KUCHING (June 25): Her passion for dates led entrepreneur Syarifah Nurfaizah to co-found Ahmad Tamar Sdn Bhd (AhmadTamar), a Sarawakian dried dates business built on hard work, determination and a little bit of luck.
“AhmadTamar initially started back in 2015, unofficially by my friend (now husband), in his 10sqft hostel room in Unimas. As an avid dates consumer, he found it really hard to get the supply in Kuching at that time,” Syarifah told The Borneo Post in an interview.
“He ventured into this business on his own and started receiving orders from his friends.”
She explained that Ahmad means noble and Tamar means dried dates in Arabic. The name was chosen to symbolise their conscientious selection of dates.
“At that time, we did not have a registered company but felt we needed to create a strong brand and that was one of the things we emphasised from the get-go,” she added.
“I used to dislike dates, mainly because of the low-quality dates available in the market back then, but when my husband introduced me to the dates he chose (AhmadTamar), I fell in love with them. From then on, I set out to introduce these dates to other people.
“Having come from a research background, I started doing some exploring and indulged myself with research on dates. My love for dates continues to grow till today.
“In 2017, we registered AhmadTamar as a Sdn Bhd company. Today, we only deliver a premium selection of dates packed in user-friendly packaging.
“We understood that Malaysians typically consume dates during the month of Ramadan and so we set out to educate consumers about the benefits of consuming dates daily as well as innovating our product to make them fun and easy to consume. This was how our Dates Spread was born.”
Currently, AhmadTamar has two product lines; repacked and manufactured by the company.
“Our dried dates which require repacking will undergo a quality check and a few physical processes before it is ready for the market,” Syarifah said.
“As for our dates-based products such as the Dates Spread, they are manufactured at our factory in Kuching using only the finest selection of dates and premium healthy ingredients.”
The business has since grown to what now requires a shop lot at Majma Mall Kuching. From there, Syarifah said they focused on supplying products to retailers.
“We managed to get our products on the shelves of 43 retail outlets from Kuching to Miri in 2018,” she revealed.
“We actively participate in international and domestic exhibitions to showcase our products, giving us the ability to hear direct feedback from potential retailers and customers, allowing us to consciously improve and innovate our products.
“To date, we have sold more than 200 tonnes of AhmadTamar products.”
When asked on challenges faced while running their business, Syarifah said capital was the first obstacle.
“Of course as a start-up, capital is always one of the main challenges but then as we slowly started grasping an understanding of entrepreneurship and set our minds to actually growing our product and providing value to our consumers, things just got easier.
“There was once when we got selected to participate in an exhibition in Selangor; our company bank balance at that time was just RM40 after purchasing flight tickets. There were four of us, tons of products for a week long expo, booth and homestay to pay for, and no return flight.
“We told ourselves we needed to pull this through or we might be stranded and have no way to return home.
“Amazingly, all our products sold out and we managed to pay for all the commitments we had and headed home. Since then, whenever we encountered any challenges, we just kept fighting as we believe there will always be a rainbow after rain for us; we just need to keep our faith and do our best.”
What keeps them going
Having a strong support system has empowered Syarifah to keep the business going when going through tough times.
“Being surrounded by a strong support system, especially from my husband and family, always motivates me to dream big, aim higher and do better,” she said.
“Going through this entrepreneurial journey always reminds me of my late father. I have chosen the very same path that he once took and I need to make him proud. Having that in mind every day always keeps my thirst for success burning.”
She also said that welcoming new team members every year was a blessing for AhmadTamar, be it permanent or contract.
This falls back on her belief that as the business grows, we will need more hands on deck.
“We knew from the start that we wanted to employ our fellow locals, giving them job opportunities.
“From the early years, we would always organise charity programmes as a way for us to contribute back to the community. A programme named Kurma Masuk Kampung (KMK) and Kurma Masuk Sekolah (KMS) are some of the many initiatives we came up with.
“It involves selected local towns and rural areas where we supply basic need items, money, and dates to underprivileged families. The programme has touched more than 40 families and 3 schools thus far. We aim to impact more families and schools in the future through our initiatives.
“We also actively participate in our University Alumni sharing sessions and business talks with the hope that the students would be inspired to undertake their very own entrepreneurial journeys.
“Our reseller programme, which has been around for 2 years, has created many success stories. Our resellers come from various backgrounds like housewives, single mothers and pensioners.”
The Shell LiveWIRE experience
A game changer for AhmadTamar was Shell LiveWIRE, which Syarifah said was the first programme that she participated in.
“Being an introvert, I was always reserved and kept to myself,” she enthused. “I preferred to work behind the scenes and support my husband as he is more of an extrovert.
“But amazingly, after joining and winning Shell LiveWIRE I became more confident to pitch which made me start joining and winning other business competitions too.
“When I first got to know about the Shell LIVEWire Bootcamp in 2019, I missed the Kuching spot. There was only the Bootcamp in Miri that I could join. I submitted my entry with little hope to be selected.
“A day before the Bootcamp, I received a call from Shell LiveWIRE on the acceptance and was told to be in Miri for the next session which was just 2 days later.
“With a tight budget and a burning desire, the next morning my husband and I drove to Miri. The journey took us 15 hours from Kuching due to the Pan Borneo constructions. It was a challenging journey even before the Bootcamp began but we believed there was something big waiting for us.”
Syarifah said they were both very excited about the Bootcamp and got to meet many new faces and friends. Throughout the Bootcamp, they learnt many valuable lessons both directly and indirectly.
“The competition did get tougher as we moved on to the Semi-Finals. Many did not get through, but we were blessed to have such supportive mentors throughout the way.
“With no business background, we absorbed all we could like a sponge. There was just so much to learn. What we value most were the network sessions amongst the entrepreneurs and mentors.
“Though rigorous, the modules were very interesting. Sessions like Creative Thinking helped us to really ideate ways to innovate our products and constantly improve our business.
“We have been undergoing coaching and mentoring with Shell LiveWIRE for about 3 years now and there is just so much that we have learned. It has shifted the way we think- from aiming to expand nationally to aiming to expand regionally and globally.
“There have been times when we felt we were a little stuck which happens in all businesses of course but having our fellow entrepreneurs and access to our mentors really helped us to validate our ideas, challenge our decisions and hear suggestions, ensuring we are continuously growing and scaling.”
Thereafter, AhmadTamar became a BERTAMU @Shell participant in Sarawak.
“It is an amazing experience, especially for local entrepreneurs such as us to be given a platform for us to directly engage with potential buyers and dealers. We have been so used to knocking on doors to supply our products to the retail outlets, but with BERTAMU, the retailers gave us their time, sat and listened to us and supported our business. It truly is remarkable what BERTAMU has offered.
“When we first joined Shell LIVEWire, we had an aim to get our products on Shell station shelves and through BERTAMU @Shell, our dreams have become a reality! Thanks to Shell and its support, our products are currently on the shelves of seven Shell stations across Kuching.
We aim to supply our products to at least 20 Shell stations in Kuching, and another 20 in Bintulu and Miri.”
Towards the future
When asked about her future aspirations, Syarifah said she and her husband have mapped out their long-term vision for the company.
“In AhmadTamar, we look forward to having our own AhmadTamar Plantation in the near future,” she revealed.
“By having that, we believe we will have the capacity to supply back dates to the Middle East. Slowly but surely.
“This will require us to hustle even more than before to achieve that goal. For a start, we have been planting more than 100 date trees since our early establishment.”
And her advice for young, budding entrepreneurs out there?
“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great; by Zig Ziglar the author of Born to Win.
“Every time I pitch, I would always quote this as I believe we cannot expect perfection or greatness if we have never attempted or put in the effort to achieve it. But once we get through it, there is always room for improvement towards success. It is the same for business.
“We need to just do it and along the way, absorb as much knowledge, wisdom and experience. Success will eventually come your way.”