Prime Time: How SGFR Store’s Gen Z Founders Built a Cult Gen Alpha Following
All images by Stephanie Lee for RICE Media

Hundreds of teens and pre-teens are waiting in a snaking line outside Wisteria Mall in Yishun. Their shrill, pre-pubescent voices synchronise in a countdown before erupting into high-pitched shrieks as the co-founders of The SGFR Store tear down the paper covering its front.

It’s a small store, no larger than a typical HDB BTO living room. But it’s packed with a cornucopia of imported snacks from the United States: Prime energy drinks by influencers Logan Paul and KSI, chocolate bars by YouTuber Mr Beast, and Takis tortilla chips in novel flavours like ‘Blue Heat’ and ‘Fuego’. These are cult favourite goodies among today’s chronically online youth. 

The aforementioned influencers have follower counts that exceed the population of small countries, and Takis taste tests have racked up millions of views on YouTube. These items are too niche for a grocery chain like NTUC FairPrice to carry, but SGFR is where discerning customers who grew up idolising these online personalities might find their fix. 

The Wisteria Mall store is arcade-themed and features a claw machine.

The kids have saved up their pocket money for this stuff. Here, they can get things like Hershey’s popping candy for as low as $1. If they have a little more saved up, they could always spring for a $300 limited edition Gold Prime drink.  

The store’s co-owners are giving out autographs to their young customers, signing an eclectic mix of everyday objects, from phone cases to slippers. Rarely do local store owners get treated like celebrities.

Video: @asma_urrs / TikTok

The snack store’s opening last December received so much buzz that it made headlines in publications like TODAY. It was also the moment that founder Mohamed Haikkel, 21, realised he and his co-founders had created something special. 

“I saw the crowd, and I thought to myself: ‘We’re going to be okay.’”

Prime Drink Singapore
Haikkel spares time for a chat with fans. 

Hooked on Influencer Brands

Co-owners Lucas Phua, 20, and Haikkel speak to me on a weekday morning at a cafe five minutes from their Wisteria Mall outlet. 

I’m early, so I look around the store while waiting for them. Even as a full-blown millennial, I recognise a lot of the items on sale. I’d expected stuff like Prime (which I don’t fully understand the appeal of), but the shelves were also stacked with some good old-fashioned classics like Swedish Fish and Sour Patch Kids. 

Even though I grew up before the iPad generation, the allure of these American snacks still feels pretty strong. Any kid with a steady diet of American books and movies (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and The Princess Dairies series were among my favourites) would naturally be intrigued by ‘Americancore’.

And then there’s the stuff that Gen Alpha go crazy over. An entire cooler is dedicated to PRIME drinks, with the cheapest one going for $7.90. There’s also a lemonade-flavoured Prime selling for over $20 and a $35 limited-edition Prime in collaboration with baseball team LA Dodgers. 

It’s not neighbourhood mama shop prices, for sure.

Prime Drink KSI Logan Paul

Influencer-associated brands have long been a thing in the beauty and fashion world, so perhaps the rise of influencer snack brands isn’t all that unusual. For people who don’t really keep up with the American YouTube scene like me, though, reading up on the Prime craze was… wild. 

What do you mean two controversial influencers—whose online feud escalated into a boxing match—buried the hatchet and are now selling drinks to their millions of followers? It might sound like the plot of a bad movie, but it’s precisely how Logan Paul and KSI ended up collaborating and launching their Prime drinks. 

The drinks have gotten so popular that they’re even banned from some schools in the UK for causing too much of a distraction. Apparently, kids were cutting class to drink Prime. Which is hilarious when you think about it.

And then there’s Mr Beast and his chocolate bars. The 25-year-old man behind the brand, Jimmy Donaldson, is one of the biggest YouTubers. His content niche primarily revolves around dramatic challenges (recreating Squid Game in real life, for example) and giving away a lot of money as prizes (one Singaporean fan won US$10,000 in his birthday giveaway last May). 

In 2022, he launched Feastables, a brand selling gluten-free chocolate bars that aims to create “gamified experiences that bring joy and fun to its community”. For example, to promote the launch of its new chocolate formula, the brand gave away US$10,000 a day for 30 days to those who bought their chocolate and scanned a QR code on the wrapper. 

Seeing influencers with huge fanbases throwing money around has undoubtedly rewired kids’ brains. Now, children are growing up on a diet of YouTube and TikTok, and dream of becoming influencers instead of doctors or lawyers. 

With young, impressionable followers eating up anything their favourite content creators put out, influencer-led products are a serious industry. It’s a pity that they’re not stocked here. Until SGFR, that is. 

Fishing for Business Opportunities

SGFR Singapore Haikkel
Haikkel greets a fan over a video call. 

The founders of SGFR distinguish themselves with a deep comprehension of the influencer zeitgeist—a feat unmatched by any other local retailer in this space.

The chain stocks the unique, limited-edition offerings that bigger chains don’t carry (or wouldn’t even know about). SGFR also has an actual presence on TikTok (cheesy corporate accounts like FairPrice’s don’t count). It’s also done what many companies strive for in vain: Build a loyal Gen Alpha fanbase. 

I’m guessing the reason is that an entirely Gen Z team runs the brand. Haikkel and Lucas studied business at Temasek Polytechnic but actually knew each other before that as fishing kakis. Their fishing buddies Nic Cheong and Benjamin Brighton were also part of SGFR in its early days but have taken a step back from the brand recently. 

In fact, SGFR actually started out as SGFishingRigz in March 2020. 

SGFR Singapore Haikkel Wisteria Mall
Haikkel at SGFR’s Wisteria Mall store.

The business is a team effort now, but Haikkel has always been the central mastermind, finding ways and means to make money from side hustles for years. It all started in secondary school when his dad cut off his allowance, handing him the reins to an Alibaba account instead, Haikkel tells me. 

“He told me he’s not gonna give me an allowance. If I want money, I have to figure out how to buy and sell things online myself.”

Haikkel tried out dropshipping and sold t-shirts online for a while, but none of his ventures really took off until SGFR. There was a substantial uptick in fishing when the pandemic shut down most international travel. People were picking up new hobbies to pass the time, Haikkel posits.  

The idea to set up their own fishing supply store came about when Haikkel realised that many existing shops weren’t the most beginner-friendly. 

Like nearly every Singaporean home business, it started on Carousell. Sales picked up, and Haikkel convinced Ben, Lucas, and Nic to pool some cash together to turn SGFR into an actual company. 

Together, they pooled $25,000 in capital. They did well enough that they set up an office at Paya Lebar Square. In February 2022, they opened their first retail store in Tampines. 

Even back then, they relied on new social media platforms like TikTok to get the word out. 

“It was heavily marketed online. No uncle or auntie running a fishing shop could market it the same way. We were the only Gen Zs in Singapore running a fishing shop.” 

By December 2022, however, their sales dried up. International borders were open again for travellers, and the casual hobbyists who’d picked up fishing during the pandemic had mostly abandoned it, Haikkel says.  

The Big Fish: Gen Alpha 

Most people might have chosen to cut their losses then, but Haikkel and his band of brothers weren’t willing to let SGFR die.

“I was trying new ways to try and bring the hype back for fishing or just the store in general.”

They continued selling fishing equipment but began bringing in other trending items to make up for the dipping sales. This included items that had nothing to do with fishing, such as fidget spinners and lato-lato

Then, they struck gold. 

“None of the things we brought in generated a lot of hype until the day we decided to bring in Prime. We made a video about it that went viral, and people were excited.”

SGFR Singapore PRIME
The kids enjoy a free sample of Prime.

They brought in just 10 cartons of the drink—150 bottles in total—and sold everything out within four hours. Bringing in more Prime was a no-brainer, but Haikkel knew they couldn’t have a sustainable business with only one offering. 

The team began to look into importing other snacks. In March 2023, they took advantage of a school trip to South Korea to network with suppliers and F&B companies. 

They designated a corner of their Tampines store for Prime and other American snacks, such as Sour Patch Kids. It didn’t take long for them to notice that this small section was generating significantly more sales compared to their fishing equipment. 

This realisation prompted them to undergo a rebranding, transitioning from SGFishingRigz to SGForReal. They evolved from being known as a “fishing store selling Prime” to establishing themselves as a unique concept candy store.

The Tampines store underwent a complete overhaul. Additionally, they expanded their reach by opening new stores in Siglap Centre, Bukit Timah Plaza, West Coast Plaza, and their latest addition in Wisteria Mall. As a result of these strategic moves, their collective revenue now surpasses six figures every month.

Haikkel doesn’t have a singular magic formula that explains his success with Gen Alpha. 

He attributes it to several factors. One is that the team makes each store a “fun place kids can come after school”. 

Each store has a different feel. Their flagship Tampines outlet is Superhero-themed, with superhero memorabilia and figurines on display. The newest Wisteria Mall outlet is arcade-themed, featuring game machines that are free to play with a minimum spend. Anyone spending above $30 also gets free Prime ice cream. What he’s created is a haven for kids to fuel up and hang out, he believes. 

SGFR Singapore Wisteria Mall
The arcade machine at SGFR’s Wisteria Mall outlet

Looking at SGFR’s journey from fishing equipment store to novelty snack store, one might think they’re simply trendjackers hopping on whatever’s viral on TikTok right now. Haikkel contends that it’s not that simple. 

“I think this is what the older crowd doesn’t understand. They see SGFR as just a hype-driven business. But if everyone just wants Prime, they can just go to NTUC Fairprice.”

He points to Prime creators Logan Paul and KSI as some of his influences. It’s not about simply using your fame to push your products—it’s about interacting with your audience and keeping them invested with fun, exciting content, Haikkel says. 

Every month, SGFR tries to do something fun for their community, even if it can cost a pretty penny. Once, they gave 400 bottles of Prime away to a mosque. Many of the kids at the mosque are Prime and SGFR  fans (it’s a blurry line) and recognise him wherever he visits to pray. 

“This is the stuff that people really remember. This creates a personal connection between us and the viewers each time.”

Besides giveaways, SGFR also regularly holds meet-and-greets where followers get to meet the owners, such as young content creator Luqmaan Hakiim, who joined Lucas and Haikkel after the rebrand. The most loyal of fans get a limited-edition collectable SGFR coin. 

Luqmaan Hakiim SGFR
Luqmaan—SGFR’s brand ambassador, content strategist, and producer—films a TikTok as young fans watch.

Being open about their entrepreneurship journey on TikTok has also netted them young fans who want to emulate them. It’s clear the founders have become entrepreneurial influencers in their own right. 

At the store, they exchange smiles and nods with students who recognise them. Teachers have also sent the SGFR team essays where students name them as their role models and say their goal is to open their own business by the time they turn 18 or 19.

“It’s quite motivating to see. We actually inspired them to do something. Now these kids are inspired to be entrepreneurs.”

At times, though, it can feel surreal. Haikkel says being asked for his autograph still feels special every time.

“They actually want my signature on their stuff, like their shoes or their wallet. It’s cool to see.”

Video: @sgfrstore / TikTok

Dealing With Bottom Feeders

The nail that sticks up gets hammered down, as they say. And the people behind SGFR are no strangers to online hate. 

When TikTok users realised Mustafa Centre started stocking Prime last November, SGFR’s social media channels were inundated with comments from people predicting their downfall. Some even gloated and forecasted their return to selling fishing equipment.

SGFR Singapore Haikkel Luqmaan
Haikkel and Luqmaan.

Then there are the people who don’t take them seriously because of their age. Haikkel recalls instances where they were yelled at or outright ignored by middle-aged fishing store owners in the early days of establishing their supplier network for SGFishingRigz.

Now that they specialise in candy, the SGFR founders also receive unsolicited business advice from people who think they know better simply because they’re older. 

“Some of them have told me that if I want to build a brand, to sell it cheap and eat the losses first,” he scoffs. 

Others are sceptical at how fast they’ve expanded (five brick-and-mortar stores in a year is quite a feat), but Haikkel says their expansion plans had been laid out in advance. They even consulted other more encouraging business owners for advice. 

“It was not something that we anyhow just did. It was planned at the start of the year that we’d open new outlets if we hit certain numbers. And we did.”

And then there’s the uncomfortable accusation of “daylight robbery to kids” as some have said. To that, Haikkel contends that their prices aren’t unreasonably high. Not every kid buys Prime, he explains. Some get cheaper items like chocolate or Takis. Others just hang around the store. 

SGFR Wisteria Mall

“We have a very, very different cost structure from those bigger retail chains. Many of these chains can get their stuff at a wholesale price. As we grow bigger, we’ve been dropping our prices too. And while we still cannot match their price. What we can do is create an experience for customers.”

Other Gen Z-run local start-ups like athleisure brand Okami also suffer the same hate comments from know-it-all keyboard warriors, he shares. 

“Anyone trying to start a new business, when it does well, there’s definitely going to be jealous or angry people hating on you,” says Haikkel. 

“Those people hating on you will never be your customers. So just focus on those that support you.”

Haikkel admits to being emotionally affected by hate comments at one point—he has cried over them, he says—but the man has since grown a thicker skin. These days, he’s letting these comments roll off his back. Sometimes, he even turns them into content fodder. 

When NTUC FairPrice started selling Prime drinks in January, SGFR received a fresh wave of negativity prophesising its downfall. But this time, they turned the conversation around and started a new The Prime War video series on TikTok, chronicling their journey around Europe to find newer and cheaper Prime suppliers. The new series ended up giving them more followers and more engagement, says Haikkel. 

“Each episode got about 300,000 views. So it’s like selling entertainment and showing our point by bringing the customer along the journey with us.”

Say what you want about SGFR, but it’s a formula that works. When the RICE team met Haikkel at SGFR’s Wisteria Mall store for our photo shoot, we stumbled upon a gaggle of young fans. 

Haikkel and Luqmaan are almost like pied pipers—wherever they go, the kids follow. 

“We’re your paparazzi!” An 11-year-old boy cheekily yells. We clear the kids out of the store for our shoot, but most of them stay outside, noses pressed up against the glass. 

SGFR Singapore Haikkel Luqmaan
Fans stay close to Haikkel and Luqmaan during our photoshoot.

Haikkel and Luqmaan play the part of obliging big brothers, smiling along as kids tell them about failing their math exams, autographing phone cases and EZ-Link cards the moment we take a break from the photo shoot. The kids even get free samples of Prime. 

Even as the shoot stretches past 9 PM, a handful of fans stick around. We ask if their parents know they’re out here. 

“I don’t care if my mum scolds. This is for SGFR,” says one boy as he pedals beside us on his bicycle. 

Casting the Net Wide

From the times when they were known as “that fishing store selling Prime” till today, SGFR’s been inextricably associated with the viral drink. But what happens when Prime isn’t a hot commodity anymore? All trends die. Is a business really sustainable when it runs on hype?

Lucas and Haikkel are calm and collected when I ask them this. It’s clearly something they’ve ruminated over countless times. 

SGFR Singapore Haikkel

In Haikkel’s view, SGFR has done enough to diversify its offerings and turn its stores into “experiences”. 

“People were expecting us to die when Mustafa Centre brought in Prime. People were quite confused that even after that, we could still open another store,” he says. 

“SGFR is more than Prime. It isn’t even our top seller.”

The team are clearly under no illusions that Prime will be a trend forever. SGFR T-shirts and pins take up a corner in their Wisteria Mall store, strategically located right in front of the Prime drink fridge. 

Haikkel shares that their merch line of T-shirts and pins, which they started after seeing the hype over the Wisteria Mall opening, is actually one of their top revenue generators. Even while other snack stalls and bigger supermarkets copy their product line-up, they won’t be able to replicate the SGFR brand, he says. 

SGFR isn’t just a faceless chain selling Prime or whatever happens to be trending. The business will thrive because Haikkel, Lucas, and Luqmaan have built a fanbase who feel deeply connected to them and are rooting for their success. 

SGFR Singapore
Haikkel signs a fan’s phone.

What they’re offering is community. And that’s the true sauce behind their success. 

Haikkel offers me some Prime. I chose the cheapest one because, naturally, I feel bad. But he packs some limited edition flavours for me as well (lemonade is his favourite). 

I can’t pretend that I’m not excited to try this drink that has kids lining up around the block to part with their allowances. It tastes… kind of like Vitamin Water. There’s a pleasant fruitiness, but it’s not something I’d splurge $20 on. 

But, of course, it’s not about the drink. It’s about the infectious smiles and good vibes kids are greeted with when they enter each SGFR store. It’s the novelty of interacting with an influencer they look up to. It’s the thrill of getting the occasional free snack. 

I finish the Lemonade PRIME, but the bottle sits on the shelf in my bedroom. Somehow, I can’t bring myself to throw the $20 plastic bottle away. 

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