Faced with strict lockdowns after the pandemic emerged in the country, chief executive Shamsul Shah Sulaiman saw a fraught future for the company, with its business model that engages a legion of sales agents to knock on doors and sell directly to consumers.
“We had no idea which way it would go. Malaysia was under lockdown and we didn’t know if anyone was going to buy our products. We didn’t even know if we would get supplies of materials and packaging. It could have gone any way,” recalled Shamsul.
The storm clouds cleared, though, when a leading Malaysian royal stepped in to endorse the company’s signature roti paratha on her Instagram feed.
Culinary consort Queen Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah binti Almarhum Sultan Iskandar, who has 1.2m followers of regular content mainly filmed in her kitchen, was shown unboxing a consignment of products sent by Tisha’s in the hope that she might mention its brand name. Printed in marker pen on each box were the beseeching words, “Daulat tuanku”, or “Long live the king”.
The queen did more than that: along with a caption in Malay that said “relief for a hungry tummy”, she made videos showing her cooking with the frozen bread and praising it.
A month after the panic had set in, the brand had seen a fivefold increase in demand. Orders from hypermarkets, which at the time accounted for about half of Tisha’s sales, were coming in regularly, and Shamsul began to capitalise on the queen’s Instagram coverage with its own social media assault.
A year later, the brand has doubled its number of lines to 43 and is hoping to expand its sales force by a factor of six.
“Since the start of the pandemic, we have increased the proportion of our direct sales to about 70% and started to do direct deliveries to save people from having to go to the supermarket,” said Shamsul.
To enable such an intensive operation not just in Kuala Lumpur, the company’s base, but also in other Malaysian cities, Tisha’s quickly recruited more sales agents—commission based salespeople who would knock on doors in an approach similar to multi-level marketing.
A year ago, it had 250 agents, which doubled to 500 after the queen stoked demand. Soon, Shamsul hopes to have 3,000 people knocking on doors across the country.
“We have taken quite a unique approach with this, but it works well for us. Our sales agents run a cash business, whereas supermarkets give credit terms. The money from our cash sales helped keep us afloat at the start,” said Shamsul.
Asked if the royal approval was a passing fad, he says the queen has continued to cook with Tisha’s products over the last year.
“She really stepped up when we needed it, and she’s made more videos with our brand. It was certainly a blessing for our business.”