Meet the queen of the king of fruits
Combat Durian boss Linda Ang uses social media to reach out to customers
At times, Madam Linda Ang seems less like a durian seller than a stockbroker. More than 10 times during our hour-long interview, one of her two phones buzzed. Once, both rang at the same time.
As the 52-year-old boss of Combat Durian furiously scribbled the orders coming in, her booming voice kept its friendly tone. The calls often end in discussions about children, jobs and family.
She explained to The New Paper: "My customers and I are so close. It's like being friends for a very long time - these relationships are the best thing."
For the past seven years, Madam Ang has been the owner of Combat. Her 80-year-old father started the stall in Balestier five decades ago at the spot where it still stands today.
He handed operations over to her when he retired.
She had a spell as a sales coordinator, but much of her life has been spent in the stall.
"All my life I have been helping out with durian selling and I've learnt so much, from how to choose a proper durian to how to do sales," she said.
When she took the reins, Madam Ang knew she had to make her own mark.
She started using social media and messaging apps to reach her customers. She sends mass messages whenever new stocks of durian arrive, or when the prices drop.
Beaming, she said: "We even have Instagram, Facebook, all these things for our customers."
Most things however, remain the same. She and her staff of five select durians using the same methods her father and his team did.
Madam Ang declined to describe these "trade secrets", except to say that all the senses are used.
"Knocking the durian to hear how it sounds, smelling it, seeing how it looks... all these determine how it tastes," she said.
The importance of customer relations is something her father taught her as well - based on the pictures of personalities, including Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam - adorning the humble stall.
The quality of the fruit sold by Combat is important to Madam Ang.
She colour codes each supplier's durians by spraying some paint on the shells, which helps her find out which durians are more popular. The ones that people buy less of, she buys less too.
Over the years, Madam Ang said that customers have become more discerning. This is because many varieties of durians have popped up, and some less scrupulous dealers have sought to take advantage of this.
She said: "Sometimes when people sell durians, they pass off the cheaper ones for the more expensive ones. Some they say come from Malaysia, but are actually from Thailand, and are of a different quality."
Retaining customers is the most important thing to her. After all, it is in her shop's name. Combat Durian's moniker comes from her father's mispronunciation of the phrase "come back".
"We call ourselves Combat because we want our customers to come back," she said, laughing.
Three secrets of the trade
Expect long hours. When in season, stocks arrive at all times of the day and customers come in full force, so be prepared for long days.
- Be ready for cuts on your hands - that goes without saying for handling such a thorny fruit.
- Being a durian seller does not just mean knowing how to choose the fruit. It is important to have good people skills to manage the team and build lasting relationships with customers.