Once a familiar name in many a Singapore shopping mall - and with more than 20 outlets at its peak - home-grown hardware chain Home-Fix will be shutting its last store here by the end of the week.
The firm, which has been placed under interim judicial management, has about $19.8 million in liabilities on its books, The Business Times (BT) reported yesterday.
Its e-commerce site will remain operational for now, as the company undergoes debt restructuring.
Home-Fix's physical presence has shrunk in recent years as the firm sought to expand its online offerings and branch into services and workshops.
But despite being held up by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his May Day rally speech last year as an example of a retailer evolving with the times, observers said that the transformation efforts may have been too little, too late.
Among the challenges that the do-it-yourself (DIY) chain had to grapple with were high mall rentals, competition from e-commerce and neighbourhood stores that sell the same wares at lower prices and a sluggish economy.
One of the firm's two directors, Mr Low Cheong Kee, told creditors on Tuesday that the company's financial woes were due in part to loss-making stores and an inability to compete with the delivery rates of other e-commerce sites, BT reported, citing sources at the meeting.
Refurbishment works at Great World City and Thomson Plaza also hit sales at its two highest-grossing outlets, Mr Low reportedly said.
Both stores have closed, while its units at Compass One and Novena Square were repossessed earlier this year.
Home-Fix now lists just two stores on its website, at Tanglin Mall and Tampines One.
The outlet at Tanglin Mall was shuttered and bore signs saying "business closed" when The Straits Times visited yesterday, while the store at Tampines One had shelves that were half-empty.
A staff member at the Tampines store said that it would be closing by the end of the week, and declined to comment further.
Home-Fix's office in Tai Seng was largely empty yesterday afternoon, with cardboard boxes strewn about. The company did not respond to queries.
Ms Olivia Choong, who helped to run a gardening workshop for Home-Fix members last December, told The Straits Times she has yet to be paid the $520 in fees that she is owed.
"At first I thought it was an administrative error," said Ms Choong, 40.
But after months of chasing, her concerns grew when the staff members she had been liaising with left the company one after another.
She also approached Mr Low, whom she had met at an earlier event. "He said he would get back to me the next week, but he never did," Ms Choong said.
Home-Fix XPC, the workshop and co-working space where the gardening workshop was held, shut in October.
Ms Choong, who was not informed of the creditors' meeting, said she has little hope of getting paid.
Describing Mr Low as warm and generous, she said: "I do think they maybe thought they could make some money back and pay people, but that didn't quite happen.
"But what I would have appreciated is being told, 'We're having some financial difficulties and we need some time to sort things out.'"
Creditors told BT that Mr Low, who runs the business with his brother Low Cheong Yew, plans to revive the company by tapping other services it offers, such as home repairs and training courses.
The brothers, who founded the company in 1993, grew their family's hardware shop into an islandwide chain.
Dr Seshan Ramaswami, associate professor of marketing education at Singapore Management University, said the move to focus on services is a good one.
"In extremely urbanised Singapore, with a lot of very busy home owners, I don't think the market for DIYers is that big," he said.
"Online businesses which offer a huge variety and good prices ... further make the DIY retail business a very difficult one."
Small family-run neighbourhood hardware stores have the benefit of cheaper rentals than malls, while contractors and handymen provide a steady stream of business, he noted.
Business development manager Eric Ng, who buys tools for woodworking and gardening, said he mainly shops online and at hardware stores near his home in Jalan Besar.
"I used to shop at Home-Fix, but the prices now are too high and they don't have a lot of variety in-store," said the 36-year-old.
Home-Fix is the latest casualty in the retail sector. Cosmetics retailer Sasa announced earlier this month that it would be closing all 22 stores in Singapore, while DFS will be pulling its liquor concessions out of Changi Airport next June after nearly 40 years.