H&M’s monster of a store opening at Orchard Building on Saturday only confirms the fact that people are willing to suffer for fashion – just ask the folks who started queuing from 12 noon the day before. Then again, there’s no gain without pain. The label gave out shopping gift cards worth $250 each to the first five fans in line. The next 10 received a $100 shopping gift card each, while 300 others were each given a $20 gift card. And judging by the 2,000 umbrellas and 5,000 bottles of H&M branded mineral water distributed to the crowd, the brand was more than prepared to face the fervent fanaticism.
Lex Keijser, the dapper country manager of Greater China and Singapore with his roguish salt-and-pepper ‘do, has seen similar lines for store openings across China including Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. Having worked for H&M since 1989 (that’s 22 years, mind you), he presently oversees over 60 H&M stores in his portfolio. I sat down with Keijser the day before the madness ensued to find out more about what goes behind the scenes of an H&M store opening.
Obviously the question on everyone’s mind is: what took you so long to open in Singapore?
In 2007 we started to enter Asia with our first store in Hong Kong and one month later in Shanghai. After that it was Japan and then Korea, and now Singapore. We like to do things step by step.
Why did you decide on Orchard Building as the location?
We didn’t want to rush and took our time to find the best location. When we came here two years ago, we were looking at different spots and this building was popping up. And even though it was a dark building, a little hidden, we knew it had great potential and that we could transform it into an icon of Orchard Road with our experience in store design.
I used to be a member of the gym that used to be in this space and now it’s completely transformed. For one, it certainly smells better. What’s the employee DNA of this store?
There are people of 12 nationalities working here. We also flew down a team of 20 Hong Kong colleagues to help out for two weeks to make sure everything goes smoothly. Some have never travelled outside of Hong Kong before, so it’s a great opportunity for them.
What sort of training do you provide for the staff?
When you join H&M you are trained in every aspect of store management from delivery in the morning to closing down in the evening. It’s so that everyone understands what is going on. All our people in the head office or whether you’re in production will get training in the store. We want our employees to feel empowered to take ownership in everything we do and no one is alone. If there is a problem, it immediately becomes everybody’s problem.
How do you think the new store will transform the shopping scene in Singapore?
I don’t want to sound arrogant, but looking at what we have done with it from the inside out, it will change the mindset of fashionistas in Singapore.
Are there plans for expansion in Southeast Asia?
We never open just one store, but I can’t reveal anything right now. We’re going to focus on the new store, as it’s the most important thing at this moment.
In comparison, what are the numbers like in China?
We have nine stores in Hong Kong and 51 in mainland China. We’re going to open 25 more stores this season and that will be by end-November.
Many folks are looking forward to the Versace and H&M collection in November, but what would be your dream designer for an H&M collaboration?