I have spent the last two weeks traveling through Asia and the Middle East, looking at retail trends and meeting with local business people. As always I find myself looking for trends that have applicability to Australia, either at a business level or a city or national level.
I lived in Singapore as a kid, but now tend to think of Singapore as being the jump-off point for global retailers to enter Australia. Desigual and Mango, Zara’s two main rivals in Spanish-born fast fashion retail, have been here for a while. In general, two years of trading in Singapore sees northern hemisphere execs look farther south to Australia to expand, or indeed for Australian execs to approach these retailers to represent their brands in Australia. So, DJs signed up Mango earlier this year and Desigual will open a Melbourne store in the next few months.
Singaporeans are open-minded and very committed shoppers. They as a nation understand the need to trade as openly and easily with as many countries as possible. They also welcome significant investment in retail and tourism infrastructure.
I know many people will have seen the Marina Bay Sands hotels and casino, the one that looks like a three-legged ironing board with an infinity pool and swaying palm trees almost 60 floors high. But many may not be aware that the shopping mall below was gifted to the Singaporeans by the casino owner. It has created thousands of jobs for young and old Singaporeans alike. It has also created a huge income stream from world travelling shoppers.
Now to gift a globally recognised shopping mall that hosts some of the world’s best brands seems a very altruistic thing for a business person to do. Not at all. The granting of a casino licence has allowed the investor, the casino operator Las Vegas Sands Corporation, to recover its alleged $US4 billion investment in less than four years.
All good by me as they have delivered to Singapore an iconic building that world travellers will choose as a reason to visit Singapore over another country on their annual holiday. And these world travellers bring their money to Singapore and spend it at every level: cabs, pharmacies, tourist attractions and small restaurants.
Singapore doesn’t have mines or agriculture. It’s tiny; we have small sheep stations that are larger than their country. So it respects retail, export and tourism as a means to create jobs at all levels. It’s halfway between the heavily populated northern hemisphere and the sparsely populated southern hemisphere, so has to compete with other innovative stop-off points like Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
In Australia, we are the last stop on the line for the world traveller. We have a unique natural beauty that attracts world travellers, but it would be nice to have more foreign investment in tourism and retail infrastructure to create more jobs as our mines are being mothballed, government shrinks and our big factories close. And if that hugely impressive building has a casino in it, that’s fine by me.
Kevin Moore is a retail expert and the chairman of Crossmark Asia Pacific Holdings.