Global brands open flagships as homegrown concepts proliferate

Opening a new brick-and-mortar store during a crisis like Covid-19 may seem less than ideal or even unwise; yet somehow, new concepts are proliferating in Singapore.

Not only have large F&B chains such as Thailand-hailing beverage company ChaTraMue arrived on our shores in late August, but French sporting goods retailer Decathlon have further expanded their reach in Singapore’s market with its first experience store located in town. Meanwhile, beloved homegrown F&B empire BreadTalk Group is also delivering fresh new concepts here.

Given today’s volatile business climate, it would only be fair to assume that businesses are bracing for a hit. But since new ventures are burgeoning despite the global pandemic, how receptive has the Singapore public been to these new moves?

ChaTraMue, for one, has seen an overwhelming demand from local audiences.

Businesses as usual for most

In an interview with SG Magazine, Jerls Su, General Manager of ChaTraMue Singapore said that while the launch of its flagship store at Paya Lebar Quarter was delayed (it was supposed to open in April 2020), the reception so far has been resounding.

Having retracted all the licenses from its former branches in Singapore, the new store, which now offers beverages and soft serves, has given Singaporeans a reason to flock to the East. And thanks to the positive feedback, ChaTraMue has sold over 2,000 cups on their opening weekend alone, and had to reorder stock within a week of launch.


Thai milk tea fiends can now savour the authentic flavour of the popular beverage thanks to ChaTraMue. A second outlet will open at Raffles Place.
 

“The fitting of the store was halted halfway through due to the circuit breaker and issues such as the lack of contractor manpower also contributed to the delays post-circuit breaker. We originally planned for our trainers from the ChaTraMue Thailand headquarters to be in Singapore for the training of the local staff but due to travel restrictions, those trainings were done via video calls instead,” Su explains.

“But it is definitely business as usual for us. Paya Lebar Quarter is a prime location where families come by on the weekends for a cup of authentic Thai milk tea while office workers may pop by the outlet for an afternoon pick-me-up on the weekdays. With many still working from home for now, we believe we will be able to sell even more drinks as people gradually return to the office."

Going digital offers an advantage

Just last month, French sporting goods retailer Decathlon also opened to an overwhelmingly positive response at its latest branch in The Centrepoint as customers lined up outside the outlet within the shopping mall. The global brand faces a rather unique situation, as during Singapore’s circuit breaker period, demand for its products increased dramatically since locals turned to sports and wellness as an outlet. But Decathlon isn’t about to get ahead of itself so quickly.

“We do agree that our situation is rather unique, but not because of sales results per se. Decathlon is a totally integrated brand thanks to its developing in-house brands which offer a competitive edge," remarked Nils Swolkien, Managing Director of Decathlon Singapore.


VR test zones and seamless shopping awaits at the new Decathlon Orchard.
 

In the opening of Decathlon’s urban experience store that boasts a modern, innovative concept, Singaporeans can not only look forward to a store decked out in the newest lighting systems and fittings, but they can also check out several digital transformations.

For instance, the outlet flaunts many first-of-its-kind experiences including a Virtual Reality camping site, a 3D foot scanner (one of only three in the world), a free-for-all basketball arcade machine, as well as several areas where sport classes will be held once the pandemic is over.

“During these challenging times, we have learnt to recognise the importance and versatility of having an online platform. We have accelerated our digital transformation which started in 2019, and we aim to become an interoperable digital platform of sport solutions with physical touch points offering 100 percent experience and 100 percent convenience to Singaporean customers,” Swolkien adds.

“At Decathlon Singapore, we aim to be in a constant state of transforming and growing. Hence, in the larger scheme of things we are still focused on how we can further develop as a team.”

Constantly developing, adjusting

Echoing a similar response is Vincent Lim, Regional General Manager of BreadTalk Group. The Singaporean multinational F&B company recently unveiled two outlets of its latest concept Butter Bean, with a branch at Funan and another at Vivocity.

“As a group, we’re taking a proactive and conscientious approach to the situation now instead of hoping for pre-covid times to return. We are reviewing both the short and long-term gains in our business during this uncertain climate,” Lim remarks. 

And in speaking about the struggles of the F&B industry set against the backdrop of a global crisis, BreadTalk Group also brings up points about enhancing local consumption as relying on tourism is no longer an option.

“Part of Singapore’s economy depends on tourism, but with the impact caused by Covid-19, we need to look at ways to further entice local consumption. Leveraging on our diversified F&B businesses and strengths, Butter Bean is conceptualised to target the younger generation who are quick to adjust to the new norms and embrace digitisation. This is part of our business focus moving forward. Given this generation’s increasing spending power in the coming years, this segment of consumers will be critical as part of our business continuity plan.”


Butter Bean hopes to redefine the traditional Nanyang coffee experience for the palate and lifestyle of the younger generation.
 

Butter Bean by the BreadTalk Group is a nascent concept which offers modern reinterpretations of the traditional toast and coffee breakfast meal. With eats like peanut butter and jelly open face sandwiches as well as kopi lattes, the outlets have gained a good amount of traction from the local public since the openings.

“Consumers are always on the hunt for new brands and unique food and beverage offerings, and BreadTalk Group has always been at the forefront of creativity when it comes to our food concepts.”

“On top of that, we have kept in mind how customers have become more receptive and appreciative of contactless ordering, cashless payment modes and delivery. Hence, we have launched our contactless dining experience too, whereby customers can order and make payment via our contactless ordering platform which can be accessed by simply scanning a QR code. This also enables customers to order in advance and pick up at the store, minimising time spent at the outlet,” added Lim. 

Thanks to both the new openings seeing rapid digitalisation and receptiveness of locals, we may be seeing even more innovative ideas and experiences which will help tide us over for now.