Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Isn't this so Singaporean?

Food for thought (pun intended :o) )... comments below.


July 17, 2006
Some Suntec food outlets up in arms
By Grace Ng


TOUGH GOING: The management met all stallholders to address grievances but some say they are still thinking of moving out. -- LIM SIN THAI

SOME tenants at Suntec City Mall's newly opened Tasty Treatz, a cluster of 'takeaway' food outlets, are in a dispute with their landlord over an apparent promise they received that a competing food joint nearby would make way for them.
About three weeks ago, 16 of the 40 stallholders there banded together to send in a petition to Suntec City Developments 'to appeal for an open dialogue' and thrash out their grievances.

They also asked for a waiver of three months' rent and more effort to be put into marketing the cluster which, they say, has been suffering from poor customer traffic.

So slow has business been that one of the 40 tenants there has decided to call it quits after just six weeks, having chalked up losses of $100,000 in that period.

'I was making only about $100 in turnover on a Saturday...I decided to cut my losses rather than continue bleeding,' said the owner of the stall that sells savoury snacks. He declined to be named.

The 10,000 sq ft joint - tucked away in a corner beside Carrefour on the ground floor of Suntec City Mall's entertainment centre - is not readily visible to most shoppers, the tenants said. A large number of them are first-time business owners.

Though business is poor, the rents they pay - from $3,000 to over $8,000 a month - are comparable to most prime rental rates elsewhere.

And they face competition from a low-priced food outlet next door.

The tenants say they were told by Knight Frank, Suntec City Mall's marketing agent, that the competing outlet would be shut down.

Now it turns out, Delights Corner - operated by Carrefour and selling snacks at prices that the tenants say undercut their own higher-end food and drink offerings - will be closed only for a short time for a revamp.

Responding to queries, Knight Frank's director of retail Sherene Sng denied that it had misrepresented the situation.

'We had said that there were discussions about the possibility of revamping Delights Corner into a gourmet concept, selling gourmet meats, fresh seafood, freshly baked breads, wine cellar. We did not at any time say that Delights Corner will be closed down,' she said.

Mr Ng Lay Pheng, Suntec City Development's general manager for marketing and property services, added that 'Delights Corner is an integral part of the cluster'.

Mr Ng said that since receiving the petition, the Suntec management has met all the tenants. 'We are pleased that with the exception of a couple of tenants, the large majority of these tenants have provided constructive feedback and suggestions to further enhance the concept.'

Some of the tenants, however, have said that they are still considering moving out, with one drinks stall owner saying that 'business has not improved in the past few weeks despite more fliers and coupons distributed by Suntec City Developments'.


Now, these are business people. People who are supposed to have done their homework BEFORE they make any commercial decision.

The strange thing about this is that these stallholders are crying foul. Too bad. Whatever is not stated, is not enforceable legally (although I realize that verbal representations can sometimes be binding. This, however, could be difficult to prove in a court of law)

Looking at this situation, though, I can't help but feel that this is a very Singaporean condition. Merchants crying foul when they themselves haven't done enough to safeguard their own position. I just wonder if that was the original motivation behind the setting up of the Suzhou Industrial Park; an evironment where Singaporean infrastructure and Singaporean rules prevail. Just so there is a glimmer of hope that Singaporean companies can survive.

It's so sad.

If I were one of the stallholders thinking, I would have realized that the Carrefour corner would post a serious threat. If I had been promised that that particular "cheap corner" would go, I would insist on having it put into a contract so that I would have a way out. If this could potentially lose me S$100,000 in 3 months, I'd better have consider everything that could go wrong.

However, it's too late now that they're there. Their options would be to :

1) take a good hard look at providing what Delights Corner does not, provide it, and then make it known that I have what Delights Corner doesn't have... the key is differentiate;
2) bite the bullet, play the pricing game and lower prices;
3) bite the bullet, take my loss, and leave...

The steps that the current stallholders have taken; complain and demand that steps are taken, doesn't quite cut it for me. I could go and negotiate, but in my opinion, I would have no legal grounds to fall back on.

Until we, as Singaporeans, realize that we must depend on ourselves to take care of ourselves and not on some omnipotent Big Brother, we will never really be the economic chilli padi that we can be.

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2 Comments:

Blogger John Riemann Soong said...

I think your sentiment is mistaken.

IMO, this is not "typically Singaporean". You see, these stallholders have banded together - sort like a labour union, except more like a union of hawkers, and are clamouring collectively.

Now, the issue is not legal, but rather perhaps one of honour.

Even if the issue turns out not to be ideal, and they knew this from the start, they still have every right to band together and complain.

For one, if all the hawker stalls decided to leave, this would be undesireable for the venue too - because it would look ghostly. What the hawkers demand is to waive some rent temporarily so they can remain there in the long term.

What is so sad about this?

People have a right to organise, you know. We need more organisation, more less. We need consumer organisation (to carry out boycotts, ie. so we master the market, not the establishment).

As I see it, the issue is the tenants threatening to leave en masse, not "you promised us Delights Corner would move out, and you failed to honour your promise!"

10:58 am  
Blogger PC said...

John

I do not deny that tenants have the right to band together and negotiate.

However, the article points out the fact that prices at Delights Corner ARE higher than those at Tasty Treatz... that means that as a businessperson, I would have considered my pricing strategy... and whether that would still allow my business to be viable. Again, they can go negotiate and it is well within their prerogative to do so..

12:47 pm  

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