Hakim Halim is a Singaporean Asian cheesemonger who founded Ripe Cheese at the iconic Queen Victoria market, and whose online business is now growing.
Hakim’s experience is unusual, made more so by timing. He immigrated to Australia in 2011 and set up Ripe Cheese, an all-Australian cheese shop, two years ago just as the pandemic hit. When the former digital marketer realised the effect the pandemic would have on physical retail, he established what would become a thriving online cheese shop in addition to his new stall at the market.
The online platform includes a popular series of masterclasses called Cheese Talks that Hakim established to involve and support local cheesemakers. Cheese Talks took off, and Hakim and his team started doing extra private corporate sessions for the likes of Citibank, IBM, Salesforce and even some government agencies.
Ripe’s online presence grew so fast that within three months it made up 70 per cent of Hakim and his partners’ overall operation. What suffered was bricks and mortar – over the counter sales at his market stall dropped by about 90 per cent.
“The struggle we were having with the Vic Market stall affected me really badly,” Hakim says. “It knocked my confidence and self-worth to a huge extent.”
At this point, a friend told him about the Victorian Government’s Business Recovery and Resilience Mentoring Program, facilitated by the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and convinced him to apply. Hakim was matched with business mentor, Tina Manolitsas, whose experience and dedication helped transform Hakim’s approach to his business and life on numerous levels.
“I went in with an open mind and wanted to hear from someone with no affiliation to my business,” he says. “I wanted brutal honesty on how my business was going and how I was doing as the owner. Above all, I wanted to understand how I could do things differently to improve my business and build my confidence as a business owner.”
The program is designed to give Victorian businesses a boost by pairing experienced business mentors with mentees like Hakim. The focused mentoring sessions not only help business owners navigate the challenges of running a small business, it gives them personalised insights and the skills to grow their business and plan for the future.
Tina’s fresh perspective highlighted Hakim’s strengths and weaknesses in a positive way through a series of exercises that encouraged him to learn and evolve at a pace that suited him. “Hakim is very creative in business,” Tina says. “When we met, he knew his weakness was ‘crunching numbers’ and analysing data but didn’t feel confident to do either. Instead, he chose to focus on daily operations.”
Hakim agrees, explaining that Tina helped him “turn that habit around” and will always be genuinely grateful to her for the foundational business learning she provided through the mentoring program.
“When it comes to figures, I’m bad, but Tina really trained me to look at numbers,” he says. “She taught me that I need to understand figures even if I don’t love them. It was a real eye-opener – now I’ve got evidential information I can use rather than go with gut feel as I’d been doing previously. This is important in a whole lot of ways, but especially when you’re accountable to your business partners.”
Tina also helped him future-proof Ripe and understand where else it might lead. A key element of this was identifying the underlying philosophy of Ripe and Hakim’s personal motivation.
“Through the program I came to realise I was totally focused on the shop but didn’t understand its foundation,” Hakim says. “The exercises Tina gave me not only helped us put a proper structure in place for Ripe’s growth, they helped me discover things about myself. I recognised the three purposes in my professional career right now – to be a business owner, a professional speaker and a champion of local produce.”
“And I came to achieve those purposes through ways I never expected. For example, I once thought a speaker was only someone standing on stage talking to an audience, but now I know that you can also be a speaker when you meet people and influence them, so they relay your words and your message to other people.”
As a result of the relationship that developed between Hakim and Tina through the mentoring program, Ripe Cheese and Hakim are flourishing.
“Everyone wins in our situation – me, our business, local cheesemakers and people who value buying great quality local food,” Hakim says. “Being involved in the mentoring program has given me the chance to give back to the city and country that’s given me so much.”
To learn more, visit Business recovery and resilience mentoring.