The best laid plans often go awry.
With the declining footfall of the retail scene in Orchard Road for years, why the authorities continue to outsource the strategic visions on revitalising Orchard Road to overseas consultants is beyond comprehension.
The decision to hire consultants is puzzling when none of these seemed to work.
Orchard Road’s future is seemingly bleak, especially moreso when the task of drafting its future is outsourced to yet another foreign company.
Yes, you read it correctly, this time, it is a firm from down under that’s going to lead the development of Orchard Road’s blueprint for the next decade or two.
The time is ripe for the local business owners to be given the chance to address the issues as our businesses are being deeply entrenched and intertwined with the fate of Orchard Road.
There is still something charming about Orchard Road – a grand dame which has seen better times.
It is still one of the popular shopping districts and hangout spots amongst locals and tourists, whether it is for shopping or for casual dining.
As a passionate entrepreneur retailer and a true-blue Singaporean (especially because when National Day is just around the corner), I couldn’t help but feel the blues when I read the news.
When are we going to award a local Singaporean to lead the charge to rejuvenate Orchard Road?
In my last decade of managing atomi in Orchard Road, I have read about recognised and branded consultancy firms coming in and out, winning projects after projects on revamping Orchard Road.
Yet, nothing seems to change for the better; many are still lamenting about Orchard Road, and how boring the street is.
Past attempts to revitalise Orchard Road have been wasted as shoppers are still not contented with the “improved” and “revamped” shopping district.
What can truly be the solution to this seemingly never-ending predicament, may I boldly and confidently suggest, would be to bring in the local talents; companies and local businesses should be given the chance to lead the project.
We have enough individuals who have been living and working in Orchard Road, armed with global exposure and overseas experience to take on this task.
One of the most commonly heard grouses about Orchard Road, and Singapore in general is, we have many “tried & tested”, “cut & paste” formulas brought in from abroad.
We do not invest in cultivating unique brands, retail and dining experiences in Orchard Road.
We need to be vested, and need to stand up and be counted.
This is the time to place the faith in Singaporeans, Singapore companies to chart our own direction, our future and our blueprint for our crown jewel, Orchard Road.
Why are we still not giving the local companies a chance to draft out our future and develop our solutions to address the unchanging issue?
This is the time for us to learn how to fish, instead of being given the fish.
We need to give Singaporeans the chance to take on national projects, look after our crown jewels, and be part of the team to tackle national issues.
Certain things can’t be outsourced, be it the Government, the National Services, and the Organs of States.
Likewise, retail is a core industry to protect, as we strive to be a tourism hub, an aviation hub, and the logistic hub. Many of the landlords are Singapore companies, with the Government and its linked companies among the key operators and owners of malls.
In the era where Asia is taking the lead in the retail industry, coupled with Asians’ enormous appetite for retail, we need a strong retail industry in Singapore.
If I were to put things into context and make a comparison, Australia is better known for its outdoor nature, agriculture sector, wineries, etc.
It’s not a country that is known for its retail sector. It is therefore puzzling to have a company from a nation whereby retail sectors are closed by 6pm.
Yes, the Australian companies are famous for their expertise in creating large-scale retail outlets, yet the last thing we need now is another cookie-cutter, white elephant type of mall.
While some sectors in Singapore are best known to hire CEOs outside of its industries to shake things up, the retail sector and the revamping of Orchard Road, in contrast, is a job that requires someone that understands the intricacy of Singapore, the consumerism of the Singapore market, and the tourism market of Singapore.
To crack the code of Orchard Road, we need more than just foreign expertise and imports from overseas.
This is an issue, which we need to sort out internally, and to chart the future direction; we need locals who are vested in this industry.
There have been many local associations that exist for a long time, yet do not seem to have come up with any feasible and sustainable future plans. This is the time to let the new generation of retailers, new individuals who are able to offer new perspectives to stand up, be counted and make a positive change to the revitalisation of Orchard Road.
The moment for David and Goliath story is long overdue.
As a business owner who spent years in Orchard Road, I shall offer the local edition of the blueprint.
The Five Cs of Orchard Road
Stand up for Singapore Retail Sector: Orchard Road, a street that must stay relevant and not stuck in the former glory. It’s a ruthless and cut-throat industry, up or out, the policy of staying in the game is to move with times or get out.
For retailers, harnessing new technology and selling well is just as important as making sure revenue and cost go hand in hand.
To continue to be a leading street, we need to do the five Cs well.
Orchard Road must have concepts that are universally appealing, but also target the niche segments of the consumers coming from different backgrounds, be it religions, races, or nationalities.
The ideal Orchard Road must be a destination where concepts are allowed to grow and flourish.
There is a chance for Orchard Road to become a vibrant shopping district again, if we focus on introducing new concepts that embrace unique and refreshing shopping experiences, with remarkable customer service. We definitely need people with convictions to make these concepts happen, which lead us to the next C.
Talk is cheap and execution is priceless.
We know that Orchard Road is the crown jewel of our retail industry; the new start-ups, the trendsetters and the establishments; we all have a role to play in this prescient.
We need talents and professionals to create the buzz of humanity, and this is where no amount of blueprint will be useful unless we nip the issues right at the bud. You know that empty vessels make the most noise.
We must believe in the human race, be it the face-to-face contact with you, literally or via videoconference, live videos, real-time chats, etc. to engage with the consumers. Let their convictions bring back the retail industry to regain its former glory and move beyond the present.
No amount of hardware, especially with all the Assets Enhancement Initiatives, a popular word among the REITS, is necessary if our retail industry is not filled with individuals with convictions.
Yes, we do hear you, local retailers, for I am one, too. We do need special concessions to cultivate new brands, especially new start-ups. Our individual effort and conviction alone is insufficient to transform the retail industry.
Businesses need partners with open mind-sets and even government initiatives to support existing local brands to tide over the choppy waters; and establish new markets overseas, as well as to become omni-present in the virtual world.
This is the time to teach us, the pride of Singapore start-ups, how to fish and fish well instead of incentivising companies to be given fish. Concessions must be given to ensure we have time to grow up, but not relying on short-term measures.
It takes a village to raise a child, and certainly people with a crystal clear vision must manage Orchard Road. Obviously, they must be empowered to create an impact.
Currently, the communities within Orchard Road are fragmented, and we have a “Not-In-My-Backyard” mentality. Simply because most of the brands have boutiques in other parts of Singapore or at the neighbouring countries, they are not going to sweat over Orchard Road alone.
Yet, passionate business owners who are rooted in Singapore want Orchard Road-Singapore’s primary retail industry, to flourish. Thus, we have to stand up, come together and be counted.
We must form the community to run the show, to take over the reins from the bean counters and band together to create a truly great shopping haven.
Retail is fun, relaxing and therapeutic.
We should create integrated communities, a well-thought collection of bars, restaurants, hawker centres, cafes, retail malls, entertainment centres, libraries, parks and so on.
We should promote Orchard Road’s own unique identity, and not the typical usual cookie-cutter brands from aboard. Business owners who are managing the business with a hands-on approach should be given priority. The keywords for the building such a community are originality and authenticity.
Singapore is a cosmopolitan country; there should be anything from Singaporean, Asian to Middle Eastern, Europe to Western. Both locals and foreign visitors are taken into consideration when developing the community.
The best intentions, well-executed plans can still go wary if there is a lack of concerted efforts to communicate our best intentions to the rest of the world. The entire stretch of Orchard Road must be as varied and as interesting as possible.
At the moment, consumers have already stated their stance loud and clear by taking the money out of Orchard Road.
We need to reach out to the shoppers in a clear and concise message to demonstrate that we hear you, we know you and we understand you.
The stakeholders, be it the mall operators, the REITs, the business owners, the employees and the Government must embrace open communication and having everyone in the industry to understand and be on the same page. So far, it seems everyone is running and pulling in different directions.
To revive Orchard Road, we need excellent communicators to improve communications to facilitate innovative ideas and forward-thinking policies to make Orchard Road great again.
Orchard Road Revival Isn’t Just A Job For One Party
Instead of merely complaining about how Orchard Road’s dead or that even bricks-and-mortar retail is dying, how about we rally together to work things out? It takes a village to raise a child, let alone a grand dame of Singapore.
We need everyone to stand up and be counted, as a consumer, as a business owner, as a professional, as a Singaporean or but most importantly, as a global citizen.
This article was contributed by Andrew Tan.
Andrew Tan is the founder and creator of atomi, at Mandarin Gallery; which also conceptualized and introduced ACTUS häuse in Singapore. He is also the managing partner for atomi Consulting which advises retail businesses, government agencies, mall and property owners in Singapore and Japan.
Featured Image Credit: Nikkei Asian Review