Metro



A household name in Singapore’s retail industry, Metro was first established in Surabaya, Indonesia, in 1953 by Ong Tjoe Kim, a businessman from Indonesia. In 1957, the first Metro store in Singapore opened in a two-storey shophouse at 72 High Street,1 where The Treasury now stands. Metro Holdings Limited became publicly listed in 1973. In addition to retail, the company’s operations have since expanded to include property development and investment.

Early history
Ong was born in Fujian, China, in 1911. He joined his father in Jakarta in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) when he was a teen, and thereafter worked for a textile wholesaler for about two years.2 He then joined the department store, Toko The Sun, where he worked for over two decades and eventually became its director.3


After saving enough money, Ong decided to start his own business in 1952. He opened the first Metro store in 1953 in Surabaya through a joint partnership.4 An avid film buff, Ong named the store after Hollywood’s famed movie studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.5 In 1955, a second Metro store was unveiled in Indonesia. However, due to rising anti-Chinese sentiments in Indonesia, which could adversely affect his business, Ong decided to dissolve the partnership and restart the business in Singapore.6

In 1957, the first Metro store in Singapore was established in a two-storey shophouse at 72 High Street, where The Treasury is presently located. Ong chose High Street because he thought that the location was more upmarket than Chinatown.7

Metro started out as a textile shop that sold fabric for making sarong kebaya and cheongsam. While department stores Robinsons and Tangs catered to the expatriates and the locals respectively, Metro targeted wealthy local housewives as well as those from Indonesia.8 Many of its early customers were Ong’s Indonesian friends who shopped in bulk at his store.9

Expansion
In 1965, Metro expanded from its High Street outlet and opened a department store in Liat Towers named Metrotex. It was renamed Metro Orchard when it moved to the Holiday Inn Shopping Complex on Scotts Road in 1973.10 Metro Supreme in Supreme House was officially opened in 1971.11


At its peak in the 1970s, Metro had five department stores housed in various shopping centres along Orchard Road, including Far East Plaza and Lucky Plaza. In 1978, Singapore’s first “high-end” department store, Metro Grand Store, opened in Lucky Plaza.12

During the 1970s, Metro established itself as a leading distributor and agent of several European luxury brands including Cartier, Charles Jourdan, Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent and Monet.13 It was also instrumental in introducing a range of other foreign brands into Singapore over the years, such as Toys “R” Us, Kmart, Cartier, Piaget, Tag-Heuer and Burberry.14

During the 1980s and ’90s, Metro was a launch pad for local and regional designers.15 In 1985, it started the Marissa clothing label.16

Metro made its first entry into the suburban areas during the 1970s when it opened outlets in Bukit Timah Plaza and Marine Parade, but these closed in the late 1980s. Metro re-entered the suburban market in the 1990s. Its store in the Century Square shopping centre in Tampines was unveiled in 1996,17 followed by others in Causeway Point (Woodlands) in 1998 and Compass Point (Sengkang) in 2002. Another Metro store opened in City Square Mall in 2009.18

As at 2017, Metro has three department stores in Singapore: Metro Centrepoint, Metro Paragon and Metro Woodlands. It has also established an online store called Metro Online in response to changing shopping trends, as well as three specialty shops known as M.2 selling casual footwear and accessories.19

Beyond Singapore, Metro has retail investments in Malaysia, Indonesia and China.20

Diversification
Metro Holdings Limited (MHL) was formed in 1973 and listed on the Stock Exchange of Singapore in the same year. Although it started out with retail as its core business, Metro subsequently diversified into property development and construction through Metrobilt, an early subsidiary of MHL.21


During the mid- to late 1990s, the Metro group also entered the hospitality sector with the construction of Oasis Resort, an S$85-million hotel in Cairns, Australia, as well as the launch of Sun Cruises. Sun Cruises ceased operations in 2000 while Oasis Resort was divested in 2005.22

In 1974, the Metro group took a 27-percent stake in the development of a vacant site on Orchard Road, which later became Ngee Ann City. The investment was sold off in 2005, which reaped substantial profits for the group.23

More recently, the group has expanded into China’s property sector with the development of Metro Tower Shanghai, Metro City Shanghai and Metro City Beijing.24 In 2014, the group entered the British real estate sector with a joint venture to develop two sites in Manchester.25

Key figures
Ong passed away in 2009 after more than 50 years at the helm.26 The group is currently headed by Winston Choo, chairman of its board of directors, and Lawrence Chiang, who was appointed group chief executive officer and executive director in June 2016.27



Author

Isabel Ong



References
1. Boo, K. (2001, April 24). Metro chief tells how a store is born. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Quek, K. H. (Interviewer). (1982, February 4). Oral history interview with Ong Tjoe Kim [Transcript of cassette recording no. 000151/04/01, p. 26]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
3. Boo, K. (2001, April 24). Metro chief tells how a store is born. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Quek, K. H. (Interviewer). (1982, February 4). Oral history interview with Ong Tjoe Kim [Transcript of cassette recording no. 000151/04/02, pp. 26–27]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

4. Quek, K. H. (Interviewer). (1982, February 4). Oral history interview with Ong Tjoe Kim [Transcript of cassette recording no. 000151/04/02, pp. 28–29]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

5. Boo, K. (2001, April 24). Metro chief tells how a store is born. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Quek, K. H. (Interviewer). (1982, February 4). Oral history interview with Ong Tjoe Kim [Transcript of cassette recording no. 000151/04/02, p. 33]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
7. Boo, K. (2001, April 24). Metro chief tells how a store is born. The Straits Times, p. 7; Metro founder Ong Tjoe Kim dead at 98. (2009, August 12). Today, p. 60. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Boo, K. (2001, April 24). Metro chief tells how a store is born. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Quek, K. H. (Interviewer). (1982, February 4). Oral history interview with Ong Tjoe Kim [Transcript of cassette recording no. 000151/04/02, p. 36]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
10. Byramji, N. (1977, May 27). The small shop that grew into a thriving business empire. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Fong, L. (1971, September 23). Store with the latest and mostest... The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Ong, C. (1998, November 8). All for one, one for all. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Ong, C. (1998, November 8). All for one, one for all. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Metro Holdings Limited. (2017). About us: History/milestones. Retrieved 2017, April 24 from Metro website: http://www.metroholdings.com.sg/about_historymilestones.html
15. Ong, C. (1998, November 8). All for one, one for all. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Ong, C. (1998, November 8). Me, set fashion directions? Just look at my hair. The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Ong, C. (1996, October 31). Quick! More slippers, more sneakers. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Ong, C. (2014, March 5). Metro will be new anchor tenant at Centrepoint. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Metro Holdings Limited. (n.d.). Metro Holdings Limited annual report 2016: Continuity in pursuing core strategies, p. 33. Retrieved 2017, April 24 from Metro website: http://www.metroholdings.com.sg/update2016/Metro%20Holdings%20Limited%20AR16.pdf
20. Metro Holdings Limited. (2017). About us: History/milestones. Retrieved 2017, April 24 from Metro website: http://www.metroholdings.com.sg/about_historymilestones.html
21. Metro Holdings Limited. (2017). About us: History/milestones. Retrieved 2017, April 24 from Metro website: http://www.metroholdings.com.sg/about_historymilestones.html
22. Metro Holdings Limited. (2017). About us: History/milestones. Retrieved 2017, April 24 from Metro website: http://www.metroholdings.com.sg/about_historymilestones.html
23. Metro Holdings Limited. (2017). About us: History/milestones. Retrieved 2017, April 24 from Metro website: http://www.metroholdings.com.sg/about_historymilestones.html
24. Metro Holdings Limited. (2017). About us: History/milestones. Retrieved 2017, April 24 from Metro website: http://www.metroholdings.com.sg/about_historymilestones.html
25. Ong, C. (2014, July 3). Metro in UK joint venture to develop two Manchester sites. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Founder of Metro department store dies. (2009, August 12). The New Paper, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Metro Holdings Limited. (n.d.). Metro Holdings Limited annual report 2016: Continuity in pursuing core strategies, pp. 13, 16. Retrieved 2017, April 24 from Metro website: http://www.metroholdings.com.sg/update2016/Metro%20Holdings%20Limited%20AR16.pdf



Further resources
Page 14 advertisements column 1. (1962, November 30). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Ong, C. (1998, November 8). Metro moments: Major landmarks. The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Trade and industry
Retail trade--Singapore
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Services>>Retail and wholesale
Commerce and Industry>>Trade