Image: Ong Wee Jin, The Straits Times
With jumbo shelves of food cartons that tower over shoppers, aisles of mega-sized freezers solidly packed with meat and fish, and thousands of products stacked in perfect rows, bigger, it seems, is better for lifestyle retailer Big Box.
The new megastore in Jurong East opens today and features lifestyle products and services from groceries to furniture to tyre-fitting.
It is spread over three vast storeys of retail space in an eight-storey complex.
Big Box is the latest and largest project built under the Economic Development Board’s Warehouse Retail Scheme, introduced in 2004.
The other three are Ikea, Courts and Giant, all in Tampines. The scheme allows industrial land to be used for retail and warehousing.
Located within walking distance from Jurong East MRT station, Big Box houses retail concepts, warehouse space and offices, spread over a 5.6ha parcel of land.
The first level is dominated by the Warehouse Mart, a hypermarket concept. Inside, there is a home improvement section called HI Box, a sizeable gardening section, a Nippon paint area with a colour selector wall and a storage container area.
Across from the hypermarket is a fashion store, Style Box, and an outdoor and sporting goods outlet, Leisure Box.
Head up one floor and furniture hunters will have a field day in the furniture section, where pieces are displayed according to their types, regardless of brand. For example, dining table sets with different looks sit in the same area, while sofas in various colours can be picked out easily in another zone. There is also a “sleep academy” – 15,000 sq ft of retail space featuring more than 30 brands of mattresses.
The second level also has Silver Box, a shop selling geriatric products such as adult diapers, health food and wheelchairs.
There are spaces for consumer electronics, IT, mobile phone accessories, novelties and gifts on the same floor.
The third level, Living Box, is solely dedicated to furniture, where items are set up according to themes such as vintage, retro, contemporary and modern. There is also a large collection of outdoor furniture and an area for barbecue grills.
Here, there is also a 70,000 sq ft column-free exhibition hall which will be used for events such as product launches, end-of-season sales and culture or country-themed shows.
The eight-storey complex is managed by TT International, a supply chain and logistics company, also known for its consumer electronics and furniture brands such as Akira, Castilla and Barang Barang – all carried in Big Box.
Big Box’s opening in Venture Avenue comes after NTUC FairPrice opened a 80,000 sq ft membership-only warehouse store in the vicinity, Joo Koon, earlier this month.
Shoppers do not need membership to shop at Big Box, but they can sign up for an annual membership for $50, which will get them access to deals, sales and other special events.
During a special preview for Life!, Big Box’s deputy chief executive officer Julia Tong-Sng, 54, says the store’s concept and offerings were planned after tapping its vast supply chain experience.
“We talk often to our customers to see what they are buying and understand the changing trends. We’ve been paying attention for the last 10 years and also been to the backrooms of stores with similar concepts to see how they operate.”
She believes that Singaporeans are latching on to the warehouse store-type concept, which is popular in the United States.
She points to the company’s 30-year experience with importing and exporting products, saying: “We’re capitalising on our strong network and sources from around the world to bring in products which are of reasonable quality at the lowest possible price.
“We pass on savings where we can to the consumer, as we are the brand’s importer, wholesaler and retailer for many of our products. We work on a factory-to-storefront model.”
This is the first time that TT International is opening and managing a shopping mall. The Singapore-listed firm is the mall’s developer and sole operator – it owns 51 per cent of Big Box, while Utraco Investment holds 30.4 per cent and Prima BB, the remaining 18.6 per cent.
Big Box is poised to serve the larger Jurong community which, Ms Tong-Sng says, has about 1.2 million residents, a figure which includes those staying in Bukit Batok and Clementi.
Citing market research done by the company, she adds that there is also a “mobile population of about 1.2 million people from the 2,200-odd factories in the area”.
The data has helped the company develop product ranges in Big Box to cater to these different groups. Convenience, it seems, is Big Box’s selling point.
Notably, those headed to the factories on the outskirts of Jurong can pop into Munchy Box, an economy meal cafe that faces the main road on the first floor, so workers can grab food without having to battle the shopping crowd inside.
Then there is Singapore’s first drive-through option for shoppers to pick up goods – only non-perishables – ordered online from the hypermarket. Drivers can head to service bays in Basement One to pick up their items, which will also be pre-packed.
Or they can buy services such as bus rides to Kuala Lumpur, music lessons for children and entrance tickets to attractions – all at discounted prices. Customers can also buy car tyres, which can be fitted on the spot. They can check out what wheels to buy in the tyre section of the hypermarket – the first Singapore store to have this option.
Laminated coupons printed with these individual services are tacked to a “service wall” behind the cashiers at the hypermarket. To buy a service, shoppers simply take the coupon to the cashier.
To cater to Muslim shoppers, the hypermarket has a separate halal meat area, with its own freezer section. Big Box is working with the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) to get halal- certified.
Offering these niche services helps it stand out from the competition. Ms Tong-Sng says: “We can’t just fight in price, so we have to offer something different. If this concept is successful, we can negotiate for better discounts.”
Big Box will soon have e-commerce options and a mobile application too. However, having physical options to complement tech avenues draws in a crowd that might not be tech-savvy.
She adds: “This is an added convenience to shoppers, especially those who don’t know how to use the Internet.”
She says prices will be competitive and Big Box will not undercut prices. “Big Box would like to offer an affordable lifestyle, where your wallet wouldn’t be hurt.”
Drive-through point for groceries
Taking convenience to a new level, hypermarket shoppers can pre-order goods online or use a mobile app – both options are in the works.
They can drive by to pick up the purchases four hours later.
Everything is available except perishables. The hypermarket drive-through, said to be the first in Singapore, has a separate entrance to Basement One. You will need a membership card to make collective purchases for more than one person, though it is not needed for individual shoppers.
Big Box house brand
Big Box adds its own brands to the mix of international labels stocked in its hypermarket. Two house brands will be launched in the initial phase – BB for its premium range and Big Box for everyday basic necessities.
Warehouse Mart will introduce new products and new brands in phases. Also, check out its range of new-to-market brands such as Betagro from Thailand which carries ready-to-eat chicken products and Toomax, an Italian label of storage containers.
Style Box, the fashion arm of the mega-mall, also has a house brand, Skyler.
If you always wanted more frozen food options, Big Box has a vast selection of food in 80 island freezers, including frozen meats and ready-to-eat meals. TT International says it is the biggest frozen food section in Singapore.
Abundant eating options
Each floor is fitted with ample eateries. On Level One, there is Munchy Box, a quick-stop diner which sells ready-cooked food such as beehoon and kaya toast, meant to cater to the work crowd hopping on and off shuttle buses to the Jurong factories.
Scattered throughout the building are other eateries, including an 800-seater food court on Level Three and an in-house fast food joint called Big Burger one floor below. There is also a Food Street at the hypermarket’s entrance, which sells items such as sushi and sashimi, and roast chicken.
In-house interior designers
The thousands of furniture options might overwhelm, but the shopper can get help from the Big Box’s interior designers, stationed on Level Three. A team of four designers is ready to advise homeowners on the theme and design to go with their apartment.
French homeware specialist Habitat makes its return to Singapore, with its first store-in-store at Big Box. It had a store in Marina Square here in the 1990s but closed in 1996 due to poor business.
With a separate, 10,000 sq ft area for the brand, shoppers can browse homeware solutions from bedding to dining tables. There is also a display case of chairs to choose from.
Ample parking and connectivity
Shoppers need not worry about hunting for parking at the Big Box. There are 1,728 lots available. For those who do not drive, the walk to Big Box is relatively smooth with covered connections between Jem mall and the upcoming Ng Teng Fong General Hospital.
Within each floor are areas for niche items. There is a sectioned-off zone for barbecue grills and replicas of designer furniture pieces on the third floor, for example.
In the hypermarket is a section for gardening ware, and a Nippon Paint colour wall where customers can select paint on the spot.