Singapore

Time for a change

Funan DigitaLife Mall will close on July 1 for redevelopment for three years. Although it's known for IT stuff, the mall is not just about computers.

For a mall known for its digital products, it may surprise some that one of the tenants who has stayed the longest is a watch retailer.

Passions Watch Exchange has been at Funan DigitaLife Mall for 25 years.

Madam Helen Tan, the shop's senior director, says that in recent years, the shops have been hit by declining sales, stiff competition and rising rent.

In 2012, she sold her house to sustain the business.

She says rent would increase by at least a few hundred dollars each year and has gone over $10,000 a month, compared with five years ago.

The single mum of three tells The New Paper on Sunday: "If it weren't for my three children, the business would have folded long ago."

The 71-year-old runs the business with two of her children, Ms Annie Tee, 49, and Mr Jonathan Tee, 42.

Passions deals with pre-owned luxury watches from brands like Rolex and Cartier, and Madam Tan says the business has been suffering losses for five years.

She says Passions started in a corner of her now-defunct furniture shop in Sembawang Shopping Centre.

"I got Jonathan to help out at the store but he expressed no interest in furniture. Instead, he would resell vintage collectibles like watches in a corner of the store," she says.

Placing her children's interests before hers, Madam Tan closed the furniture shop and expanded her son's hobby into a registered business at Funan DigitaLife Mall in 1991.

She recalls former employees trying to pocket some of the earnings instead of recording down the sales transactions made.

She adds: "They thought I was a pushover because I am a woman. I knew what they were doing, but I turned a blind eye to them."

REPUTATION

Passions, a pioneer in the pre-owned luxury watch industry, built a reputation for having a good collection of pre-owned watches and saw customers from all over the world. This was in the early 2000s and the mall was a popular haunt.

But when the 2008 global recession hit, Passions suffered.

Madam Tan says: "We would be lucky to have customers, since we were offering luxury goods that were not a priority during an economic downturn."

The emergence of pawnbroking chains further affected sales, and business has hit a flatline.

The Fullerton Hotel has offered them space to operate the business on its premises.

"My intention was to see through the end of the business in Funan, but you can never predict the future.

"We shall see how it goes at Fullerton, as it is a different landscape there," says Madam Tan.

Yet, she remains confident.

Madam Tan says: "My customers are like family. They will follow me to wherever the business moves to, I have no worries about that."

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