Saturday, November 10, 2007

$40 million makeover of Orchard Road, the part of Orchard Road that stretches from Wheelock Place to Tanglin Mall

New outlets offering niche, top-end products liven up the ‘quieter’ part of Singapore’s premier shopping area, reports CHEAH UI-HOON

WHILE the talk in town a week ago was about the government’s $40 million makeover of Orchard Road, the part of Orchard Road that stretches from Wheelock Place to Tanglin Mall has been going through some positive changes of its own.

Most people know it as the ‘quieter’ part of Orchard Road, but since the middle of this year, a number of shops offering niche, top-end products have sprung up, not to mention Jackie Chan’s first cafe in the world. And then, of course, there’s the imminent opening of St Regis, slated to usher in guests through its five-star hotel doors on Dec 22. It will be the first international luxury hotel brand to open in Singapore in more than a decade.

The newest retailers on that block are optimistic about the prospects of that side of Orchard Road, and actually they don’t mind that it has less shopping traffic as long as they’re the ‘right’ shoppers. Not only that, they have booked their spots in Orchard Road in anticipation of the boom when events like Formula One zoom into town, and when the integrated resorts (IRs) open.

‘We wanted a prestigious address,’ says Mikael Andersson, owner of the Hastens store, a top Swedish bed and mattress marque, at One Nassim Road. ‘But we didn’t necessarily want to pay for one with high shopper traffic.’

The location also worked because it allowed Hastens to have large store-front windows, and rent is lower than if it had set up shop in the central part of Orchard Road.

‘We don’t depend on walk-in customers but those who are familiar with the brand because it’s a well-known European brand,’ he says, adding that that part of Orchard Road has a high concentration of top-end condominiums as well.

Fine furnishings store Atmosphere, next to Hastens, was set up with the same philosophy. ‘This end of Orchard Road is quieter and more suitable for a luxury brand,’ says its director Bharat Ram, of Himatsingka Singapore Pte Ltd.

‘The upper end of Orchard Road has become more premium in the last two to three years. With the development of St Regis, many high-end brands have moved here,’ he says. ‘With rentals moving up significantly in the middle Orchard Road area, it makes eminent sense to open stores in the upper end of Orchard Road which is on the same stretch of the road, premium yet more affordable.’

He believes that there’ll be a significant movement of premium brands to this location in the coming months.

Already, there are brands like Franck Muller, which opened its new 1,900-sq-ft boutique at Delfi recently. And its distinctive store-frontage has added ‘a sense of excitement’ to that part of Orchard Road, believes Carina Lee, the luxury watch brand’s marketing communications manager.

Even though well-heeled, brand-conscious shoppers are aware that this is the part of Orchard Road that has the most exclusive fashion labels, it doesn’t help reminding them so. Which is the aim behind The Shopping Gallery at Hilton Hotel’s advertisements booked in several glossy fashion magazines from September to December.

‘This is the first time that The Shopping Gallery Hilton Singapore has embarked on an advertising campaign to market the place as a luxury shopping destination,’ says Cedric Tan, creative director for Balrog Inc which produced the campaign.

‘The ‘Fashion High, Fashion Life’ campaign is meant to gear up the gallery’s visibility. This is the place, after all, where high fashion grew up in Singapore. We have all the first-tier luxury brands like Missoni, Armani, Donna Karan and Dolce & Gabbana so we think it’s important to highlight that,’ he says.

He says that the six-figure advertising campaign is to pave the way for more events held at The Shopping Gallery next year, especially with the impending F1 race. About the profile of its typical shoppers, Mr Tan notes that they aren’t browsers. ‘They pick up what they want and go. We may not draw a lot of traffic, but we get the right traffic,’ he adds.

This part of Orchard Road could do with something like a Rodeo Drive, the three-block ‘branded’ shopping destination in Beverly Hills, California, says Yngvar Stray, general manager of the soon-to-open St Regis Hotel.

‘Orchard Road has been a centre of attraction for Singapore, but this side has never been able to be the draw. We need to make sure that Orchard Road doesn’t stop at Shaw House or Wheelock,’ says Mr Stray. ‘But if this part was positioned to be more like Rodeo Drive, that will be phenomenal,’ he adds. ‘The Hilton Hotel has one of the best shopping arcades I can think of and that inspiration should follow through along the street - being more exclusive, more niche.’

When St Regis opens next month, Mr Stray expects the 299-room hotel to generate a buzz with its restaurants, bars and spa. But then again, it intends to keep corporate activity nominal - even corporate room bookings - as the hotel is targeted at the individual traveller, in line with the greater concentration of luxury residences in the area.

Growing market

‘Orchard Road needs multiple attractions - and this part has more branded products. You come here because you understand its value,’ says Mr Stray.

Singapore has focused on mid-market growth for a long time now, but the high-end market is now growing, he feels. Along with it, more personalised attention and ‘bespoke’ service. Some shops have already picked up on this tone which St Regis Hotel itself is setting. Franck Muller’s interior, for instance, is fashioned like a lush, private residence, complete with a long dining table-like show space.

And then there’s Glitterati Fashion Boutique, a new cocktail and evening wear boutique which set up shop recently at Tudor Court. Owner Latika Alok made sure the shop has been designed with separate sitting rooms and cosy corners to provide personalised customer service. Although she had been running the business from her home since the early 1990s, she decided to get a shop space now ‘to position Glitterati for the IR market’, she notes, when there’ll be more events happening in town for which people have to dress up.

What about the fact that there are commercial buildings in that part of the town that don’t come up to scratch in terms of their services or appearances? Mr Stray doesn’t think that those will be an obstacle.

Nicholas Mak, research director of Knight Frank property consultancy, says that the upper end of Orchard Road needs more high-end shops, and possibly needs a few buildings to get a facelift, although he reckons that would happen only if building managers have a reason to increase rental or face some competition.

‘But the tenant mix is partly art and partly science. It’s a matter of coming up with the right formula,’ he says. The upper end of Orchard Road will continue to be seen more as a ‘destination’ area, he thinks.

Atmosphere’s Mr Ram figures that better connectivity between the middle area of Orchard and the upper end will make the flow of customer traffic easier. But he also expects that Ion Orchard, with its retail and luxury residential space, along with St Regis, ‘will completely re-position upper Orchard to the more important and premium part of Orchard Road’.

Time will be the test of Orchard Road’s makeover - and whether the upper end will really shape up to be upper crust.

Source : Business Times - 9 Nov 2007

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