Gloom - and some cheer - on Singapore's retail scene

Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo's outlet at 313@Somerset. Despite an economic downturn that is squeezing the retail sector on all sides, Uniqlo plans to open a 2,700 sq m flagship store at Orchard Central in the third quarter. US smoothie chain Smooth
US smoothie chain Smoothie King is believed to have closed all its outlets here, including the one at 313@Somerset. Al-Futtaim Group says it will continue to invest in Singapore and has plans to include more food and beverage offerings at its Robinsons store (above) at The Heeren.PHOTOS: MARCUS TAN, ROBINSONS
Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo's outlet at 313@Somerset. Despite an economic downturn that is squeezing the retail sector on all sides, Uniqlo plans to open a 2,700 sq m flagship store at Orchard Central in the third quarter. US smoothie chain Smooth
US smoothie chain Smoothie King is believed to have closed all its outlets here, including the one (above) at 313@Somerset. Al-Futtaim Group says it will continue to invest in Singapore and has plans to include more food and beverage offerings at its Robinsons store at The Heeren.PHOTOS: MARCUS TAN, ROBINSONS
Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo's outlet at 313@Somerset. Despite an economic downturn that is squeezing the retail sector on all sides, Uniqlo plans to open a 2,700 sq m flagship store at Orchard Central in the third quarter. US smoothie chain Smooth
Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo's outlet at 313@Somerset. Despite an economic downturn that is squeezing the retail sector on all sides, Uniqlo plans to open a 2,700 sq m flagship store at Orchard Central in the third quarter.ST FILE PHOTO

Al-Futtaim Group shutting 10 'loss-making' stores here, but Uniqlo opening flagship outlet in Orchard Road

Weak sentiment continues to dog the local retail scene with some brands either bailing out of Singapore altogether or shutting shops to stanch the red ink.

Even amid an economic downturn that is squeezing the sector on all sides, there is some cheer with at least one retailer defying the trend to grow here. But while Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo is preparing to expand in Singapore, a key theme was illustrated yesterday when Dubai-based conglomerate Al-Futtaim Group said it would shut 10 "loss-making" stores here.

The closures - likely in the second half of the year - will be made under its distribution and retailing arm RSH, which carries multiple brands and is represented in malls across Singapore. "We have to face the reality and be practical, and the loss-making stores have to be closed. They are in different malls and across various brands," Al-Futtaim group chief executive for Asia Christophe Cann said. He blamed high operating costs and slower sales for the store closures.

However, he stressed that the company will continue to invest in Singapore and has extensive plans to upgrade some outlets, including more food and beverage offerings at its Robinsons store at The Heeren.

 
 
 

"We are here to stay," he added.

Al-Futtaim owns the Robinson Group of Companies, which comprises Robinsons, John Little and Marks & Spencer. The RSH banner includes fashion labels such as Zara, Massimo Dutti, Ted Baker, Mango, Stradivarius, Bershka, Pull&Bear as well as sports brands Reebok, Lacoste and Royal Sporting House.

Mr Cann declined to identify the 10 stores that will be shut, but ruled out Zara and Royal Sporting House as likely candidates. Staff affected by the closures will be offered jobs at other stores in the group, he said.

Making an exit from Singapore is American smoothie chain Smoothie King, which is believed to have closed all its seven outlets here in the past few weeks. However, the company's spokesman said it is still keen to operate in Singapore within a franchise agreement.

The smoothie chain had expanded rapidly since it opened its first store here in December 2012.

But while many are finding the retail trade tough going now, Japan's Uniqlo has signalled its vote of confidence here with a flagship store due to open in Orchard Road in the third quarter. The 2,700 sq m outlet will occupy three levels at Orchard Central and offer high-tech displays and an extensive range of products, including the latest fashion lines.

Uniqlo's chief executive of South-east Asia, Mr Taku Morikawa, said the opening of the store will create more than 300 jobs.

The casual wear label said the new mega outlet will be modelled after its successful flagship stores around the world. It has similar stores in 13 other key locations, including New York's Fifth Avenue, London's Oxford Street and Ginza in Tokyo.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2016, with the headline 'Gloom - and some cheer - on the retail scene'. Print Edition | Subscribe