It’s well-known that the state of retail is gloomy, with brick-and-mortar stores dropping like flies. But in Far East Plaza, Jebson Tan, 40, is arguably doing well — his iconic The Corner Shop has been around for almost 10 years, and boasts many regulars, as well as a steady flow of walk-ins attracted by its flashy retro styling. But Jebson is well aware of the reality. He says, “The state of retail is very bad. If the big boys [like major luxury retail companies] are not making enough, what about the rest of us?”
As for his home ground, Far East Plaza, the sombre reality is it’s now more like a service mall. “There are more salons, spas, and tailors here than anything else,” he tells us. The realisation is both stark and true — there are about 90 salons in what was once a favourite and hip haunt for fashionable teenagers. Despite this, Jebson opened Pink Flamingo, a barbershop/salon, one year ago. He claims he isn’t thriving, but “surviving”.
Here’s what we learned from Jebson about surviving in the retail biz.
#1 Service is King.
“Twenty per cent of business comes from good service. If your staff is arrogant and gives bad service, you'll be exposed on social media in no time and you're gone. Like the chicken rice seller [whose insults towards a taxi driver went viral]. His shop closed down! Social media is a double-edged sword — it can make you famous or kill you. When you're servicing customers, you must always be cautious and be at your best. Regardless of how bad your day is, you still have to smile and be nice. At least, that's how we keep our customers.”
#2 Online is cutthroat.
“Online is so competitive. For every 10 new online stores, nine close. So better rethink, if your strategy is to go online. Big companies like Alibaba will just gobble you up — they have whatever you have and are 10 times cheaper. How do you compete?”
#3 Originality sells.
This is probably why The Corner Shop has survived, by putting exclusivity over mass-selling. “I think you should create your own products and merchandise. Once our products are sold out, you won't see them again. I don't know if it's a strategy, but it's how I want to do things. What's important is that you cannot be greedy. And you [need to] create a need. Now The Corner Shop has become sort of like destination-shopping — you come here to get something unique.”
#4 Shopping (in person) is forever.
“I’m optimistic. Brick-and-mortar stores can survive if done well. Frankly speaking, there’s not much you can do in Singapore. Shopping will always be everyone’s favourite hobby. People still want to go out and see, touch, feel and experience shopping. How is Christmas complete without Christmas shopping? During festive seasons, people look forward to the shopping experience, instead of staying at home to browse websites. The foundation for retail shops is there. For chain stalls, they might have to cut down. But for departmental stores, they’re in trouble. Nobody goes there anymore unless it’s for air-con or there are crazy discounts.”
The Corner Shop is at #03-16 Far East Plaza.