HLS Group turned to Spring Singapore for financial support when it expanded into China and South Korea, says Ms Kositchotitana.
Photo: Sam Yeo

In the second part of a six-week series featuring SMEs that have taken steps to build their capabilities or venture into new markets with Spring Singapore’s support, Gregory Leow speaks to HLS Group.

The Straits Times
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August 12, 2015

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ESTABLISHED in January 2013, HLS Group International, the parent company of the brand “HLS” had been adding bricks-and-mortar stores until its co-founder Ann Kositchotitana attended an omni-channel sales workshop presented by Spring Singapore late last year.

The omni-channel approach seeks to provide the customer with a seamless shopping experience whether the customer is at a bricks-and-mortar store, online on his smartphone or at a desktop or by telephone.

“It was an eye-opening experience. After that workshop, I revised my 2015 growth strategy to incorporate more channels to pursue,” says the 39-year-old entrepreneur.

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Entering global market

The Singapore-based fashion label takes Korean fashion trends and tweaks them for the global market.

One of the changes in its 2015 growth strategy was to go into e-retailing and so far it has landed major deals with e-retailers like Zalora and Taiwan’s Delta Group.

It also tweaked how it entered the China and South Korea markets.

For China, the brand concentrated its efforts on e-commerce and in March, it signed a deal with shangpin. com, a Chinese e-commerce site specialising in designer fashion brands.

Signing with Shangpin gave HLS access to 400,000 WeChat customers and an online customer database of five million.

For the South Korean market, it had to sell its tweaked Korean designs to Korean consumers.

In partnership with Korean retail giant Lotte Department Store, HLS Group opted for a pop-up store strategy to see if its products sold well with local customers.

“Pop-ups operate about one week to 14 days, enough time to test market conditions. You also don’t incur fixed rental, shop fit-out costs and permanent staffing costs,” says Ms Kositchotitana.

Lotte also challenged HLS Group to sell its brand in its suburban stores, where Lotte’s customer base is 99 per cent Korean.

Says Ms Kositchotitana: “Koreans favour a certain aesthetic that is very different from consumers in Southeast Asia, but we still took up their challenge.

“We have done about four pop-up stores, and we’ll continue with another five to 10 locations this year.

“Once we perform exceptionally well in one location, we will then be invited by Lotte to open a permanent space. One pop-up did extremely well at the Lotte Complex Mall in Busan, exceeding all sales expectations.”

Good PR campaign

HLS Group turned to Spring Singapore for financial support when it expanded into China and South Korea.

The company engaged top-tier public relations (PR) agencies in those countries to promote its brand to local consumers.

“We could never have done it without Spring, which helped to offset a large cost of our overseas ventures.

“As a start-up, most of our cash flow goes toward production and product development to expand our market presence, rather than in engaging the PR agencies,” says Ms Kositchotitana.

From her observations, an omni-channel approach is almost obligatory in advanced retail markets like South Korea and China.

“We were quite taken aback by the sheer complexity and how each retail channel is linked to another.

“It was critical for us to adjust our selling tactics and prices to accommodate the way these channels sold to their own customer groups,” she explains.

Online customers care most about price so the company has for now focused on a simplified e-commerce site that offers a different nine-piece style collection on discount every week.

“We expect the sales to be very good, especially among our younger customer base. E-commerce is something we have to embrace, whether we like it or not,” says Ms Kositchotitana.

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 lifestyle_division@spring.gov.sg.

This article was first published on Aug 12, 2015.
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