staff on their toes—every time we have a meeting, they start wondering what new plan I’ve come up with. Some of the flavours can come up very last minute, maybe three days before posting about it on social media and sending out press releases. I work with what I have and I have a sense of urgency, which drives things faster. We don’t keep to a regular schedule about how many flavours to release every month.
The most challenging flavour we’ve attempted is the creme brûlée cookie, because there’s a lot of technique needed. There are other considerations like safety measures for the kitchen torch and whether it’s easy to pick up for the staff.
Apart from the cookie flavours, I also like to experiment with the set-up of the store. When we opened the Funan outlet, we created a Halloween experience in-store—the lights were all red, with eerie music playing, and I dressed up as Saw to scare the customers. I even made the staff turn the kitchen lights off and use torchlights to do some of the prep (laughs). For Christmas, we turned the store in Techview into a winter wonderland, and we also introduced a high-tea set to keep things fresh for customers.
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