Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Robinsons may be heading for heartland malls

Owner in talks with landlords; group also updating product range

THE well-loved Robinsons department stores could soon be in Singapore’s heartland malls.

The brand’s owner Al-Futtaim Group is in talks with landlords here to take up space at one of Singapore’s many suburban malls, Robinsons chairman Jim McCallum said.

He also added that Dubai-based Al-Futtaim Group will spend around $16 million this year to renovate and revamp the 151-year old retailer’s department stores at The Centrepoint and Raffles City. The product range will also be updated to attract younger shoppers.

‘We have to review the business and see how it is relevant for the next generation,’ Mr McCallum said.

One trend the group has noticed in fashion retail is that new shoppers are looking for ‘indigenous’ (Asian) labels. With this in mind, Robinsons will bring in new labels from China and South Korea some time this year.

The Al-Futtaim Group won control of then-listed Robinson & Co in early 2008 with an offer that valued the company at $602 million, and then proceeded to de-list it. With its purchase, Al-Futtaim acquired well-known names in the company’s stable such as John Little and Marks & Spencer, and of course, Robinsons, the well-loved retail name with its 370,000 very vocal loyalty cardholders.

Buying Robinson & Co was a strategic decision by Al-Futtaim to grow outside the Middle East and tap on the huge market potential in South-east Asia.

However, the company put off expansion plans and capital expenditure last year amid a global downturn. But the two Robinsons stores did well despite the economic crisis and the opening of new competitor malls along Orchard Road, Mr McCallum said. In particular, sales grew in the second half of last year as consumer confidence returned.

Now, the company is once again searching for growth.

Robinsons now has two stores in Singapore – one at The Centrepoint (where it has been a mainstay since 1983) and another at Raffles City Shopping Centre, where it recently expanded by taking up another 3,000 square feet of space on the coveted ground floor.

The brand is now keen to venture into the heartlands and is in talks with various landlords to see if suitable space is available in suburban malls. It is also hoping to open a second outlet in Malaysia within the next five years. Robinsons first broke into the Malaysian market in 2007 when it opened a store in Kuala Lumpur.

‘It (future growth) is dependent on finding the right opportunities at the right costs,’ Mr McCallum said.

Al-Futtaim’s new group chief executive Robert Willett also reiterated his group’s intention of using Robinsons to grow in the region.

Mr Willett has initiated a strategic review of the Al-Futtaim Group, whose interests span cars, banking, property and retail. He hopes to improve the synergy between the group’s various business units and also make all business units more customer-centric.

Source: Business Times, 23 Mar 2010

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