Karaoke outlets pivoting but can't wait for singing to return
Despite new lease of life, Teo Heng, like other karaoke operators, cannot wait for the singing to return
Offering people a chance to "work, dine and chill" at its outlets has given a local karaoke chain a new lease of life amid the pandemic.
Ms Jean Teo, 54, director of well-known chain Teo Heng, said it decided to refocus its business because singing is still not allowed at KTV lounges.
On March 19, the family-friendly Teo Heng reopened its outlets at Causeway Point and Bedok Point for customers to "work, dine and chill".
The hourly rates start at $4 for a small room and go up to $18 for a large party room during peak periods.
"We had to think outside the box because we did not want to see 31 years of work go down the drain," Ms Teo said.
"Last year was an extremely difficult time for us. Though it's been less than two weeks since we reopened, the response has been very good so far.
"We are seeing many customers book a room for the whole day to study, work and have meetings."
Teo Heng, which has 14 outlets, is planning to reopen its JCube outlet in the near future, Ms Teo said.
"This business is for the time being. Of course, the goal is to go back to karaoke," she added.
Teo Heng's pivoting success seems to be an anomaly as most karaoke operators are still reeling from being shut down since the circuit breaker last April.
In November, news of a pilot scheme to allow some nightlife operators to reopen this year offered a glimmer of hope. But the plan was shelved until further notice on Jan 19 over concerns of Covid-19 clusters in high-risk settings.
Education Minister Lawrence Wong said last week the multi-ministry task force has not decided to resume the nightlife pilot at this stage.
Mr Wong, who co-chairs the task force, said it is taking a controlled process in resuming such activities and will continue to review the pilot plan.
Mr Ronald Ng, the chairman of the Singapore Entertainment Affiliation, said a number of its 100-plus members in the karaoke business have shut down for good.
Others are hoping to ride out the lull by selling karaoke sets and accessories.
"A karaoke outlet is for people to sing karaoke. When you take away this main activity, you will need a miracle to make money," Mr Ng, 54, told TNP.
He said his C U @ Karaoke Lounge in Serangoon had been running at a loss since it pivoted towards selling food and drinks in November last year.
"Vaccinations have been rolled out and people are going back to work. Everything is slowly returning to normal. So we hope the Government will allow us to reopen soon, not as cafes but as karaoke (outlets)," he said.
Mr Frank Per, 48, who owns Sing My Song Family Karaoke, refocused his business at Paya Lebar Square last December. His other outlet in Jurong West was shut a year ago.
"We offer food and board games for friends to hang out, but business is not as good as it used to be," he said.
"We still get many eager customers asking if they can sing karaoke. They leave when we tell them we are no longer a KTV outlet."
Mr Per added he is still keen to expand his business and will be selling ice cream at the outlet from early next month.
Cash Studio Family Karaoke managing partner Caine Poon, 48, said that when its outlet in Prinsep Street reopened as a cafe in August last year, it was making just $100 a day.
"I just wanted to pay the rent and make sure my staff get their salaries. It was so tough back then. We couldn't even pay the utility bill," Mr Poon said.
But the new business gained traction after a few months and Cash Studio, which used to have seven outlets, has since reopened three more in Clarke Quay, Bedok North and at SingPost Centre.
"I'm relieved that business is slightly better now. I just hope we can reopen (as karaoke outlets) soon. Because if we continue like this, we may have to close down."