Robinson & Co.
Robinson & Co. Limited is a retail company which has department stores in Singapore and Malaysia. The company owns the Robinsons department store, John Little in Singapore and has franchise outlets of Marks and Spencer in both countries. The company has grown into one of the country's most renowned department stores. Robinsons celebrated their 150th Anniversary in 2008.
Robinson & Co. was established on February 25, 1858 by Philip Robinson formerly from the west of England and a brother of Elisha Smith Robinson  and his business partner James Gaborian Spicer, who was a former keeper of the Singapore jail, and a partner in the shipwright business. The company was then known as Spicer and Robinson and it was located at Commercial Square (now Raffles Place). However on October 5, 1859, less than two years after the partnership, James Spicer pulled out from the partnership, and the company was known as Robinson and Co. Robinson found a new partner, George Rappa Jr.. At this point of time, Commercial Square was renamed Raffles Place. Robinson and Co. moved to the corner of North Bridge Road and Coleman Street.
Robinson developed his business a different way. He employed travelling representatives to canvass the Malay Archipelago and Borneo. Many of the Malay Rulers were among his customers, as well as King Mongkut of Siam.
Near the end of 1864, there was a financial crisis, firms crashed and hundreds of shops closed down. Robinson managed to survive during this period of time. A new shop was opened at Battery Road, and the company's first assistant was appointed from England, T. C. Loveridge, which took charge of a newly opened tailoring department. Loveridge took lessons in Singapore from an experienced cutter and first tried out his skill by cutting out a frockcoat for a colleague. It fitted well and the latter became a partner in the business. Robinson offered to sell out for £1,000 (which was a huge sum of money then), but Loveridge rejected the offer.
1886 was when Robinson died. His son, Stamford Raffles Robinson took over the business, and he took A. W. Bean as his partner. The 1890s saw the company doing more business than ever before in the Malaya. The company launched a large advertising campaign in the Malay Mail and increase the number of travelling representatives. In 1891 the company moved to a bigger shop in Raffles Place.
Robinsons also stocked musical instruments in the early 1900s as most homes had a piano, gramophone among many. Robinson & Co. became a limited company in 1920, when Robinson and Bean were still partners. The carefree days of Singapore and the then Malaya were gone when the Great Depression came. Year by year, the company made losses until 1936 when it made a profit. Stamford Robinson died in 1935 at 83 in Edinburgh, Scotland.
The company moved to a newer and bigger store at Raffles Chambers in November 1941. The building was air-conditioned at the café, men and women hairdressing salons. The Japanese bombed the building on December 8, 1941, but business opened as usual the next day. It suffered damage when it was attacked again on 13 February 1942. The last days of the British fell to the Japanese, saw only one person running the cafe. The company also had stores in Kuala Lumpur, FMS (now Malaysia), which was located next to the site of the present-day Masjid Jamek LRT station. Allied troops fighting in Malaya were unable to find supplies, and the Manager of the Kuala Lumpur branch could get camp beds for them.
Both stores were looted in the final days of the war. However, the company's $5,000 worth of silver and other valuables were not able to be retrieved. Even the best locksmiths or oxy-acetylene torches could not open the room.
The Raffles Place store was used as the headquarters of NAAFI and Ensa, the Services' entertainment organisation when the British returned to Singapore in 1945. Robinsons reopened in April 1946, business flourished and earned a profit of $1 million, the first time in history.
Robinsons acquired a 76% stake on John Little and the whole company in the end of 1955. The Raffles Place store was fully air-conditioned by then and was the first in the region. Robinsons got the franchise for Marks and Spencer for Singapore in 1958. In 1972, the Raffles Place outlet caught fire. As a result, the building was reduced to rubble. The store moved to Specialist's Shopping Centre on Orchard Road.
Robinsons once moved again to Centrepoint in June 1983 with five floors. The store went through a refurbishment in 2001 with a brand new look. It opened another store at Raffles City that same year in March, and Centrepoint outlet as the flagship. The Raffles City store used to be a Sogo outlet but closed down shortly after it filed bankruptcy.
In 2003, Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation and Great Eastern was planning to sell away their joint stake in the company to remove its non-core assets. A few companies had plans to buy the group. In the end, OCBC and Great Eastern did not sell the 37% stake away. The company used to house their headquarters on the fifth floor of Centrepoint in the department store but has since moved to Orchard Building for more retail space under the lead new CEO.
Meanwhile, the Kuala Lumpur branch was also destroyed in a fire around 1975 and has not reopened since then. It however made a comeback in Kuala Lumpur in 2007 after a thirty-two year absence when its new store opened at The Gardens, Mid Valley City.
Sale to Lippo Group
In 2006, OCBC sold its 29.9% stake in the group to Indonesia's Lippo Group (under Auric Pacific Singapore) for S$203 million as they could not own more than 5% in non-core assets. In October 2006, there was a controversial board meeting, with new owner Lippo booting out long serving chairman Michael Wong Pakshong. Another board member, Chew Gek Khim, who narrowly retained her seat in the board, resigned on 30 October 2006, after serving the board for 18 years. Chew was the chairman of its remuneration and nominating committees of the corporation. She is the granddaughter of the late Tan Sri Dr. Tan Chin Tuan, the latter invested in the company when he was at OCBC. Days later, the two remaining independent directors resigned from the company's board. They are Cham Tao Soon and Winston Tan. Stephen Riady told the media that he was interviewing candidates for new independent directors back in September. Stephen has been a board director of the company since Auric Pacific acquired the company. The fallout at the AGM has questioned several retail investors questioning the manner of how OCBC sold its stake in April 2006.
The group is known to have many sales in the year at Robinsons and John Little. However, when the new chief executive officer, Mr John Cheston was appointed, the direction for Robinsons changed. Instead of various sales throughout the year, Robinsons will hold two major sales through the year. One in GSS ( The Sale Truly Worth Waiting For) and at the end of the year (The Robinsons Sale).
Under his helm, Marks and Spencer reduced its prices by 20% under his lead, and later by another 5%, through the lower selling price campaign, in both Singapore and Malaysia.
The Robinson Group of Stores portfolio has grown over the last two years. They were awarded exclusive rights to distribute UK's leading High street fashion brand, River Island in Singapore and KL. The first store opened in VivoCity in January 2007 while the second store opened in Raffles City in May 2007.
John Cheston has also secured the exclusive rights to distribute and market leading UK active lifestyle brand, Fat Face, in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. In Singapore, Fat Face opened the first store in Galleria, Suntec City Mall, with two more boutiques opening in the last Qtr of 2007. Fat Face has opened two stores in Kuala Lumpur in 2007: Bangsar Village II & The Gardens, Mid-Valley City.
The Robinsons Group also manages standalone Principles stores in VivoCity and Suntec City as well as a stanalone Trucco store at VivoCity. Principles and Trucco are also available in the 2 Robinsons department stores. In November 2007, Robinsons opened the first stand alone Coast boutique in Paragon. In September 2007, Trucco and Coast opened in Kuala Lumpur, in both Bangsar Village II and The Pavilion Shopping Mall.
Today, Robinson & Co. runs the Robinsons, John Little and Marks and Spencer stores in Singapore and Malaysia. Below is a list of outlets.
- The Gardens at Mid Valley City
Marks & Spencer
- The Centrepoint
- Wheelock Place
- The Paragon
- Plaza Singapura
- Raffles City
- Parkway Parade
- Great World City
- Marina Square
- Jason Lim. Assumptions and Evidence The Case of Philip Robinson 1830-1886..
- Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Robinson's Fire, 1973. Printed for the Govt. of Singapore by the Singapore National Printers. 1973.
- "Corporate Finance - Lippo Group consortium acquires 29.90% of Robinson and Company, limited for €100m". BNP Paribas. Retrieved 11 November 2006.
- Ex-Robinson director denies being told of no-support vote, Lee Su Shyan, The Straits Times, 8 November 2006
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