The Retail Miracle
Successful retailers take to the stage at the inaugural Retail Global Connexion 2011 to inspire and spur the international retail industry
Issue: Nov 2011
(L to R) Jeric See, founder of Jeric Salon; Peter Lim, President of Soo Kee Group; Lyn Lee, founder of Awfully Chocolate;
Liew Mun Leong, Chairman of CapitaMalls Asia; Lim Beng Chee, CEO of CapitaMalls Asia; Hong Li, Chairman & CEO
of Country Style Cooking (China); Hirotake Yano, President of Daiso (Japan) and Manel Adell, CEO of Desigual (Spain)
at the inaugural Retail Global Connexion 2011 organised by CapitaMalls Asia, which provided a forum for successful
international retailers to share their stories
He was a university graduate and a promising boxer. But after Mr Hirotake Yano graduated, he found himself working in a string of nine different jobs which included being a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman and a wastepaper collector. In 1972, he operated a street stall called, Yano Shoten, selling
100-yen products in the back of his truck.
"There were so many people buying, demanding to know the price immediately, that I found it difficult to keep up," he reminisced. "That's when I thought of a store where all items will be sold at the same price." Today, the 68 year-old President of Daiso (Japan) has grown Daiso from its first permanent 100-yen
shop (Daiso-sangyo) in Japan in 1977 to more than 2,500 stores nationwide and over 550 stores in
24 countries and regions.
Daiso's President, Mr Hirotake Yano, shared from his heart about how he had suffered many failures before getting to where he is today and that the worst things in life can be a blessing in disguise
This story was just one of the retail miracles told at CapitaMalls Asia's inaugural Retail Global Connexion held at Raffles City Convention Centre last month - a forum launched to showcase successful retailers, to inspire
other retailers and students and spur the development of the retail industry in Singapore. It came at a time when the Singapore retail sector looks set to grow with the strong Asian economy. According to Guest-of-Honour,
Mr S. Iswaran, Minister, Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade & Industry of Singapore, shopping was the most significant expenditure for tourists that visited Singapore. In 2009, visitors spent S$3.3 billion while the retail industry employed 103,000 workers, or 3.4 per cent of the workforce. He added, "Beyond the numbers, a vibrant retail sector infuses Singapore with buzz, draws talent to our shores, and fulfils the lifestyle needs of locals."
Connecting the Global Retail Community
Having a vibrant local retail scene in a highly connected world cannot be a sole local effort. Networking and mutual learning between local and international retailers are just as important.
As the leading shopping mall developer, owner and manager with 96 malls in 51 cities across Singapore, China, Malaysia, Japan and India, CapitaMalls Asia (CMA) sees that the shopping mall has a larger role as a place where people can realise their dreams and aspirations. "This will propel society to work hard to achieve success, in order to realise their dreams. In other words, a shopping mall is more than just a building, but a symbol of the aspirations of the community that it serves," said Mr Liew Mun Leong, Chairman of CMA. Mr Liew also noted that retailers are the people who help make a mall successful.
Mr Liew Mun Leong, Chairman of CMA, is buoyant about Asia's retail scene and assured the audience that CMA will continue to stay connected with its retailers and help them expand to the markets it operates in
Mr Lim Beng Chee, CEO of CMA, added: "Through such forums, we hope to provide our retailers with another platform to showcase themselves and increase their opportunities to meet new investors, business partners, including franchisees, and potential employees. We will continue to explore ways to add value to our retailers and help them grow and expand in the region, as their success is fundamental to the long-term success of CapitaMalls Asia."
Ms Lyn Lee, founder of Awfully Chocolate, can attest to that. Punctuating her speech with humorous anecdotes, she related how she left her job as a lawyer and defied conventional retail wisdom by selling only one product – a chocolate cake – without a single cake on display in her all-white shop. "Everyone told us we were doomed to fail. They gave us three months and they said you'll be finished," she quipped. But three months later, her simple chocolate fudge cakes were flying off the shelves. She added that CMA gave her small venture a big break by leasing out a shop unit to her at a discounted rental rate. This was because CMA found her business concept refreshing as they are always looking for interesting tenant mix in their malls. Today her little aspiration has blossomed into 24 shops in nine cities across Asia, with some in CMA's shopping malls in Singapore and China.
Based on one good chocolate fudge cake recipe and a unique store concept, Awfully Chocolate shops can now be seen in nine cities across Asia including Singapore, Guangzhou, Taipei and Hong Kong
Spurring Entrepreneurs On with Miracle Tales
The rags-to-riches stories, full of emotions, passion and peppered with tips on strategies, captivated the attention of more than 1,000 forum participants, which included retailers from Singapore, China, Malaysia, Japan and India, as well as tertiary students in Singapore.
Modelled on the likes of American fast-food chains, Country Style Cooking's success is derived from serving delicious authentic Chinese cuisine in a western fast-food manner at very affordable prices
International businesswoman, Ms Hong Li, amazed the audience with her story of the meteoric rise of her business, Country Style Cooking (CSC). Ms Li, who studied cooking techniques in Chongqing Business and Technology College, started her successful F&B chain armed with just a simple idea: to serve affordable (US$2), Sichuan-style home-cooked meals in a western-style fast food restaurant setting. 14 years on, Ms Li and her husband grew their restaurant into the largest fast food chain in south-west China, serving more than 60 million customers in over 100 locations last year.
The secret recipe for success lies in Ms Li's ability to standardise the ingredients and pre-mixed sauces, so that authentic Chinese dishes can be served up in under 60 seconds. Last year CSC became the first Chinese F&B enterprise to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
But the going was tough in the beginning. "We faced many problems when we first started. Chefs would quit on us at any time. I had to roll up my sleeves to help cook the meals and manage the other aspects of the business as well. But we always kept ourselves optimistic and persevered in the face of fierce competition," she said. Dishing out advice to budding entrepreneurs, Ms Li said, "Make your business attractive enough so that venture capitalists will come looking for you and not the other way round."
Mr Manel Adell, Chief Executive of stylish Spanish label, Desigual, wowed the crowd by how he grew Desigual 50-fold, with sales jumping from eight million Euros in 2002 to 450 million Euros in 2010. Desigual, which strives to live up to its motto "It's not the same", has a mission to put "One Desigual garment in every wardrobe in the world".
Desigual CEO Mr Manel Adell shared that the key to success is identifying a product differentiator and also to grow people
"There are three best ways to do business. The first one is to be the best in anything you do and this can be hard because there is only one place for the number one spot. The second is to be the cheapest and this can pose a lot of problems too. The third, and the one we like to follow, is to be unique, and that is what we are," Mr Adell offered.
In the same vein, the retail miracles told by three other Singapore businessmen also centred on carving out unique niches for themselves that appeal to their target markets. The audience caught a rare sight of the journey that Soo Kee Group went through before emerging to focus on the glittery business of selling and designing jewellery with the best prices in town from the group's president Mr Peter Lim. Mr Richard Eu of Eu Yan Sang Group showed the audience how he transformed his family's traditional Chinese medicine into hip and modern lifestyle healthcare products that even young people want to consume. And Mr Jeric See of Jeric Salon demonstrated to the crowd through his skillful craft of hairstyling and business acumen why celebrities want their hair to be styled by him.
A Strong Partnership
Mr Jeric See demonstrated how he could create a new look within minutes during his presentation at the forum
The Retail Global Connexion is just one of the ways CMA brings value to its retailers.
Indeed Mr See was glad that CMA has identified successful retailers like him to inspire other retailers. "CapitaMalls Asia has a strong team that markets and promotes the malls very well. Being in a mall operated by CMA is like being in a window of business opportunity," remarked the celebrity hairstylist who has shops in three of CMA's malls - ION Orchard, Plaza Singapura and Bugis Junction.
Desigual's Mr Adell agreed, "We operate with many malls and landlords worldwide. In 2011, we have 250 stores worldwide. It makes a big difference when you have a good landlord. The mix of tenants in CMA malls is of high quality. You can see the focus on human traffic and on making the malls a lively place. We are happy to partner with CapitaMalls Asia." Desigual opened a new store at Raffles City Singapore last month.
Audiences were glued to their chairs and captivated by the casual story-telling of the retailers who shared openly about their successes and failures
Many who came to the inaugural Retail Global Connexion 2011 were inspired and felt empowered by what they have learnt.
Ms Premanjali Guptar, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science from SMU, was very impressed by Mr Adell. "Desigual chose to be different and constantly relevant to its target audience and that is one of the mantras to a successful business. I found that very insightful and probably since I come from SMU where being different was applauded instead of being snubbed, I totally connected with it," she said.
Ms Phua Zi Jin, a final year student in the Retail Management course at Temasek Polytechnic, has also benefited from attending the forum. "I am required to start up a business at Bugis Street for my final year project. Lyn Lee's story about how she managed to grow Awfully Chocolate with one strong business concept has encouraged me to brainstorm on different business ideas that my group could try out," said Phua.
Even Ms Lee of Awfully Chocolate, who came to inspire, was in turn inspired by the other retailers who shared. "I found the Soo Kee story the most fascinating because … he made me realise how flexible and bold they had been, changing from one line to another through the years, to make the best of each business."
Whether they came to inspire or be inspired, retailers and students left with a sense of connection to each other and renewed vigour for their businesses and the industry. With that, CapitaMalls Asia hopes to continue to be instrumental in helping its retailers and the industry grow to greater heights.