THE man credited with revamping the staid image of the 156-year-old Robinsons department store has left his job just seven months after the new Robinsons Orchard's grand opening.
Managing director Franz Kraatz's last day was at the end of last month. It is not known why he left, and attempts to reach him were unsuccessful. Robinsons also declined to comment.
Replacing him is Mr Christophe Cann, 49, the former deputy general manager of French department store Galeries Lafayette in Paris.
He previously headed the Singapore operations of Galeries Lafayette at Liat Towers from 1994 to 1996 before it folded here.
Mr Kraatz, 49, is credited with making Robinsons more upmarket with the opening of the 186,000 sq ft Robinsons Orchard last November. Located at The Heeren building, it features a more sophisticated shopping environment and new fashion-forward brands such as French hipster label The Kooples, Detroit-based lifestyle label Shinola and contemporary American menswear brand John Varvatos.
He joined Robinsons in 2012, after leaving his post as senior vice-president for sales and operations at Lane Crawford Department Store in Hong Kong. An industry insider, who declined to be named, said: "It is a surprise Franz has left because Robinsons only finished its revamp towards the end of the year."
The revamp has received mixed reviews. Teacher Mr Daniel Siew, 33, said: "The new department store has a trendy vibe and an eclectic collection, but it feels foreign and intimidating. I liked the Centrepoint store's familiar feel and warm service from the auntie and uncle sales assistants. Robinsons Orchard is staffed by younger staff who smile and nod but lack a personal touch."
The Centrepoint branch closed last month after its lease ended. Robinsons, which is owned by the UAE-based Al-Futtaim group, has two other branches at Raffles City and Jem in Jurong, as well as one at the Gardens MidValley in Kuala Lumpur.
In recent months, some customers have posted complaints on the department store's Facebook page about the service at the Orchard store and its branch at Jem, which opened last June. Complaints range from inattentive staff to their lack of product knowledge. This is a departure from the good service Robinsons has long been known for.
Brands located at Robinsons Orchard say they have had to get used to a new profile of clients.
An Estee Lauder spokesman said shoppers at Robinsons Orchard are "definitely younger and more fashion savvy" compared to those who frequented the Centrepoint branch. She declined to reveal sales figures but said it has been "encouraging".
Another beauty brand manager who declined to be named said "the migration of the Robinsons Centrepoint clientele to Robinsons Orchard has not been smooth". She attributed this possibly to the more pricey merchandise the new store carries and the smaller range of household items.
On the other hand, brands targeted at the younger, fashion-forward crowd are happy with the responses they have been getting. Local designer Nic Wong said weekdays can be quiet, but on weekends, he can sell up to 35 pieces a day. He described sales figures as "pretty promising".
Some feel that Robinsons Orchard just needs more time to prove itself. Ms Celine Loh, business manager of beauty brand Shu Uemura, said: "Robinsons Orchard represents the future of retail experiences which is important to attract younger customers who find shopping in department stores old-fashioned. It is essential for Robinsons to continuously organise holistic marketing campaigns that will attract... the younger customers while keeping regular customers intact."