by Wang, Esther Ying Jie
FJ Benjamin is an international fashion retailer company that is based in Singapore, with offices in 8 different cities worldwide, including Australia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand. In Singapore, it is the importer and distributor of top fashion lines such as Guess?, Banana Republic, La Senza, and GAP. The company has four core businesses fashion retail, timepiece distribution, retail licensing, and investments in lifestyle concepts. It also markets and manages its own in-house brand, Raoul, in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Malaysia.
FJ Benjamin was founded in 1959 by Frank Benjamin. Benjamin is the second-generation offspring of a well-to-do Jewish immigrant family. His family had always been involved in the fashion industry, with his father, Judah, owning a textile factory before the Japanese Occupation caused him to lose his stores. Benjamin entered the workforce as a small manager for Getz Brothers, but upon discovering his panache for sales, decided to start his own business in 1959. Benjamin is the current president of the local Jewish Welfare Board.
In the first decade of the company's operation, it dealt mainly in photographic equipment, as well as in a range of everyday novelties, from paper products to pots and pans. The company was initially named FJ Benjamin & Son, and was only changed to FJ Benjamin Holdings Ltd in June 1993, to indicate the company's position as a holding firm for related subsidiaries.
FJ Benjamin began modernising its operations in the 1960s, with Benjamin entering into exclusive partnerships with several French fashion factories, importing and retailing a brand of designer jeans that won the company great esteem. This success with French fashion encouraged Benjamin to turn his primary attention to the fashion industry, and eventually resulted in the company's breakthrough decision to start single-brand name stores in Singapore. Benjamin first began the single-brand outlet of Lanvin in the early 1970s, and soon followed it up with similar stores for Gucci and Fendi. This new approach to fashion retailing won FJ Benjamin the pole position in the fashion industry, and also contributed vastly to inventing Singapore's image as a luxury-shopping hub.
However, the primary focus and investment in luxury brands brought unforeseen difficulties to the company. From the years of 1976 to 1978, the local fashion market was saturated with retail shops selling imitation copies of brand name items, including FJ Benjamin's specialty Lanvin shirts. The company reacted to this damaging development with aggressive and uncompromising policies, refusing supply stocks to the existing dealers found guilty of selling fake products. It also took out numerous advertisement campaigns in fashion magazines, listing all its authorised dealers within Singapore, as well as educating the public on how to identify and distinguish fake items from their original counterparts.
In April 2006, Nash Benjamin, the brother of the founder, succeeded the latter as Chief Executive of the company. FJ Benjamin opened the first ever single-fashion brand line store, Lanvin, in Singapore in 1975. The company's success in the fashion retailing market can be attributed to its exclusive deal with the brand GAP Inc. This agreement between GAP Inc and FJ Benjamin was established in 2006, and provided FJ Benjamin with the sole right to set up GAP outlets in the Asia-Pacific area, the first in the region outside of Japan. The company currently operates more than 185 retail outlets in eight Asia Pacific cities, and employs over 2,000 employers.
Main Corporate Details
FJ Benjamin obtains two-thirds of its profit turnover through the fashion retailing of prestigious lines such as Guess?, Valentino, La Senza, GAP, and Raoul. The other one-third of its revenue is generated from its distribution of branded timepieces from fashion lines such as Marc Ecko, Girard-Perregaux, and Nautica. The company also owns several sport-themed establishments and entertainment pubs, including St. James Power House in Singapore, the biggest entertainment centre in Asia. FJ Benjamin was the previous franchise partner of the Manchester United: Theatre of Dreams stores in Singapore, and the company is still the co-owner of the Devil's bar in Singapore, a sports pub related to the English football club, Manchester United.
With its exclusive agreement with GAP Inc to open and manage retail outlets in the Asia Pacific region, FJ Benjamin currently has more than 20 GAP stores in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The company also has more than half a dozen of the Banana Republic brand outlets in these countries. In 2007, FJ Benjamin ventured into the fashion and timepiece business in Hong Kong and the mainland, opening their first Raoul store in Hong Kong. Since the founding of Raoul in 2002, it has expanded to 24 stores within Southeast Asia and Singapore. In 2005, the company began expanding their business in the Middle East, sealing an agreement to set up ten Raoul franchise stores there.
Key Regional Corporate Personality
The company's mission statement has a strong focus and emphasis on the development of talent, and its top corporate personnel in the Asia Pacific region are strong testaments to this objective. Angie Chong, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of FJ Benjamin, Lifestyle Malaysia, and Lifestyle Singapore, is an example of the company's successful talent development. Chong joined FJ Benjamin in 1994, at the age of 31, with no previous fashion experience. However, her innate marketing and sales prowess earned for her three promotions to top positions within 12 years. She has advanced from her original post as a General Manager to being the CEO of both the Singapore and Malaysian outlets.
FJ Benjamin has picked up a number of notable awards in recent years, both for individual accomplishment by its top corporate personalities, as well as recognition for the company's collective achievements. In 1996, Frank Benjamin, the founder, was awarded the Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year award by the Singapore Tourism Board. In that same year, the company was awarded the Business Times Enterprise Award. Additionally, in 2002, FJ Benjamin was recognised by KPMG and Oxford University as the top Singapore retailer for outstanding brand creation, and the company picked up the Heritage Brand Award at the Singapore Brand Awards in 2005. Nash Benjamin, the group's current CEO, was recently named Ernst & Young's Lifestyle Entrepreneur of the Year in 2007.
FJ Benjamin is also a significant contributor to local and international charities. In 2004, it raised over S$700,000 for local charities in its 45th Anniversary Gala. The company has established a Charitable Giving Committee, staffed by senior and key employees across all its international branches, who are responsible for quarterly meetings to address the company's contributions to charitable organisations.
The company's attitude towards the impending economic downturn is also noteworthy. While the company conceded that high-end fashion sales have declined by at least 15% at the end of the 2008, and are expected to drop even further in the earlier half of 2009, it was optimistic about its economic outlook. FJ Benjamin believes that the appetite in Asia for international luxury and fashion lines will remain strong regardless of the negative economic forecasts. It continues to plan new retail outlets with other American and Canadian retailers. In 2008 alone, the company added Chronotech and Rado to its catalogue of luxury timepieces.
Esther Wang Ying Jie
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The information in this article is valid as at 2009 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.