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The Business Behaviours of Malaysian Food Hawkers


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Purpose: Street retailing is an activity falls under the informal scope of economy. Although it contributes significantly to the livelihood of many people in developing countries, literatures on the business behaviours of the hawkers are still lacking. This paper aims to explore food hawkers' business behaviours within the Malaysian context. Methodology: This study employs interview and observation to gather the necessary data. The first fieldwork involved both observation and interview. The interview session was conducted with five (5) respondents. The second field work involved merely observation. The purpose of the second observation was to validate consistency of behaviour throughout longer span of time. Findings: The finding indicates street retailing ventures possess specific behaviours which differ from their formal counterparts. Based on our finding, informal street retailing businesses rarely followed the ordinary business life cycle, which normally consists of birth, growth, maturity and declining stages. Furthermore, the hawker businesses experience short cycle in the growth stage and some skip the growth stage before succeeding either to the maturity or declining stages immediately after the birth stage. We also found the management of street retailing businesses was also personal in nature. Thus, the management merely depends on the owners' personal objective, managerial ability and capacity. Originality: The originality of this study lies in the attempt to enhance business literature that specifically explains behaviours of the small informal business ventures.
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Copyright © Canadian Research & Development Center of Sciences and Cultures
ISSN 1923-841X [Print]
ISSN 1923-8428 [Online]
International Business and Management
Vol. 12, No. 1, 2016, pp. 20-28
The Business Behaviours of Malaysian Food Hawkers
Ahmad Rais Che Omar[a]; Suraiya Ishak[b],*
[a]School of Management Studies, Faculty of Economics and
Management, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi, Selangor,
[b]School of Social, Development and Environmental Studies, Faculty of
Social Science and Humanities, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi,
Selangor, Malaysia.
*Corresponding author.
Received 25 November 2015; accepted 21 January 2016
Published online 29 February 2016
Purpose: Street retailing is an activity falls under the
informal scope of economy. Although it contributes
significantly to the livelihood of many people in
developing countries, literatures on the business
behaviours of the hawkers are still lacking. This paper
aims to explore food hawkers’ business behaviours within
the Malaysian context.
Methodology: This study employs interview and
observation to gather the necessary data. The first
fieldwork involved both observation and interview.
The interview session was conducted with five (5)
respondents. The second field work involved merely
observation. The purpose of the second observation was to
validate consistency of behaviour throughout longer span
of time.
Findings: The finding indicates street retailing
ventures possess specific behaviours which differ from
their formal counterparts. Based on our finding, informal
street retailing businesses rarely followed the ordinary
business life cycle, which normally consists of birth,
growth, maturity and declining stages. Furthermore, the
hawker businesses experience short cycle in the growth
stage and some skip the growth stage before succeeding
either to the maturity or declining stages immediately after
the birth stage. We also found the management of street
retailing businesses was also personal in nature. Thus,
the management merely depends on the owners’ personal
objective, managerial ability and capacity.
Originality: The originality of this study lies in the
attempt to enhance business literature that specifically
explains behaviours of the small informal business
Key words: Hawker; Street retailing; Informal; Small
business; Business life-cycle; Entrepreneur
Omar, A. R. C., & Ishak, S. (2016). The Business Behaviours
of Malaysian Food Hawkers. International Business
and Management
, 12
(1), 20-28. Available from: http://
Street retailing is a typical informal sector available in
many countries including Malaysia (Lee, 2008; Ealham,
2008; Sookram & Watson, 2008; Franck, 2011; Rahman,
Haque, & Khan, 2013; Hassan, 2003). According to
Yukio (2011), street retailing provides employment and
livelihood for many people in developing countries.
Recently, street retailing or hawker has become an
overwhelming phenomenon in most towns in Malaysia
(Hassan, 2003). The increasing number of informal
street retail activities in Malaysian towns, has also
imposed negative disruption and endangered the formal
business entities (Harian, 2015). Hence, there is a need to
understand the behaviour of informal business ventures in
order to develop the entities as progressive entrepreneurial
start-up, and yet do not cannibalized other forms of formal
business entities.
Although there are many studies about street retailing
within the Malaysian environment (Franck, 2011),
most had explored specific issues within the context of
street retailing (Pang & Toh, 2008; Hassan, 2003; Toh
& Birchenough, 2000). Therefore, the main concern
has been on the operational issue rather than to describe
the nature of hawker business ventures. For example,
Ahmad Rais Che Omar; Suraiya Ishak (2016).
International Business and Management, 12
(1), 20-28
21 Copyright © Canadian Research & Development Center of Sciences and Cultures
Toh and Birchenough (2000) explores the issue of food
safety knowledge and attitudes among food hawkers in
Malaysia, whereas Hassan (2003) investigates the urban
management issue related to the accommodation planning
for hawkers in the Kuala Lumpur city center. This article
offers different perspective by investigating and describing
street hawker’s business behaviours in Malaysian context.
This study contributes to assist the policy-making
related to the empowerment of hawker’s business venture.
The hawker’s business is the simplest and affordable
type of entrepreneurial venture with some promising
growth potential provided that accurate policies and
aids are given sufficiently. This has been parallel with
Henderson (2002) and Eversole, Barraket, and Luke
(2013) opinions that entrepreneurship creates economic
growth and development, especially among rural
communities. However, the community entrepreneurial
boost programmed will be less effective unless the
behaviour of the participants had been understood (Eversole
et al., 2013). Nevertheless, the literature describing the
behaviours of informal economy as well as the informal
entrepreneurship is hardly found and limited (William,
2011; William & Gurtoo, 2012). The next section discusses
the informal sector and informal entrepreneur, which serve
as the entire concept for street retailing businesses.
Sustainable Livelihood Approach (SLA) is a fast growing
development idea, which promotes the highest priority
on the people (Kollmair & Gamper, 2002; Lee, 2008).
The essence of SLA is about local people using local
assets (such as human, natural, financial, social and
physical stocks of capital available in the household) to
create productive activities that lead towards independent
livelihood outcomes. Livelihood refers to the means of
human living, including capabilities, assets (both materials
and social resources) and activities (Chambers & Conway,
1991). As far as sustainable livelihood is concern,
informal activities are the alternative to create livelihood
under the SLA.
The informal sector is a permanent and growing trend in
the current global economy. Majority of the world workers
are found in various informal employment relationships
(Franck, 2011). According to Azuma and Grossman
(2002), factors such as heavy burden of taxes, bribes, and
bureaucratic hassles drive many producers, especially in
poor countries, into the informal sector. Nevertheless, based
on Kuchta-Helbling (2000a, 2000b) and Williams and
Nadin (2012) findings, the informal sector was not merely
exclusive to developing economies. The informal sector
can also be found in developed economies and the number
has increased significantly during economic downturns
(Kuchta-Helbling, 2000b; Williams, 2011). Moreover,
economic growth in countries such as Italy and Hong Kong,
has significantly anchored by activities of various small
local informal producers. Besides, Hong Kong informal
sector players possess positive characteristics which totally
deviate from the typical characteristics of informal sector
such as extreme poverty, vulnerability and exploitation
(Kuchta-Helbling, 2000b).
There are various definitions for informal sector
causes by the heterogeneity of activities and occupations
embedded under the sector. According to Kuchta-
Helbling (2000a, 2000b) there are two basic approaches
used to define informal sector comprises (1) definitional
and (2) behavioral approach. According to definitional
approach, “informal sector” refers to the legal as well as
illegal market-based production of goods and services
which escape from detection of the official national GDP
estimates (Sookram & Watson, 2008). Thus, the output of
the informal activities is not included in the reported gross
national product (GNP), gross domestic product (GDP),
and/or the national income accounts. Meanwhile, the
behavioral approach defines informal sector as activities
that circumvent the cost of complying the laws and the
participants are unable to receive any benefits due to their
non-compliance of rules and institutional frameworks
(Hassan, 2003; Kuchta-Helbling, 2000a, 2000b). Kuchta-
Helbling (2000a, 2000b) also suggests the reason for
the massive growth of informal sector in the emerging
economies is primarily due to the existing barriers which
prevent the person from entering the formal economic
system and activities. Most barriers are grouped under
the transaction cost, such as high cost in obtaining
business license, acquiring land titles or premises, hiring
employees, paying taxes and complying the applicable
government laws and regulations. As a result, Kuchta-
Helbling (2000a, 2000b) has scoped the informal sector
to those entrepreneurs who produce legitimate products
without permits or legal status due to lack of resources,
the burdening compliance requirements and excessive
rules and regulations in order to join the formal system.
The general characteristics of the informal sector are
further identified by Kuchta-Helbling (2000b) as follows:
• Independent participants;
• Some of them are self-employed producers who
employ family members and some also hire non-
family workers or apprentices;
• The activities require little or no capital, provide low
incomes, unstable employment and frequently operate
amid unsafe working conditions.
According to Sookram and Watson (2008) informal
sector can also be understood from two points of views.
The traditional view considers the informal sector as
the source of income for the poor, unproductive and/or
excluded workers. Meanwhile, recent view recognizes
informal sector as a potential source for higher levels of
productivity through the dynamic and entrepreneurial
The Business Behaviours of Malaysian Food Hawkers
Copyright © Canadian Research & Development Center of Sciences and Cultures
characteristic among micro enterprises.
Based on the work of Williams (2011) and Williams
and Nadin (2012), the informal economy contributes to
the livelihood for people in deprived situation and rural
communities. As a result based on Yukio (2011) most
hawkers in the Rizal Park of Manila are found comprise
of people with profiles such as female with low education
level and rural-to-urban migrates. Surprisingly, based on
Williams (2012) the informal economy has also existed
among rural communities in England and it becomes
the seedbed for enterprise creation among community
members. The informal economy seems to be a seedbed
for entrepreneurs to test out their fledging businesses
as well as developing them. Meanwhile, William
(2011) and William and Nadin (2012) defined informal
entrepreneurship as “those actively involved in starting a
business or the owner/manager of a business less than 36
months old and engage in monetary transactions which are
not declared to the state for taxation or benefit redemption
purposes (when they suppose to be declared) but are legal
in all other aspects”. Hence, according to William (2011),
the hidden enterprise which also belongs to the informal
economy consists of the registered business trading
off the books and unregistered wholly off-the-books
enterprise. William and Gurtoo (2012) has conducted a
study on street entrepreneurship in India. According to
William and Gurtoo (2012), street entrepreneurship falls
under the domain of informal economy and it can be
defined as either stationary vendors who occupy space
on the pavement or some other public/private space, or
mobile vendors carrying their wares on pushcarts or in
baskets on their head. As far as this study is concerns,
informal entrepreneurship and street entrepreneurship are
considered similar and both refer to the street retailing that
is currently discussed.
Street Retailing and Underlying Theories
Street retailing fits the definition and characteristics of
the informal sector discussed in previous studies. Within
the context of this study, street retailing in Malaysia
involves selling of legitimate goods or services near by the
streets and without fix premises. The sellers may register
and operates with an authorized business license; and
some are unregistered venture operates without business
license. Street retailing contributes significantly to the
informal sector in Malaysia (Rahman et al., 2013). There
are four (4) competing theoretical explanations related to
street hawker (Williams & Gurtoo, 2012) which consist of
(1) modernization theory; (2) structuralist theory; (3) neo-
liberal theory; and (4) post-modern theory.
The modernization theory or pre-modern theory
assumes street hawker and peddlers as: the residual
of the pre-modern era, unimportant economic players,
representing the under-development situation, traditional,
backwardness, survives at the fringes of modern society
and are destiny to disappear. The structuralist theory or
the necessity-driven venture view the informal street
entrepreneurship as one of the survival practice to fulfill
the economic necessities and occurred in the absence of
livelihood choices. The neo-liberal or rational economic
choice perspective offer different perspective in which
street entrepreneurship has been recognized as a matter
of choice rather than lacking of livelihood choices. On
the basis of rational economic agent, the entrepreneurs
are assumed to voluntarily participate in the informal
sector in order to avoid cost; time, bureaucracies and
burdensome effort persist in any formal ventures. Finally,
the post-modern theory views street entrepreneurship
as a cultural endeavours and related to business and
friendships. However, William and Gurtoo (2012) finding
shows that the existence of Indian women street hawker
is best explained by the combination of the competing
theories. No single theory found universally applicable to
entrepreneurs in their study. Therefore, the involvement in
the informal entrepreneurship, including street retailing,
can theoretically be justified by these reasons:
• A matter of coping/survival strategy—which underlies
by the Pre-Modern residual and Structuralist limited-
survival alternative.
• A matter of voluntary tactical/creative individual
business strategy—which underlies by the Neo-Liberal
and Post-Modern.
Williams and Nadin (2012) discuss the underlying
objectives of the informal entrepreneurship endeavors.
They suggest that informal entrepreneurship objectives
not necessary to be commercially oriented. The objective
(s) can dispersed between two (2) extreme points, namely
the profit and purely social aims. A relatively deprived
district would incline towards the social orientation
objective (s), whereas an affluent district may adopt a
relatively profit-driven objective. The objectives are
also subjected to changes over time. Thus, the hawker
business objectives probably set between the profits to
purely social continuum. Different objectives lead towards
different kinds of business behaviours and practices.
Therefore, it is posited that hawkers would execute
behaviours, which parallel to their business objectives.
A study by Ligthelm (2013) also reiterates the need
to understand the differences between the formal and
informal small entrepreneurial venture. Although both
have often existed in the form of small businesses, formal
and informal have different motives and performance
orientation. According to Ligthelm (2013) entrepreneurial
is categorized into productive, unproductive and even
destructive. The unproductive entrepreneurship usually
aims for merely survival and most informal small business
fall under this category. Meanwhile, the formal small
businesses usually run as a productive entrepreneurial
venture. The justification for a specific study on hawkers
can also be justified by Ishak, Omar, Othman, and Ahmad
(2012) who studied on the managerial practices among
Ahmad Rais Che Omar; Suraiya Ishak (2016).
International Business and Management, 12
(1), 20-28
23 Copyright © Canadian Research & Development Center of Sciences and Cultures
small business ventures owned by the poor people. The
finding indicates that small business ventures owned by
poor people exposed to different sets of problems and
managerial practices (Ishak et al., 2012). Thus, street
retailing businesses are also expected to show some
patterns of unique behaviours. Besides, the justification
for this study is also in line with Williams and Nadin
(2012) and Ligthelm (2013) who urged a specific study
about informal entrepreneurship due to its nature of
complexity and heterogeneity.
This longitudinal study employs two modes of data
collection. The first is observation. Observations are
conducted to hawkers in Bandar Baru Bangi, Selangor
within a specific duration of time. The observations took
two (2) weeks in order to extract a consistent pattern of
behaviours. The observed variables consist of pattern of
operation, agglomeration of business location, growing
pattern and product range.
The second data gathering technique is interview.
Interviews are conducted with selected hawkers from
the observation frame list. The purpose of the interview
is to comprehend about specific business behaviours
and/or decisions of the hawkers. The background of the
interviewees are in Table 1.
Table 1
Respondents Prole
Respondent Business background Time of business operation
Respondent A Female hawker, age 65, sells various local
delicacies (local kuih). Afternoon & evening
Respondent B Male hawker, age late 60s, sells fried noodle
and rojak. Afternoon
Respondent C Husband and wife, age early 40s, sell various
local delicacies (local kuih). Afternoon & evening
Respondent D Female hawker, age late 40s, sells nasi lemak
and noodles. Morning
Respondent E Male hawker, age mid 40s, sells nasi lemak
and noodles. Morning
The first stage of observation and interview were
conducted in September 2014. The second stage of
observation was replicated in April 2015. The purpose of
the second observation is to confirm the identified patterns
from prior observation.
This section describes business behaviours of the
particular food hawkers. The descriptions are assigned to
the related sub-topics as follows.
3.1 Business Location
The hawkers’ stall are all located by the roadside.
The sites can be access easily by the consumers
such as along the main roadside or near the occupied
buildings, neighborhoods, schools and public areas. The
development of hawker business agglomeration centre
follows a unique pattern. At the beginning stage, a pioneer
hawker will set-up his/her business at a particular location
on the takeaway basis. After a few months, the hawker
will start offering a choice of dine-in for his customers.
At this stage, the hawker will prepare few tables and
chairs to accommodate the dine-in service at his/her stall.
Simultaneously, other hawkers will also enter the site to
provide other types of food services next to the pioneer
stall. Our observation as in April 2015, found that all
subjects remained at the same location as identified in
previous observation.
There are also hawkers who rent a commercial space
in an organized or structured business area. The structured
area is specifically referred to various local names such
as night market (pasar malam), agro market (pasar tani),
and weekend market (pasar minggu). The hawkers will
pay a rental fee to the market organizer who managed the
operation of the structured area. Additionally, there are also
hawkers who built semi-permanent stall as their business
premise. They build a simple semi-permanent stall along
the road site and put few tables/chairs to accommodate
dine-in patrons. Besides, there are also mobile sellers who
sell product from their vehicle. They will park the vehicle
(such as mini truck, motocycle) at the roadside near public
areas such as schools, mosque and other public stops. There
are also hawkers who rent a kiosk/booth in a restaurant and
provide different food items for the restaurant patrons. The
hawker will pay rental fee to restaurant owner and shares
the customers’ of the restaurant.
In terms of location consideration, the respondent
choose a site base on certain criteria. One of the criterions
is closeness of the location to hawkers’ residential area/
house as evidenced by the interview transcript:
Respondent A:
My house is just few meters from here. I use the trolley to bring
my kueh here. It is easy for me to sell my kueh here because
I can just walk from my house here. I don’t need transport to
come here.
Respondent E also set-up a stall 50 meters away from
his rented house. However, there is also a case in which
the hawker travel distantly from his residential to his stall
such as Respondent B.
The Business Behaviours of Malaysian Food Hawkers
Copyright © Canadian Research & Development Center of Sciences and Cultures
Respondent B:
I stay in Kajang. Every morning I will come to my stall (which
located in Bangi). I prepared all the cooking ingredients from
the house and bring everything here. Then I fry the noodles here.
3.2 Existence & Growth Pattern
The hawker ventures are found to be relatively easy to
establish due to low start-up and operating costs. For
instance based on the observation, not all respondents
have registered their business with the government or
local registration authorities. The existing process is also
simple. Once the hawker found a strategic location, they
will park their vehicle or built a temporary stall at the
particular location and operate the business immediately.
Later, there will be other hawkers who will establish a
new business next to the first hawker. Eventually, the area
will be flourished by many hawkers. As a result, a new
informal and disorganized commercial agglomeration
centre was developed unintentionally.
The hawkers’ businesses follow unique pattern of
business growth cycle. Although most of the respondents
have loyal business patron, they purposely choose to
remain in existing size, scope and location (quo-status)
throughout their business life cycle. For example,
Respondent B has been offering the same product lines at
the same location and scale/size since 1977.
Respondent B:
I have been in this business here for 36 years and witnessed the
development of the whole Bangi. It was really a long history.
Just look at me...I started this business when I was young. At
that time my children are still very young and this business help
me to support my family. Now I am an old man, my children
have their own professions. I am proud to see my 5 girls’ success
in their life. They are the output of this precious and barakah
(blessed) business. I decided to remain with whatever I had
started before. I do not want to get headache to manage bigger
scale. As a long as I am happy with my life...that is already
enough. One day this business will “perish” together with
Meanwhile, Respondent A also remained at the same
location and sells similar product range since 1998
(currently is 2015).
Respondent A:
I have been selling kueh here for 15 years. I started this business
to help my husband’s as we need more income to support our
big family. Although all my children now have their own income
and married, I still continue with my business because people
still looking for my kuih. As long as there are people who want
to buy my kuih, I will continue this business and of course if I
am still healthy.
However, there are hawkers who planned to expand
their business to better site such as respondent E and C.
For example, Respondent E has planned to move his stall
to a shop house nearby his current business location.
I plan to rent the shop lot in that building (showing to the
commercial block across the road). I have to move because this
site (his current stall location) is the government reserve land for
road purpose. The government can take this land any time. But
the shop rental is quite expensive. but I don’t have other choice.
At least my customer can still buy my product because the new
location is just over there (opposite current site).
Both respondents planned to move their stalls due
to the local development planning that will affect their
current business location. Nevertheless, based on our
second observation (as on April 2015), Respondent E
is still operating the business from existing site. The
government development project also has not yet started.
However, respondent C found to have moved her business
stalls to a nearby site.
I moved my stall to this previous location because the
government wants to build the master drain there...(pointing her
finger towards her previous location). So it is better for me to
move before they start the project...
3.3 Operation Schedule
Most of the hawkers follow their personal schedule
to conduct business operations. They do not publicize
information regarding operation hours nor having a consistent
business schedule. Table 2 summarizes the observations
conducted from 1st September 2014 to 6th September 2014.
Table 2
Operation Schedule
Date of observation Respondent A Respondent B Respondent C Respondent D Respondent E
Normal operating schedule Daily, from 4 pm
to 6.30 pm.
Daily, except Sunday,
from 11 am to 5 pm.
Daily, from 2 pm
to 6.30 pm
Daily, from 7 am
to 10 am
Daily, except Friday,
from 7 am to 10 am
1/9/14 (Monday) / / X / /
2/9/14 (Tuesday) / / / / /
3/9/14 (Wednesday) / X / X /
4/9/14 (Thursday) / / / X /
5/9/14 (Friday) / / X / /
6/9/14 (Saturday) / / / / X
As shown in Table 2, Respondent D operates on daily
basis. However, the observation found that she did not
open her business for 2 consecutive days (3/9/14 and
4/9/14) without prior notification. Respondent C who
also operate on daily basis, did not operate on 1/9/14 and
5/9/14. Meanwhile, Respondent B should be operating
on every weekday but had not opened his stall on 3/9/14
without early notice. However, Respondent E and A were
found consistently operate their business throughout the
one-week observation period.
The business operation time also parallel with the type
of food offered. For example, informants who prepare the
Ahmad Rais Che Omar; Suraiya Ishak (2016).
International Business and Management, 12
(1), 20-28
25 Copyright © Canadian Research & Development Center of Sciences and Cultures
breakfast meal will start their business from 7 to 10 am
(example Respondent E and D). Meanwhile, those who
are selling the evening meal will start their business at 4
to 7 pm in the evening (example Respondent A, B and C).
Based on the second observation in April 2015, we found
Respondent E has extended his business operation by
offering range of evening meal until 10 pm.
3.4 Product
The respondents prepare typical local delicacies on their
own. Besides their own product, they also receive product
from local people who want to sell their product through
the hawkers. The hawker receives some margin for each
product sold at their stall. The price of hawkers’ product is
relatively cheaper than similar product produced/sold by
formal café or restaurants.
The hawkers’ products also have high similarities
to those sell by other hawkers even though their stall
are close to each other. For example, the Respondent A
product is identical to the product Respondent C. Both
respondents’ stall are next to each other. This has been
validated by Respondent A statement:
I have been selling here long time ago. At that time, this place
is a small resident area. Not many people stay here. Only local
villagers. Not many kuih sellers at that time. But now…this area
has developed, so many hawkers like me appeared. Surprisingly,
one of my helpers who used to help me to sell the kuih had
betrayed me. She started her own kuih business just beside my
stall…selling exactly the same kuih like me. It really upset me
at first. She can just another places far from my stall…But later,
I feel better because I believed that our rezeki (income) is given
by God. So there will be some rezeki for her and some of me.
Just share the cake. We were friends before but now we just
ignore each other...
However, later Respondent C expands her product
range to include beverages and fried banana, which are
not offered by Respondent A.
Respondent B sells fried noodle and rojak. At the
same time his friend offer special local beverage known
as cendol. Thus their products complement each other.
Besides, they have been doing the business together at
the same stall. Meanwhile, there is also other hawker who
sells the same category of food (about 10 meters y from
Respondent B stall). She sells another type of local noodle
known as laksa and mee rebus as well as another kind of
local beverage called ais batu campur which is slightly
different from cendol.
Therefore, the product offerings are mostly identical
or within the same food-category. The product range
may also complement each other offerings. Based on our
observations in April 2015, there are many other hawkers
who sell similar products near Respondent A and E
location. Many of them are new players whom are not in
the list of our first observation in 2014.
3.5 Management and Performance
The hawker venture is a one-man show. Most hawkers
did not have employees and some hire their own family
members to help them. For example, Respondent C
has been helped by her husband and niece. Meanwhile,
Respondent D sometimes being helped by her neighbors,
especially during peak hour.
Respondent C:
I do all these kuih by myself (at that time the kuih comprise of
curry puff and 3 other local delicacies). I started cooking all
these at 9 am. I make the laksa gravy, prepare the condiments,
make the nasi lemak, fried the noodles and prepare the banana
to be fried at the stall. I do this on my own. I don’t have any
employees, my niece and my husband sometimes help me at the
stall. The backstage is all on me! It tiring and one day when my
business is really good I’ll a find a staff to help.
In certain cases, some of the respondents also hire
a temporary staff to assist the selling activities such as
Respondent A and Respondent B.
Respondent A:
I have a worker to help. No…I can’t prepare all these myself. It
really a lot of work. Sometimes my daughter came back and she
help me. But that was very often because she’s married and also
working. So I cannot rely on her.
The business also operates without systematic
management process. They also did not prepare account
or bookkeeping to record their daily transactions. They
just make a simple note about the cost of raw material.
Therefore, they cannot keep track on the actual profit or
loss by their business. Besides, most respondents have
described the sales income as the profit for the business
such as follows:
Respodent A:
Last time it cost me about RM 120 to make all these kuih. Now
it goes up to RM 190. Everything is very expensive now. If all
this kuih finished, I can get about RM 300 a day. It is enough for
my pocket money.
Respondent C:
My sales is about RM600 to RM800 a day. It’s enough for me.
Respondent D:
You know if I really concentrate in making these kuih, I can get
as much as RM 500 a day. My operation hour is between 2 pm
to 6.30 pm. During that hour I can easily get RM 500 due to this
rapid developing area. Many people have moved into this area.
Three years ago, it had been quite tough to get RM 90 a day. But
now, it is not a problem at all. Somehow the cost to make the
kuih has been arising nowadays. I once calculated how many
fish I can buy with RM 17. You know the price of mackerel that
I used to make the laksa gravy…almost RM 1 per fish. OOh…
things are so expensive nowadays.
The hawkers also rely on the “word-of-mouth”
marketing strategy. They did not have specific marketing
promotion to advertise their business or products
aggressively. They just wait for customers to come to
their stall. However, there are also few hawkers who has
advertised their product at the early or introduction stage
by using simple banner or stick-on note advertisement.
3.6 Relationship with Customer
The hawkers have close relationship with their customers.
The Business Behaviours of Malaysian Food Hawkers
Copyright © Canadian Research & Development Center of Sciences and Cultures
The relationship sometimes transcends the formal
business-customer relationship. For example in the case
of Respondent A, she decided not to increase the price of
her cookies due to sympathize to her customers. Although
she experienced high increase in raw material prices, she
remained the same selling price for her customers.
Respondent A:
Last time it cost me about RM 120 to make all these kuih. Now
it goes up to RM 190. Everything is very expensive now. But I
don’t feel like increasing the selling price now because I pity the
customers especially the students. There are many GMI students
who purchase my kuih. I time this student
wanted to buy my kuih. After he had chose the kuih he preferred,
then he asked me the total price. As I told him the amount, he
eventually dropped few items from his early purchased because
he told me he did not have enough money. So I just told him to
take all the items that he had chose and just pay me whatever he
has. It’s about food that people wanted to eat. I feel sympathize
to them just like my own kin. Imagine my own children in that
situation…I just treat it as my sedekah (religious charity giving).
So this is how I do my sedekah especially my own customers.
Respondent E also expressed similar respond regarding
the matter.
I don’t dare to raise the price. I fell very pity to my customers.
My tea tarik is just the same price as before. Although you can’t
find that price any more in any place nowadays...
In the case of Respondent C, she willingly shares her
personal problems with the customers. As the researcher
asked her what time she opened the stall, she replied in a
detail respond such as follows:
I started this business at 1 pm. Before that I do the house chores
first including sending my daughter to school then only I come
here. (I asked him “so your eldest helped you here?, she replied)
This is my niece. He helped me here. He just finished his UPSR
and he doesn’t want to stay at his house. Now he spend his time
As a result the communication between seller-customer
are personal and friendly in nature. Besides the business
judgment has more elements of humanities and friendship.
Food street retailing is one of the informal activities
normally used to generate individual and household
incomes. Food street retailing allows the attainment of
sustainable livelihood through the utilization of existing
assets and skills at a relatively affordable set-up and
operating costs. The respondents serve dishes that they
are familiar with and have the ability to produce it.
The business is treated as personal object and it was
designed to fit the owners’ personal aspirations and
needs. Unlike formal business entities, the operation has
been conducted unsystematically and in the absence of
proper management practices for example inconsistent
operation hours. Based on our respondents’ operating
hours, the businesses have been arranged to accommodate
the hawkers’ personal schedule rather than customers’
demand and needs. Although some of the businesses have
high growth potential, the drive to expand the business
is at relatively low level. The hawkers also willing to
share similar market and customers as well as selling
identical type of products in the same locations, such as
Respondent A and C cases. Thus, the business objective is
not entirely commercial or growth oriented. Instead, the
respondents aim moderate and sustainable revenue just
enough to cover operating expenses and a small portion of
Based on this study some business behaviours or
characteristic can be identified for describing hawkers’
business venture. First, street retailing is an affordable and
low-entry barrier of business venture. The activity only
requires some basic skills or knowledge, such as ability
to make specific delicacies and some capital to purchase
the cooking ingredients and simple equipment. The
establishment costs for particular venture is minimal as
most hawkers do not pay any registration fee as in formal
business establishments. Nevertheless, there are hawkers
who obtain business permits from the local authorities
before operating the business. Most of the hawkers’
ventures existence is driven by trial-and-error motive.
For instance, once the hawker perceived a particular site
as suitable and undisturbed by other parties (including
the local authority), they will proceed to do business in
that area and soon be recognized “unofficially” as the site
owner/pioneer. The advertising cost is also minimal since
they do not use any intensive advertising mechanisms.
The management of street retailing business is very
personal and merely self-organized. Therefore, food street
retailing has become the best mean for gaining sustainable
livelihood for people with limited and generic skills.
Second, most of our respondents have expanded their
stall sizes into larger scale compared to their first market
appearance. It reflects the fact that when the authorities do
not take any action to restrain the business/stalls, they will
further establish their existence in particular site. Unless
the site has been gazette to be taken by the government
or any authorized entities, the hawkers will relocate their
stall to other site such in Respondents E-case. This fit
the element described in the behavioral definition of the
informal sector. This is because the entrepreneurs make
their evaluation/judgment about the probable cost of the
non-compliance behaviours.
Third, hawkers’ business life cycle is slightly different
from the ordinary business life cycle. The ordinary
business life cycle usually consists of birth, growth,
maturity and declining. As in the food hawkers’ business,
it skips the growth stage or at least experiences short
moment of the growth stage. After the birth stage, the
hawkers will quickly move to the maturity stage or to drag
to a drastic declining stage. This fact has been supported
by the evidence that the respondents purposely choose
to remain at their current quo-status without attempting
to grow the business further. The current quo-status is
described as the maturity or satisfying stage.
Ahmad Rais Che Omar; Suraiya Ishak (2016).
International Business and Management, 12
(1), 20-28
27 Copyright © Canadian Research & Development Center of Sciences and Cultures
Fourth, the hawkers also seem to have an informal
hidden contract which enabled them to interact and share
the same market harmoniously with their counterparts
or competitors. Whenever a hawker starts a business in
one location, other hawkers will soon follow either to
complement or to substitute each other products. Although
sometimes conflicts arise from the situation, they
eventually manage to adjust the situation and proceed with
their own businesses. The area will be flooded by many
hawkers and forming a new informal “business park”.
The competing situation is managed either by providing
complementary product (harmonization) or providing
similar products on the basis of pure market competition
(survival of the fittest).
Finally, the food hawkers also retain a close relationship
with their customers. The customers not only serve as
a source of income but also as their “friends” for social
fulfillment. In some circumstances their business decision has
been bounded by customers’ interest such as in Respondent
A decision for maintaining the price of her product.
The explanation of the hawkers’ behaviours
depicts coping/survival strategy which falls under the
Structuralist or Necessity-Driven theory. This is because
the respondents aim for sustainable livelihood rather than
business growth. The street retailing business serves as
a mean to obtain the average income, especially when
the entrepreneurs are lacking with opportunity and
resources. Post modern theory is also applicable to explain
the characteristic of maintaining personal and close
relationship with the customers.
This study has been limited to few respondents on the
basis of qualitative approach. This study is also limited
to the extent its only describing the general phenomenon
of hawker business behaviour without any causal or
hypothesis prediction. Therefore, a quantitative study
is needed in the future to validate the behaviours of
Malaysian food hawkers throughout the nation and
across demographic differences such as gender, education
level and races. Such findings will further elaborate any
significant differences among the food hawkers by taking
into consideration individual differences factor. The
suggestion has been proposed due to the limitation of this
study, which purposely had neglected the demographic
differences due to the descriptive type of our research
objective. Nevertheless, we believe that there must be
differences in their behaviour as more young and educated
people have also ventured into this scale of business.
Besides, a country-level study would enable towards
generalization of the identified behaviours. Future studies
could also include an in-depth study on the life cycle of
hawkers’ venture to validate whether a special growth
process uniquely occurred. The understanding of such
growth phenomenon requires a balanced perspective
of theory between the nature of formal and informal
business sectors. Therefore, this entity provides a new
focus to be explored by researchers in the discipline of
business management and organizational behaviour.
Additionally, it is time for the local authorities and
relevant practitioners to formulate strategies to formalize
the existence of the informal street entrepreneurial
activities. The agglomeration business centre can be
developed in each district or areas to re-locate the hawkers
in more structured, conducive and well-maintained
environment. This will be a two prong strategy that can
empower local people with limited skills or/and capital
as well as providing new sources of income through
the formalization and the re-structuring of the current
informal sector.
Food street retailing is an interesting and a unique
business sector. Although the size of business is rather
insignificant, its contribution is important. The street
retailing ventures possess specific behaviours and it
remains consistent throughout passage of time. One of
the intriguing finding is that street retailing business has
not exactly followed the ordinary business life-cycle. The
food hawkers’ business seems to skip or experience a very
short period of the growth stage. After the birth stage,
the hawkers will quickly move either to the maturity
stage or to drag into a drastic declining stage. Therefore,
this study recommends that street retailing entity is
worth studied by the management discipline. Based
on the analysis, the underlying explanation of street
retailing phenomenon for particular Malaysian hawkers
is dominated by the Structuralist and Post-Modern theory.
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... Extant research of informal economies and technology adoption has largely focused on small and medium enterprises. These include studies on business behaviours and business life cycle of hawkers in Malaysia (Raflis & Omar, 2018), motivations of street entrepreneurs in the contemporary world, in Bangalore (Williams and Gurtoo, 2012) and in Ukraine (Williams et al, 2009). To my knowledge, no studies have investigated the experience of entrepreneurs in an informal economy facing such intense pressure to rapidly integrate technology in their business operations. ...
... Hawkers have been essential food service providers in Singapore since the 1800s. Singapore was considered a lesser developed nation with harsh living conditions and street food peddlers played an important role to provide food for the community (Raflis and Omar, 2018). Street food peddlers provided various food at affordable prices and was a popular and necessary source of food amongst ...
... According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, it states that anyone who is actively taking on the role of creating, owning, or managing a business, is defined as an entrepreneur (Harding et al, 2006). According to Raflis and Omar (2018), hawkers are the simplest and most affordable category of an entrepreneurial business venture. In Singapore's context, hawkers can be seen as owning, running, and managing their hawker stalls and hence, can be classified as an entrepreneur. ...
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Hawkers are essential food providers in Singapore, with a large part of their business relying on dine-in customers. The social distancing measures adopted during the Covid-19 pandemic has forced rapid change upon the hawkers, as they can no longer rely heavily on dine-in customers. In order to remain profitable, hawkers have had to shift their business to food delivery and takeaways, relying on technology such as smartphone application platforms to solicit customers. While Singapore has a strong digital infrastructure in place to support the digital shift, hawkers, who tend to be older and less educated, might have faced difficulties in having to rapidly reorganize their business and integrate technology into their day-to-day operations. Using in-depth interviews with 22 Singaporean hawkers, I sought to document the experiences hawkers face when they had to rapidly integrate technology into their day-to-day operations. Several themes arose from the interviews. First, there was a near unanimous agreement that a realization that market needs were rapidly changing drove some hawkers to start considering technological solutions. Second, the barriers surrounding their adoption of technology revolved around four main themes: negative perceptions (of which one was platform related and another driven by their social environment), a lack of an ecosystem, fatalistic attitudes, and inertia. To conclude, I provide some suggestions for policymakers and app developers to help integrate effective design which can aid the digitalization of traditional businesses among business owners who might not be technologically savvy, such as hawkers. Furthermore, the findings can help inform policy which can help prepare hawkers and traditional business owners to better cope with the push for rapid digitalization in the future economy.
... According Omar, Ahmad Raflis Che, and Suraiya Ishak (2016), street retailing is a typical informal sector available in many countries including Malaysia (Lee, 2008;Ealham, 2008;Sookram & watson, 2008;Franck, 2011;Rahman, Haque, & Khan, 2013). According to Yukio (2011), street retailing provides employment and livelihood for many people in developing countries. ...
... According to Ryan Goodrich (2013), practice management is a growing business strategy intended to help companies overcome the challenges of fluctuating markets and adapt to the ever-evolving needs of consumers. According to Omar, Ahmad Raflis Che, and Suraiya Ishak (2016), the management and performance are the hawker venture is a one-man show. Others are most hawkers did not have employees and some hire their own family members to help them. ...
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... The street foods are selling in different ways, either on non-motorized carts, booth or stand (that also known as hawker) or mobile food truck (Choi, 2016). Street food is synonyms with the hawker and there are many studies related with hawker (Henderson, 2017;Raflis, Omar, & Ishak, 2016;Choi, Lee & Ok, 2013). However, the study on the mobile food truck is still sparse. ...
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Entrepreneurs create economic growth in their communities by forming new firms. Each year during the past decade, more than half a million businesses were started that added new jobs in the United States. In the 1990s, during the longest economic expansion in the United States economy, the majority of new jobs were created by small and medium-sized entrepreneurs operating high-growth businesses.> Because entrepreneurs are such a wellspring of growth in the economy, many rural policymakers have shifted their long-time focus of recruiting existing firms, such as branch plants, to developing new entrepreneurs. New policies generally support a wide range of entrepreneurs. However, policies often fail to recognize that the benefits of entrepreneurs can vary dramatically, depending on the entrepreneur’s desire to build a high-growth business. And rural areas often lack these high-growth entrepreneurs.> Henderson reviews entrepreneurial activity in rural America and discusses some of the new ways policymakers are beginning to encourage high-growth entrepreneurs in their communities. After discussing the benefits entrepreneurs offer communities, he examines the pattern of entrepreneurship in rural areas and the difficulties many rural communities face in supporting high-growth entrepreneurs. Finally, he discusses some of the policies supporting the startup and growth of this valuable resource.