They managed to overcome World War I and World War II. Also, The Great Depression, fires, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the global financial crisis of the 1990s.
However, even large supermarkets like the Robinsons with a history of 160 years cannot withstand the devastating effects of the global Covid-19 pandemic.
The well-known chartered accountant Datuk Robert Teo Keng Tuan expressed shock when the Robinson Department Stores in Malaysia and Singapore recently closed down. This was a sought-after store for the nobility, the Sultan and even the King of Siam, Monkut. Ruler of Southeast Asia.
Teo once served as Robinson’s liquidator based on the voluntary liquidation of creditors. He told the New Straits Times that no one would have thought that such a large entity would be closed forever. It is because they managed to get through the difficulties and difficulties in the previous recession, financial crisis.
“I recall how Robinsons opened up in 1928 in Kuala Lumpur and was THE place to shop and be seen.”
“Malaysians would travel from far and wide, just to shop at the iconic outlet at the then Mountbatten Road (now Jalan Tun Perak).”
Teo, chairman of RSM Malaysia, which was founded in 1978, said:
“It was said that Robinsons was to Malaysians then, what Harrods was to Londoners before.”
Teo has more than 40 years of experience in various aspects of corporate taxation, corporate restructuring activities and bankruptcy management.
He expressed his gratitude to NST and his feelings about serving as Robinson’s bankruptcy liquidator:
“Closing any business is not a pleasant task, especially having to shut down a business with such a colourful and illustrious history as Robinsons, which was all the more disheartening.”
“Many customers rushed to the stores in droves upon hearing the news of Robinsons’ closure, hoping to snap up last minute bargains causing massive lines outside the stores.”
Teo said: “This presented physical distancing, crowd control issues, which, thankfully we were able to manage by putting various measures in place.”
He added that despite the crowds, customers are still willing to wait in line and insist on going to the store to buy the remaining items.
“And shop they certainly did. We had to talk to customers waiting in line.”
“Many still fondly recalled their joy at shopping at Robinsons for years and expressed their regret on the closure.”
Teo said: “Others even recalled their parents and older generations who regarded Robinsons very highly among the retail outlets.”
Teo himself was an avid shopper there in his early years.
He further shared his experience. In addition to a large number of customers, he and his team had to deal with multiple shippers and suppliers, all of which were in the madness of announcing the dissolution of the Robinsons.
He said: “We were very fortunate to have the support and assistance of the Robinsons staff who, despite their anguish in knowing that their employment was going to end, assisted with the sales, eventual packing and relocation of the stock out of the two stores.”
Teo said that with the closure of the two stores and the relocation of the remaining shares to Starling Mall for charity sale. Until December 27, Teo said that many employees must laid off. Many of whom have been working for the company for more than 10 years.
Teo praised the government’s joint efforts in managing Covid-19 and provided financial relief to the company in terms of wage subsidies.
However, he said that this amount may too low to effectively avoid the imminent bankruptcy of many companies.
The spokesman said:
“Another large expenditure element for any large retail business apart from the salary cost, is rental for the space it occupies.”
“Unfortunately, the incentives offered to landlords by the authorities to allow them to in-turn offer more favourable rates during the Movement Control Order or Conditional Movement Control Order periods, were not sufficient.”
“This may have also, to an extent, reduced the financial burden of businesses in any sector in general to assist with their cashflow and prevent closures and the resultant retrenchment and unemployment.”
With Teoh’s closure, many employees have little or no means to support their families.
“And those, especially from the retail, and food and beverage industries are finding it impossible to gain alternative employment in the short term.
“The lucky ones who had some foresight to put away some savings for a rainy day, have had to dip into this rainy-day fund to bridge them through this difficult period.
He said: “Unfortunately, there are those who also have little or no savings and were living from one paycheck to the next.”
He welcomed various measures taken by the government to suspend loan repayment. And windraw funds from the employee provident fund account every month. As a short-term measure, it would certainly be a boon to these unfortunate employees.
History of Robinsons
For the record, the story of the Robinson family began in 1858. When Australian immigrant Philip Robinson and Singapore prison guard James Gaborian Spicer first established a family warehouse in Singapore. It named Spicer and Robinson.
Less than two years later, Spicer withdrew from the partnership and the company changed its name to Robinsons & Co.
In 1881, Phillip Robinson died, and his son Stamford Raffles Robinson took over the company in 1886.
Soon, it became popular, selling pianos, horns and gramophones and other musical instruments. By 1907 it became the first Raleigh bicycle dealer in the world.
After the Second World War, the Raffles Place store in Singapore reopened in April 1946. By 1955, Robinson Department Store became the first fully air-conditioned store in the Far East.
In November 1972, the shop at Raffles Place has razed to the ground by a fire. It had resulting in the deaths of 9 people. The shop had to moved to Specialist’s Shopping Center on Orchard Road.
After the 1973 oil crisis, the Kuala Lumpur branch of Jalan Tun Perak, Kuala Lumpur has closed in 1975.
A year later, in 1976, the property has acquired by United Asian Bank. It demolished the store to make room for Menara UAB, the bank’s headquarters.
Robinsons Department Store (Robinsons) opened 32 years later in Kuala Lumpur in 2007. Also, the new store opened in The Gardens in Mid Valley Mega Plaza.
Two years ago, the second store opened in the four seasons place. The store is located next to the Petronas Twin Towers in Jalan Ampang.