FJ Benjamin launching online-only labels, venturing beyond fashion

FJ Benjamin chief executive Nash Benjamin said the firm is expanding into "consumer-facing products" in the light of the Covid-19 situation. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - When the coronavirus pandemic forced fashion retailer FJ Benjamin to temporarily shut its nearly 300 stores in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, falling back on online sales was not an option.

Brand owners traditionally grant brick-and-mortar rights to distributors, so of the 18 brands in its portfolio, it ran an e-commerce store only for one - Superdry - then.

But the challenges posed by the pandemic have made brand owners more receptive to giving online rights as well, FJ Benjamin chief executive Nash Benjamin told The Straits Times.

Over the last two months, the brand management firm has launched e-commerce stores for Guess, Casio and Pretty Ballerina. It has even introduced a new entrant, Anti-Social Social Club, an American streetwear label making its Singapore debut online.

Plans are in the works to roll out online stores for at least seven more fashion and luxury brands, including Rebecca Minkoff and Lancel, in the three countries it operates in.

More brands without physical stores here, such as Swedish footwear retailer Axel Arigato and skincare line Dr Barbara Sturm, will also be launched online.

"It gives us an amazing opportunity to see what works and what doesn't work without the investments in leases and store fit-outs," said Mr Benjamin.

Going forward, testing the waters for new brands online before committing to brick-and-mortar stores will be a bigger focus, he said.

While retailers have been ramping up their e-commerce capabilities to survive the closure of their stores, online shopping habits are expected to stick even after they reopen.

Mr Benjamin told The Business Times last week that the firm also plans to diversify beyond fashion.

Asked about this, he would only say that it is expanding into "consumer-facing products" in the light of the Covid-19 situation, adding that details will be announced soon.

For now, the company is gearing up to reopen its 15 stores here when Singapore enters phase two of the easing of restrictions, expected to start by the end of the month.

"We will see how the business is; it could be that some stores may need to close," said Mr Benjamin.

In a decision made before the coronavirus outbreak, its Tom Ford boutique at Marina Bay Sands will be shutting for good as its lease has expired and FJ Benjamin has decided not to renew the franchise rights.

Social distancing measures and other restrictions are likely to have an impact on business for some time, Mr Benjamin said, but the firm is optimistic that its new omni-channel strategy will pay off.

"I firmly believe there will still be a retail business, but it will take some time to get back to normal," he said.

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