Iconic Singapore nightclub Zouk put up for sale

Zouk, which has been located in its Jiak Kim Street home since it opened there in 1991 - is set to move to Clarke Quay in May next year.
Zouk, which has been located in its Jiak Kim Street home since it opened there in 1991 - is set to move to Clarke Quay in May next year.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Founder Lincoln Cheng says at least four offers have been received from local and foreign firms

SINGAPORE - The iconic nightclub, Zouk, is up for sale, with several offers already received to buy the home-grown club.

Its founder, Mr Lincoln Cheng, 67, told The Straits Times recently that at least four offers have been received from both local and foreign firms. He did not elaborate because of confidentiality issues.

Asked what he thought a good price would be, he said: "I haven't put a value on it yet.

"I am waiting on who offers the highest."

In an interview in March, he said one serious buyer was being considered in a deal that has "gone very far already". However, it is not known what came of it.

ONLY IF THE PRICE IS RIGHT

Zouk is the leading brand among dance clubs here. It has gone to great lengths to sustain its operations in its current location and has just confirmed a new lease at Clarke Quay. Unless the price is in the eight-figure range, it's really not worth the effort.

MR DENNIS FOO, president of the Singapore Nightlife Business Association, on the possible sale of Zouk

The club has repeatedly ranked as one of the top 10 nightclubs in the world in influential British music magazine DJ Mag's annual top 100 clubs poll.

Industry experts said the price tag should be an eight-figure sum. In 2013, financial audit firm Ernst & Young valued the brand and its business at $40 million.

If a sale materialises, it would come at a crossroads for the 35,000 sq ft Zouk.

The nightspot - located in its Jiak Kim Street home since it opened there in 1991 - is set to move to Clarke Quay in May next year.

This was after the authorities ruled that it would be incompatible with the Robertson Quay area, which is likely to see more housing.

After the news of Zouk's new location broke in June, Mr Cheng said he would try to preserve the nightspot's core elements.

He had said he hoped to start operating at the new location by June next year at the earliest.

Mr Dennis Foo, president of the Singapore Nightlife Business Association, said the possible sale is a surprise to many.

He said: "Zouk is the leading brand among dance clubs here. It has gone to great lengths to sustain its operations in its current location and has just confirmed a new lease at Clarke Quay.

"Unless the price is in the eight-figure range, it's really not worth the effort."

Branding is an issue if a sale materialises, said some observers.

 

Dr Ang Swee Hoon, an associate professor of marketing at the National University of Singapore's business school, said new owners could inject fresh blood and that this could be dicey with an established brand like Zouk.

"It may well be that the new owner gives it its own spin. Once that happens, Zouk might lose its identity," she added.

"Especially if it's a foreign buyer, it might want to make it profitable in the short term and then sell it. This could lead to Zouk changing hands very often, affecting its identity," she said.

However, she pointed out that steps could be taken to keep Zouk the way it is. The management team, for instance, could remain.

Mr Cheng indicated that this might be the case, that the potential buyer might want him to run the club for "at least a couple of years" in a transition phase.

Zouk will also always be seen as a local icon as long as it has a physical presence here, Dr Ang said, pointing to Raffles Hotel as an example.

The hotel was sold to a United States fund in 2005. It then changed hands again and is now owned by a Qatar sovereign wealth fund.

Some clubgoers also wonder what a sale would mean.

Mr Shawn Li, 30, who has been going to Zouk since he was 18, said he hopes the club will stay the same, especially the ever-changing line-up of international acts and the diversity of music in the different rooms.

The sales executive said: "It feels like home. I feel at ease, there are familiar faces and I can let my hair down and party."

He added: "I hope they will keep the same layout and that the podium on the main dance floor will remain. I just hope it won't lose its Singapore touch."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2015, with the headline 'Local icon Zouk put up for sale'. Print Edition | Subscribe