A Japanese penguin steps up to the plate

It says a lot when the 68-year-old founder of a billionaire retail corporation moves to Singapore and finds our prices a little too high for his liking.

Speaking at a press conference on Wed (Nov 29) for the opening of his first Singapore store, Don Quijote founder Takao Yasuda said in Japanese that he was “shocked” by the prices of everyday items in Singapore, as compared to Japan.

He first moved here two years ago to retire, but was inadvertently lifted out of retirement to right what clearly seemed like a gross injustice. “In Japan I’m known as the King of Discounts,” Yasuda said, explaining that his status prompted his decision to go back into the business, and franchise Don Quijote here.

The discount retail chain, which has over 160 outlets in Japan and the USA, opened to much fanfare earlier today (Dec 1). The Singapore outlet has been renamed to Don Don Donki, to avoid confusion over a local Spanish restaurant with the same name, and occupies two storeys in Orchard Central’s basement. It marks Don Quijote’s first Southeast Asian store—and the start of Yasuda’s regional takeover.

Plans for a second store due to open in June 2018 at 100AM in Tanjong Pagar are already well under way, as are those for a Thailand branch in Nov 2018. The Orchard Central branch will serve as regional headquarters.

Fans of the original Don Quijote stores will be pleased to know that the Singapore outlet stocks just as wide a range of products. One-third of the products are curated from Hokkaido, in line with the store’s “Hokkaido” retail theme; but have also been selected to suit local shoppers’ needs.

As for prices, Yasuda assured they will be “the same or cheaper than what you find in Japan”, and “10-35% cheaper than competitors’”.

The group took months searching for a suitable space to set up shop, and eventually settled in Orchard Central, citing an attractive offer from landlord Far East Organization as the main reason.   

No surprise there. While the lack of an anchor tenant may have been OC’s unique selling point starting out, it certainly hasn’t benefitted them eight years on in the mall game. The dismal state of malls downtown needs a hero more than ever. Currently, there’s the three-storey Uniqlo flagship store—a worthy anchor attraction; but there can only be so much joy to be had in browsing cotton basics along Orchard Road.

Bringing in Don Don Donki, at lowered rental rates or not, is no doubt a wise move. Fresh in its opening, the Japanese chain already looks set to bring some life back to the mall. Only time will tell if the hype remains and translates into long-term revenue; but for now, apparently, it takes foreign talent to lift our nation’s famed shopping belt out of its retail slump.

Don Don Donki is located at Orchard Central #B1 to B2 and is open 24 hours daily.