Space jam: Smaller retailers band together to save on rent

Smaller retailers are banding together in collaborative stores to save on rent

The little drom store owners (from far left) Stanley Tan, 33, and Antoinette Wong and Kki owners Delphine Liau and Kenneth Seah, 42, (with daughter Shannon, three) will have a new home at the School of the Arts. -- ST PHOTO: STEFFI KOH
The little drom store owners (from far left) Stanley Tan, 33, and Antoinette Wong and Kki owners Delphine Liau and Kenneth Seah, 42, (with daughter Shannon, three) will have a new home at the School of the Arts. -- ST PHOTO: STEFFI KOH
Maketh Project founders (from left) Addynna Azlinor, 28, Adlina Adil and Rozeryna Rothman, 29, are sharing a space with Straits Records in Bali Lane. -- ST PHOTO: STEFFI KOH
Fictive Fingers sister-owners (from far left) Hani and Aisah Dalduri and And All Things Delicious owner Dewi Imelda Wadhwa opened their Crawford Lane shop in May. -- ST PHOTO: STEFFI KOH

Home baker Dewi Imelda Wadhwa of And All Things Delicious was looking for tea towels to enhance the presentation of her baked goods for Christmas when she chanced upon the handprinted textiles of Fictive Fingers online.

The 35-year-old mother of two was pleasantly surprised to find that the colourful screenprinted tea towels were made here.

"I didn't have to buy thousands of tea towels from India," she says with a laugh.

Fictive Fingers is helmed by sisters Aisah and Hani Dalduri, 22 and 29 respectively.

Ms Dewi's scones, wrapped in the sisters' cloths in the Japanese Furoshiki style, were an instant hit and marked the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Barely six months after their first meeting, the sisters brought up the idea of a shared space.

The result? An airy and inviting space in Crawford Lane - half bakery and half textile print studio - which opened in May.

Such collaborative retail spaces look set to grow in number as smaller retailers join forces in response to sky-high rents.

For the trio behind Maketh Project, rent was a major concern in their search for a suitable space last year. After two years of making leather goods from home, they wanted a studio to spread their knowledge of the craft.

They now occupy the back room of long-time Bali Lane resident, Straits Records.

"It wasn't what we initially wanted," reveals

Ms Adlina Adil, 29, looking around the room tucked away behind stacks of vinyl records and CDs.

They had envisioned a roomy workshop with high ceilings, "but then we realised it was a good start", she continues.

The owner of Straits Records says he does not care about making a profit off them.

"I told them, you can look elsewhere, but you won't be paying the same rate," says Mr Ridhwan Abdul Ghany, 39.

He declines to reveal how much he charges, though he says the two businesses share the rent according to how much space they each take up.

Since Maketh Project opened their studio in January, response has been overwhelming. They conduct classes every day, charging from $37.90 a person for each workshop, allowing them to cover their rent.

In Singapore, collaborative concept stores have been around for a few years. Two-year-old Pact at Orchard Central, which houses a restaurant, lifestyle store and hair salon, is still going strong.

Shared pop-up spaces are also de rigueur, such as the recently concluded three-month urban farm project by consultancy Edible Gardens and retailers Naiise and Haystakt on the roof of People's Park Complex.

But for some of these collaborative retailers, permanence is still what they strive for.

"The dream was to have a shop in Orchard Road," says Revasseur designer Gilda Su, 31.

She and several partners founded the hip hybrid concept store Superspace in May at Orchard Gateway. It carries multiple fashion labels and houses a hair salon. They hope to inject vibrancy into the retail scene here, which they see as stale.

Also hoping to reinvigorate the scene are former Ann Siang Hill darlings the little drom store and Kki, a patisserie-cum-retailer of designed objects. They have a new home at the School of the Arts.

After they moved out of their cosy enclave last December due to the soaring rent, finding a proper space proved difficult. They even considered moving into an industrial park at one point.

"We were open to going our separate ways. We had those talks," says Ms Antoinette Wong, 29, of the little drom store.

Slated to open next month, the two-in-one shop will stock more self-designed products and bakery Kki will introduce a line of home interior goods, Kki Home.

Also opening next month is SPies & All Things Nice, a takeaway pie counter carved out within the premises of Harnn, a boutique in Tiong Bahru that sells Asian-inspired artisanal products.

While the two businesses might seem like odd bedfellows, pie boss Stephen Koh assures you there is a link between the two.

"Like Harnn, the pies will have Asian influences - we have flavours such as ayam buah keluak and laksa," says the 44-year-old, who is Peranakan.

Mr Koh, also the marketing manager of Harnn, has the support of his employer, who sees it as an extension of the food-and-beverage arm of the business. Harnn operates Tichaa Tea & Dining Room, a tearoom in Chiangmai, Thailand.

Beyond sharing costs, these partners often find ways to synergise and even act as each other's sounding board for business decisions at times.

"We test the baked goods and give feedback. Sometimes we have to tell her, 'Can you price your stuff higher?'" says Ms Aisah of Fictive Fingers with a laugh. "It's like one big family," she adds of their relationship with And All Things Delicious.

Like any family living under one roof, the owners say not everything is smooth-sailing all the time, but open communication is key.

The partnership between Kki and the little drom store has lasted since 2010, proof that some shared spaces have staying power in an increasingly crowded market.

On the secret to a successful tie-up, Ms Delphine Liau, 37, of Kki says: "You have to talk more. It can't just be about money. You have to share certain dreams together."

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