When Jerry Toh was in Australia 5 years ago, he saw something that really stayed with him even after all these years. It was a beer and liquor store by car.
Impressed, he threw his version of the concept to his mother, whom he wanted on board as a couple, but she turned her down. Without being discouraged, she continued to write designs and ideas on how it would work so that she could have a better picture of it.
Nothing happened for a good few years, but his chance finally came during the pandemic after his mother agreed he should move on.
“The initial name of Pandarus Drive-Thru (Pandarus) was supposed to be Pandabeer, but after brainstorming with the team, we decided to have the name Pandarus, giving it the name of my baby so we could reach a wider target market. ” Jerry told the Vulcan Post.
The design and planning of Pandarus began in late 2020 and was open to operations on June 8, 2021. Just a few months before its launch, FamilyMart had opened its first drive-thru in Berkeley Uptown.
See an opportunity and seize it
Jerry and his mother had no previous experience driving a drive-thru, but were already running a business supplying beer and strong products for a few years in Tabuan Heights, Kuching.
The lot they had used for the company is the same one they later renovated to the Pandarus drive-through structure. Staying at this location made sense as they already knew the traffic and opportunities in the area.
Occupying the ground floor, the 3,000-square-foot store has about 50 brands at the moment (including the alcohol ones), and Jerry is happy to bring more.
In addition to selling pre-made and packaged products like most convenience stores, Pandarus is also consolidating its own brand by selling hot foods like burgers and pizzas. The latter model is similar to what FamilyMart, CU and myNEWS do.
It makes sense, as the rest of the packaged products on offer would be almost identical to what all convenience stores carry. Without unique offers, a store should rely on offering the lowest prices to attract customers, but it seems an unsustainable model for a new brand.
To place an order, customers only need to go to the first window where they can place orders from the menu shown and make payments, and then go to a second window where they pick up their products.
However, to reduce the waiting time between payment and collection, customers can also make a prior reservation via WhatsApp or Pandarus website.
From what I can see, orders through the website can only be placed by automatic collection for now on the drive-thru. The delivery offer may not produce additional revenue anyway, as their offers are quite similar to those already offered by other grocery and convenience stores.
Instead, Pandarus should focus on its highlight, which is its drive-through model.
Repeat and want customers again
In total, approximately 100,000 RM were used as capital to start Pandarus. That amount was ripped off by both Jerry and his mother.
Now, in its third month of operation, Pandarus has a maximum frequency of about 25-30 cars per hour, meaning it can serve customers in 2 or more minutes.
Despite this convenience, Jerry realized that locals still prefer to buy items the traditional way by physically browsing items. As a company that has an unknown concept for convenience stores, Pandarus finds a challenge to gain popularity in the market.
But Jerry is not discouraged. For him, the important thing is to see customers coming back and repeating.
During the pandemic, we saw that grocery stores like AEON also maintain drive-thrus to reduce customer traffic to the store. However, those they are usually necessities, while convenience stores offer snacks and quick bites.
When it comes to fresh groceries, I think many of us would still prefer to choose our own if given the option to do so in a safer situation. But since most items you’ll get at a convenience store come pre-packaged and have a similar quality, this power of choice isn’t really necessary.
Therefore, Pandarus adds value to the experience by shortening it and reducing direct contact between customers while they buy, especially when COVID-19 sinks. Also, customers do not have to find parking to go to the store quickly.
A small town company that will make Kuching feel proud
I grew up near Tabuan Heights and from memory is surrounded by residential houses and sees a good amount of traffic as there are cafes and other shops nearby, which represent an opportunity for Pandarus in terms of visibility.
Jerry thinks it would be easy for them to replicate the drive-thru convenience store concept in other areas, but their service of offering hot food can be a bit of a challenge.
That said, it’s something he’s willing to take on, as he shared that they already have plans for halal outlets and even for dinner.
As a fellow Kuchingite, I have to admit that I am proud to see something like this start in the small town of Kuching. It would be great to see Pandarus thrive as a leading convenience store brand and open more outlets in Kuching and eventually expand into West Malaysia as well.
- You can find more information about Pandarus here.
- You can read about other Malaysian startups here.
Featured Image Credit: Jerry Toh, founder and CEO of Pandarus Drive-Thru