Bookshop owner's plea: Help me ride out hard times
Owner of bookstore appeals online to save ailing business
The owner of a bookstore has taken the unusual step of posting a plea on Facebook to customers to help him through the economic slowdown.
Mr Anthony Koh, 42, who runs Booktique, an independent bookshop at CityLink Mall, wrote last Friday that the store was facing "continuous weakening sales", and that his recent effort to rent out the shop space was not helping much.
"If you like our shop and what we have been doing, please help us pull through this (sic) trying times. We are working with distributors and our mall management to help improve our sale (sic)," he added.
"We are NOT giving up Booktique, but we need help to tide us over till the quiet months are over."
In the post, Mr Koh also called on book lovers and customers to help Booktique by buying vouchers and books, or renting its space for art-related workshops and classes.
He had started his business by hosting small book fairs at cafes in 2013 before opening a pop-up store at The Cathay. He then closed that to open a new pop-up at CityLink in October 2014 and turned it into a permanent store in last July.
On Thursday, Mr Koh told The New Paper that he had hesitated for days before making the appeal. He has given himself a three-month deadline to stabilise the business or close down.
"I struggled with the intention to go online for help... I didn't want to give people the impression that the book trade is a sunset industry and that book sellers are fools," he said.
"In the end, I decided that we need to tell people the core problems we face and our situation before we fall into debt."
Mr Koh said that sales have consistently dropped since last November. He described his last Christmas sales as "dismal", with takings falling by 50 per cent compared to 2014's festive season. Takings on a good month can reach low five figures and usually double that during festive seasons.
But the shop has been struggling to hit the five-figure mark of late, said Mr Koh, who declined to reveal the monthly rent for the 629 sq ft shop space. A check online shows that rent in the mall starts from about $12 per sq ft.
While blaming the slow economy and "weak" reading culture in Singapore for the dip in sales, Mr Koh also acknowledged that the gloomy climate is not unique to book retailers.
"I just want to be able to pay the rent, pay the book distributors and pay my part-timer. I don't need a salary as long as the bookstore can survive," said the bachelor.
He said he has not drawn a salary for months and has been surviving on his savings from his previous job at a copyright licensing agency.
"All retailers are not doing well. We didn't expect the economic downturn, but it is part and parcel of being in business. It's shape up or ship out."
While he is having restless nights, he insists that he is thinking of solutions, not worrying about the problems.
"My purpose and passion will not sway because of the poor economy," he said. "I am determined not to give up, and I want to focus my energy on improving the business and curating better books. But I don't want to go into debt, so hopefully we can stabilise soon."
Weighing in on Booktique's situation, Associate Professor Ang Swee Hoon from National University of Singapore's business school said the shop appeals to a niche clientele which Mr Koh has to reach out to.
"Instead of just selling curated books, maybe he can organise discussion groups where this group can gather," she said.
"This might add value to his business. So besides buying books, the group can have a chat about it too."
Prof Ang suggested that Mr Koh consider raising prices to cover his costs, though it might turn some customers away, or moving to a cheaper location.
She said: "A cheaper place might be out of the way, but the inconvenience might be something that the niche clientele will be willing to bear."
Mr Koh said of the suggestions: "All her points are valid. But we are a young company, and we might not have enough followers or made enough of a name to move to an inconvenient area...
"I also can't just raise prices for the sake of riding out the bad economy. It is all a matter of give and take to find a balance that can keep us going."
I struggled with the intention to go online for help... I didn't want to give people the impression that the book trade is a sunset industry and that book sellers are fools.
- Mr Anthony Koh (right), who runs Booktique in CityLink Mall
Fight gloom with fair deals, basic services
The global economic outlook has grown gloomier since the start of the year, said the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) on Wednesday.
Growth this year is expected to stay within the 1 to 3 per cent range.
According to MTI figures, the Singapore economy grew a modest 2 per cent last year - the weakest rate since 2009 - and down from 2014's 3.3 per cent expansion.
The economy expanded just 1.8 per cent in the last three months of 2015, lower than the previous estimate of 2 per cent.
MTI permanent secretary Ow Foong Pheng warned that global growth this year is expected to be "only marginally better than 2015".
In such uncertain times, consumers will be cautious with their spending, so retailers should take note, said Associate Professor of marketing Ang Swee Hoon.
"People will also be more price-conscious. Not that they are looking for cheap deals, rather they look for fair deals, purchases which are value for money," said Prof Ang, who teaches at the National University of Singapore's business school.
Retailers should "ride through" the gloomy economy by looking for opportunities and understanding consumer needs, added Prof Ang.
She said that retailers should "rebalance services" to focus on basic rather than premium services.
"For example, a hairstyling business should focus less on expensive services like colouring and treatment. Instead, it should rebalance focus on basic services like haircuts," she said.
Prof Ang said: "Look out for opportunities and be ready when the upturn comes."
Mr Samuel Tan, course manager of retail management at Temasek Polytechnic's business school, said retailers should use this opportunity to consolidate their businesses.
He said: "They can take stock of their use of space and consider the benefits of downsizing, (and also) review manpower planning and operations to be more productive."
Mr Tan said that customer loyalty and local and regional stability can help businesses make a positive turn.
It's goodbye to iwannagohome! stores in S'pore
Home furnishing brand iwannagohome! announced in a Facebook post last Friday that it would be having a closing-down sale at its two Singapore outlets.
The outlets at Great World City and Tanglin Mall will close later this year, Channel News Asia reported yesterday, quoting the chain's parent company, Gill Capital.
Both stores opened in 2007 in spaces previously occupied by Barang Barang, another purveyor of homeware.
The company also has outlets in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Australia, but their fate is not known.
Attempts to contact the management of iwannagohome! and Gill Capital were unsuccessful
Other retailers at Great World City and Tanglin Mall told The New Paper that the poor economy and dwindling foot traffic in the malls have affected them.
A Tanglin Mall sales assistant, who gave her name only as Ms Fika, said: "It is sad that iwannagohome! is closing. But it is not the only one that is leaving. Business is really bad because Singapore has too many malls. Most of the shops are struggling."
Ms Fika, who has worked for 10 years at a lifestyle shop in the mall, said two clothing shops are also closing. She said business at her shop is so poor that it doesn't make a single sale on some days. "If we get three or four sales a day now, we are happy," she added.
Echoing her sentiment, Ms Lily Tan, 34, a manager at a stationery store in Great World City, said that sales have dipped in past years and shoppers there are usually expatriates or locals who live nearby.
"In the good days, we could see over 100 customers a day. Now, especially on bad days, we get maybe 30 to 40 customers," she said.
A jewellery shop assistant at Great World City, Ms Su, 35, said it is not surprising to see shops close. She pointed out at least two shop spaces that had changed hands in the past months.
She said: "It is really quiet here nowadays. Even for Valentine's Day, which is usually our peak season, we didn't see as many people coming in as before."
If we get three or four sales a day now, we are happy.
- A Tanglin Mall sales assistant, who gave her name only as Ms Fika