In the third part of a four-week series, three companies tell Aaron Tan how they expanded from humble beginnings to make their mark at home and overseas.
The Sunday Times
September 20, 2015
FROM a neighbourhood shop in Tampines selling mobile phone trinkets in 1999, Helen Accessories has grown to become one of Singapore’s best-known retailers of women’s accessories.
Its 20 outlets across the island offer a wide variety of products, from hair clips to bracelets and shawls, catering to women who are looking for stylish and versatile accessories for any occasion, says Ms Lee Sze Wei, assistant operations manager at Helen Accessories.
“Our belief that within every woman lies a beautiful personality waiting to be discovered motivates us to do what we do,” she says. “We hope to encourage them to dress up and enhance their charm through accessorising.”
While the company’s affordable pricing and chic designs have attracted a loyal following, it saw a need to enhance its brand identity in the face of a crowded market and growing competition from online retailers.
So, in 2012, the company completed a retail concept and design exercise supported by Spring Singapore to better engage its customers and establish a more distinct retail identity.
“We wanted to position ourselves as a one-stop shop where women can pick up accessories that match their attire,” she says, adding that the company’s retail staff also guides women on the finer points of accessorising.
Through the branding exercise and conversations with customers, the company also discovered more about their preferences.
For example, its stores now stock more black accessories in evergreen styles preferred by its customers, and introduces new designs once a fortnight to encourage more customers to return to its stores.
“To attract more customers, we’ve also developed our own line of products and tweaked our layout to make it easier for them to pick accessories and complementary items based on matching colours,” Ms Lee says.
The new brand position and instore experience resonated with consumers, with sales growing each year, according to Ms Lee.
Last year, Helen Accessories expanded its footprint in the region, starting with franchise outlets in Indonesia, Malaysia and Hong Kong.
“Our first overseas store is in Indonesia, as we’re familiar with the needs of Indonesian shoppers who have been shopping at our stores in Singapore,” Ms Lee says. The franchise programme was developed concurrently with an innovative retail concept, which was supported by Spring Singapore, which focused on its unique brand positioning and merchandising.
And earlier this month, the company opened its first wholly owned store in Shanghai.
“We know the China market very well due to our own preparations and business trips supported by Spring Singapore, so running our own store there makes good business sense,” she says.
With digital marketing all the rage, the company has taken a shot at using WeChat, a social messaging app popular among Chinese consumers.
“Through WeChat, we are able to promote our products, engage Chinese customers and draw more of them to visit our store,” Ms Lee says.
While Helen Accessories does not operate an online store, it has been selling its products through e-commerce giant Amazon.com for the past six months.
“Our online shop-front on Amazon has been doing well, and it is part of our efforts to reach more consumers in the US,” she says.
As with most retailers, grappling with the manpower crunch has been one of its biggest challenges in recent years.
Ms Lee says the company’s turnover rate among its retail staff has been low by industry standards, thanks to a comprehensive staff training programme.
“As our staff are empowered with the skills to engage customers effectively, they are more likely to do well and stay with us longer,” she says.
For more information on the retail sector and stories on how retailers have built their capabilities, please visit www.spring.gov.sg/retail or email firstname.lastname@example.org.