What you might not know about Singapore’s Mustafa Centre: they not only have an insane array of goods but cater to other needs as well, such as money changing, travel and visa services, and for hungry shoppers, a rooftop restaurant.
But there’s more to know, from Mustafa’s humble beginnings to the times they weren’t the most law-abiding.
Mr Mustaq was only five years old when he first arrived in Singapore from Uttar Pradesh in India in 1956.
Despite being educated only up to Secondary 4, Mr Mustaq defied the odds and his retail business has flourished. Read more about how Mustafa Centre became what it is today here.
In a 2006 report, Mr Mustaq said: “Talent is not just about paper qualifications. It’s really about people doing something with passion and a great deal of interest.”
Building a megastore like Mustafa Centre wasn’t without challenges.
The first two of Mr Mustaq’s shops, selling ready-made garments and electronic items, were acquired by the Government for conservation in 1985.
This led Mr Mustaq to open his flagship store at Serangoon Plaza. He then bought shophouses at Syed Alwi Road and converted them into Mustafa Centre, which opened in April 1995.
The retailer took the plunge in June 2003, hoping to boost profits in a then-slowing retail market.
The move was targeted at tourists, particularly transit travellers.
There were concerns that the business model would not work after the closure of Yokoso, Singapore’s first 24-hour supermarket and department store, in the late 1980s.
However, the 24-hour concept proved to be a runaway success and Mr Mustaq was even ranked 37th in Forbes magazine’s list of the 40 richest people in Singapore in 2011, with a reported worth of US$240 million.
Keeping prices as low as possible has been a mainstay of Mustafa – and a reason why customers keep flocking back.
Affordability, coupled with the great variety of goods and services sold, has continued to reel in locals, foreign workers and tourists.
Even officials from developing countries visiting Singapore for training under the Singapore Co-operation Programme had Mustafa as their favourite haunt, according to a 1997 report.
In 2010, Mustafa Centre chalked up 45 fire safety violations – the highest by any building here – from 2005 to 2010.
Exit points and fire-fighting equipment were obstructed, and the first floor was thoroughly overcrowded – the greatest fire safety concern. In fact, the Singapore Civil Defence Force considered it such a serious problem that it obtained a court order to suspend business on the ground floor for 40 hours.
The retailer was required to implement stricter crowd-control measures or review existing ones. That same year, Mustafa Centre even restricted the maximum number of shoppers to 431 in the building at any one time.
In 2010, Mustafa was fined $10,000 for unauthorised commercial use of its Mustafa Warehouse building on Kallang Pudding Road.
The six-storey building had been approved for warehouse use by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in 2001, but it turned down Mustafa’s 2004 application to change the building’s use to a wholesale centre for household goods and appliances.
However, Mustafa operated a department store on the first level and a supermarket on level two for a few weeks in 2009.
By Felicia Choo, The Straits Times, January 2017
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