Popular into a lot more than selling books
To stay relevant, it is diversifying into products like electronics
Shoppers walking past the storefronts of home-grown bookstore Popular, known for its extensive selection of school assessment books, may be surprised to see smartphones, coffee machines and drones on display.
In a bid to keep up with changing consumer tastes and offer a comprehensive shopping experience, Singapore's largest bookstore chain's latest move in a stagnating books market is to customise its storefronts based on factors like customer profile, locality and the size of the shop.
Two stores have undergone such a revamp this year as part of its continued strategy to diversify its product offerings.
Its Clementi Mall outlet reopened in October as its only store with gadgets and IT products, instead of books, displayed at the storefront.
An overhaul in August for its Jurong Point store focused on stationery, with offerings such as school and craft supplies.
The company, which in the 1980s first ventured into the English books market, seeks to be a one-stop shop attracting a variety of shoppers, from families to bookworms, to those looking for a second smartphone.
It started selling IT-related products two years ago - 91 years after its humble beginnings as Cheng Hing Company in South Bridge Road selling Chinese novels and decorative posters.
Citing a Straits Times report of a study by consultancy Ernst & Young in April that people spend 12 hours on their gadgets daily, Popular's group chief executive Chou Cheng Ngok, 80, said: "For a brand that is built on serving the masses, this is an intriguing trend that we would like to get on board with."
Asked whether more Popular outlets could go this way in future, Mr Chou, who took over from his father, the company founder Chou Sing Chu, said: "We're experimenting. We want to see how much more new products we can bring in, we want to see how far this electronics selling can be in the bookstore, and still stay relevant. You don't want the bookshop to stay totally irrelevant.
We're experimenting. We want to see how much more new products we can bring in...Popular’s group chief executive Chou Cheng Ngok
"Are future bookshops going to go the Clementi way? No, it's going to go in a very diversified way. We're just using Clementi to see - since we've got 7,000 sq ft there, we want to give 4,000 to 5,000 sq ft to electronics, and see how business would turn out."
Popular started experimenting with different storefronts in 2015, when the outlet at IMM displayed assessment books, as is still the case today.
The Clementi Mall outlet now sells printers, audio accessories, laptops and small domestic appliances.
There will also be a greater focus on selling gadgets at its 11th BookFest this year, which will run from Dec 15 to 24.
The attendance for the annual fair was about 600,000 last year, with a similar number of visitors expected again this year. It will be held at Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre.
Popular has more than 180 outlets in Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia today, with 29 stores in Singapore.
As it continues to evolve, Mr Chou's vision is simple.
"My wish is to see it prosper and remain a home-grown label with a rich history - one that can proudly say that we have grown along with our nation and our people," he said.