160 Years Of Robinsons: An Interview with Robinsons Group Marketing Director Donna Chua
Robinsons is nothing short of a Singapore icon. Having celebrated their 160th anniversary last year, the prestigious department store commemorated the past with a special fashion show, showcasing the season’s styles in a catwalk that featured some of Singapore’s biggest models of yesteryear.
This show was conceptualised than none other than Singapore’s Godfather of Fashion Daniel Boey, alongside Robinsons group marketing director Donna Chua, whose working relationship with each other goes way back – 15 years in fact. Says Donna: “Working with Daniel is a blessing, and I never have to worry. We’ve always pushed the boundaries in what we do and performed some miracles in our time, and for this celebration, we always knew fashion would be involved somehow. It pays tribute to Robinsons’ long history of firsts in local fashion – we were one of the first to do fashion shows and collaborations with designers from Australia, Israel and beyond. In fact, we were even the first to put pants in local fashion shows!”
She’s not wrong there – for this show, Robinsons even added a social media element to it, livestreaming it online. Yet even with these many firsts, Robinsons never forgets its history, and shows this through their use of models who’d previously worked with them. Says Donna: “There’s a certain charm to bringing back our older models, and if anything, it’s interesting how the older models were the ones that garnered the most wolf whistles and applause, and it was nice how they were appreciated not just by the mainstream media journalists, but even the younger bloggers. Age really is just a number, and similar to how we’re 160 years old, we’re still able to cater to everyone’s tastes, from the young to mature, sophisticated customers to those who are more price conscious.”
On the brand’s longevity, Donna explains: “We are a brand that has stood the test of time – surviving a fire, a bombing and so much more. It really reflects the resilience of our people, and in a sense, is the true spirit of Robinsons. Management has changed hands so many times, but the legacy lives on. Moving out of Centrepoint and into our own space at Heeren was a very deliberate and strategic move, since being within a mall, you’ll always be subject to their branding, but as an independent, owning your own building, you get a lot of leeway to promote your brand.”
Robinsons then, has evolved with the times, something Donna always keeps at the forefront of her mind. “When I think of Robinsons,” she says, “I compare us to Selfridges in London. They’re a brand that’s always changing, and similarly, we’re always looking at what’s current, what’s important, and what customers want. With Robinsons, we also introduced the loyalty card programme where people can be ‘R-listers’, and get the latest on what’s happening. We have so many events in a year, and with so many outlets, we can now do them at different scales, curated to suit each target audience.”
She adds: “We always have to remain strategic, and keep expanding and reaching more people with new brands and items. We’re embracing the social, not just in terms of marketing but even payment modes, with an increasing cashless system and switching to e-vouchers from paper ones. We’re constantly looking at how we can stay ahead of the game and always be connected to our customer as a brand. That’s how we’ve thrived for 160 years – we roll with change and accept it, knowing we cannot resist it.”
“You know,” Donna concludes wistfully. “There was one year we went around asking people about their fondest memory of Robinsons, and W!ld Rice Artistic Director Ivan Heng’s answer struck a chord with me. He said: “In my childhood, if I behaved well, my mum would dress us all up and we’d go down to Robinsons and get an ice cream treat!” That, to me, was such a charming account, and reminded me how ultimately, our brand is all about the customer and giving them an experience to remember, to create that brand loyalty and encourage them to come back again and again.”