Sim Lim Square's road to recovery

Sim Lim Square's management says there have been more people entering the mall since the start of the year. This is attributed to, among other things, efforts to clean up the mall's image. Redbean, a cellphone shop, beside Song Brothers, which re-ope
Sim Lim Square's management says there have been more people entering the mall since the start of the year. This is attributed to, among other things, efforts to clean up the mall's image. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
Sim Lim Square's management says there have been more people entering the mall since the start of the year. This is attributed to, among other things, efforts to clean up the mall's image. Redbean, a cellphone shop, beside Song Brothers, which re-ope
Redbean, a cellphone shop, beside Song Brothers, which re-opened last month and has a boutique vibe with wood panelling and soft lighting.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

After hitting a low two years ago, the mall is trying to shake off its old image with fancy new shops

Fancy new shops like a boutique camera shop and a hip "audio cafe" are trying to give Sim Lim Square a new lease of life, even as the electronics mall tries to shed its image of being a hothouse of errant retailers with unsavoury sales tactics.

While the tenant mix and general look of the mall have not changed, a few retailers are trying to modernise the 36-year-old mall in order to keep it relevant in the current retail market. Leading the charge are the newly revamped photography shop Song Brothers and self-styled "audio cafe" Zeppelin & Co, both of which opened this year.

This was an attempt to change the mall's image to defray the hit it took over the last two years, said Song Brothers' managing director Mr Song Teck Kee. "Consumer behaviour has changed. As a retailer, we need to know what the consumer wants," he said.

"It should not be the same kind of design from the old days. Hopefully, our change will influence other retailers to upgrade their designs, which will be better for Sim Lim Square as a whole."

He re-opened a refurbished Song Brothers on the mall's first floor last month. But instead of the usual open, brightly lit store lined with glass-and-metal display cases, the new store has a boutique vibe with a wood-panelled facade and soft lighting.

 

Such a revamp could be useful in reviving the mall's image, analysts say, as it is seeing more customers two years after its image and reputation dropped to an all-time low.

INFLUENCING OTHER STORES

Consumer behaviour has changed. As a retailer, we need to know what the consumer wants. It should not be the same kind of design from the old days. Hopefully, our change will influence other retailers to upgrade their designs, which will be better for Sim Lim Square as a whole.

MR SONG TECK KEE, managing director of newly revamped photography shop Song Brothers.

This was when the infamous Jover Chew, who ran a cellphone shop known for its shady sales tactics, was thrust into the spotlight.

GETTING BACK UP AGAIN

It does seem Sim Lim is bouncing back up. After the Jover incident, it hit a low in terms of reputation and customer footfall - so low that the only way the mall could go is up.

MR NICHOLAS MAK, research head for SLP International Property Consultants.

A video of a Vietnamese tourist who was overcharged for an iPhone 6 kneeling and begging for his money back from Chew in November 2014 put his shop, Mobile Air, in the news, and also highlighted Sim Lim Square's history of questionable sales tactics and unfair consumer practices.

"It does seem Sim Lim is bouncing back up. After the Jover incident, it hit a low in terms of reputation and customer footfall - so low that the only way the mall could go is up," said Mr Nicholas Mak, research head for SLP International Property Consultants.

Mall management says footfall - the number of people entering the mall - is up 30 per cent since the start of the year, with more customers coming to the mall compared with last year.

Mr Kwek Theng Swee, vice-chairman of the Sim Lim Square Management Council, attributed this increase to both the opening of the Downtown Line last year and the closure of Funan this year, along with efforts by the council to clean up the mall's image.

"We're quite happy that lots of businesses have recovered and people are coming back," he said.

Mr Song said he has seen a larger crowd at Sim Lim in recent months, particularly during the weekends.

"When I come back on weekends there is sometimes a queue to get into the carpark. This has not happened in years," he said.

Mr Kwek said a number of old retailers quit the mall in recent years because their business models could not keep up with the changing retail scene.

"From the management's point of view, it's a good sign. If those who aren't doing well get out, then newcomers with new ideas (and) new business models will come in. This change in hands, change in businesses, is good for everybody."

Twenty-four new tenants have set up shop in the strata-titled mall since the start of the year, including established brand names like HP and MyRepublic.

But while efforts are in place to restore Sim Lim Square's image, other retailers say the road to recovery is still taking some time.

Ms Pauline Then, manager of mobile accessories and cellphone repair shop Mobile City, said the mall's visitors have yet to return to levels of five years ago when it was still doing well. "There aren't many walk-in customers; mostly people who are recommended by friends, or our regular customers," she said.

She added that the rise of e-commerce has also hurt retailers. "Sometimes customers check the price of phones in front of me."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2016, with the headline 'Sim Lim Square's road to recovery'. Print Edition | Subscribe