As regular readers of this blog already know, the Institute for Retail Studies at the University of Stirling has had programmes and partners in Singapore for a long time, targeted both at Singaporean students and retailers and those in the wider region.
A couple of weeks ago, I was back in Singapore again; partly for my much needed boost of warm weather and sun (especially given our Scottish Summer which seems to have decided Autumn begins in early August), and more importantly for our latest graduation ceremony and alumni meeting. This was our first retail marketing undergraduate graduation with our new partner, SIM, and we combined this with graduation for our MBA Retail students where we partner with the Retail Academy of Singapore and Singapore Retailers Association. Both programmes are also very strongly supported by the Workforce Development Agency (WDA) an arm of the Government of Singapore.
The ceremony itself was a celebration of retail and students, presided over by our Principal, Gerry McCormac. He presented an honorary degree to the Group CEO of Courts, Dr Terry O’Connor, already an alumnus of Stirling. Terry’s address to the students reflected on the need for lifelong learning and the importance of education and training to him and the business. You can read his book for more details of his journey and approach.
During the ceremony, our guest of honour, His Excellency Antony Phillipson, British High Commissioner to Singapore, presented the British Council of Shopping Centres Educational Trust award to the Best Student on the Undergraduate Programme – Joanne Low Lay Yan.
We also held an alumni event for all our Stirling alumni in Singapore (and over 100 came, including some especially from Malaysia). Whilst there were many ‘old’ (and new) retail faces present, it was also good to meet others from other disciplines; a Stirling family indeed, and a great turnout.
Rather worryingly, I first visited Singapore in 1978, well before most of our alumni there were born! I first taught there in the late 1980s and have watched the retail transformation since them with some degree of awe. Retail in Singapore has an incredible variety from the tourist oriented flagships to the heartland stores; from fine dining to local trader centres and food courts; from the megamalls to the single store. Most of the central retail (Ion, Ngee Ann City etc.) didn’t exist in the 1980s and neither did the foreign retailers they contain. There has been huge growth and it remains a fascinating retail mix.
But what struck me most, as ever in Singapore, was the busyness of the food outlets and food courts and the volumes of people in the centres. I am not sure how much was being bought (and my purchases tend to the local spice market end of Tekka Market); like everywhere I sense the market can be tough for retailers with rising costs and uncertain markets. All the more reason why we (and our partners) are doing our best to help train the next generation of retail professionals, as the Straits Times had it.
I did manage to have some time off on one day and visited the Singapore Garden Festival. It was an interesting contrast with Gardening Scotland, to say the least! Besides being held in air-conditioned domes in the main, the big difference was orchids. There were just millions of them, and all stunning. There was also a real difference in the products for sale – mainly focused on indoor gardening and more limited than in Gardening Scotland. Just shows that there might be some benefit to our Scottish weather.