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The first Metro store in Singapore was established in 1957 in a two-storey shophouse at 72 High Street, where the Treasury Building now stands. Ong chose High Street because he felt it was a more upmarket location as compared to Chinatown. While Robinsons catered to the expatriates and Tangs evolved to serve the locals, Metro targeted rich housewives from Indonesia and Singapore. Many of Metro's early customers were Ong's Indonesian friends who would shop in bulk in his store. The business thrived and expanded to the unit next door in 1961.
Developing Its Retail Trade
In 1965, Metro became one of the first retailers to open a department store in Orchard Road. The store located in Liat Towers was named Metrotex. It was later renamed Metro Orchard when the store moved to the Holiday Inn Shopping Complex at Scotts Road in 1973. In the same year, Metro listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange. By this time, the Metro had built a distinctive image with its red "M" logo and uniformed sales staff.
At its peak, Metro had five stores along Orchard Road in shopping centres such as Far East Plaza and Lucky Plaza. It was in Lucky Plaza that Singapore's first "high-end" department store Metro Grand Store opened in 1978. During the 1970s, Metro established itself as a leading distributor and agent of several European luxury brands such as Cartier, Charles Jourdan and Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent and Monet. In 1979, the company co-founded The Hour Glass, a luxury watch retailer which carried brands such as Rolex and Piaget. The Hour Glass was later sold off in 1987. The group was also responsible for bringing in American retailers such as toy store Toys 'R' Us in 1986, Esprit, and discount chain K-mart in 1994, which closed two years later.
Metro was also a launch pad for local and regional designers during the 1980s-1990s. In 1985, it started Marissa, a popular in-house workwear label, designed by Peter Kor and Sylvia Lian. This was followed by the launch of Ananas, a local label for evening wear, in 1990. The store also carried apparels from Project Shop and Biyan.
Metro made its first entry into the suburban areas during the 1970s when it opened outlets in Bukit Timah Plaza and Marine Parade, but these closed in the late 1980s. In the 1990s, Metro re-entered the suburbia market with stores in Tampines Century in 1996, Causeway Point in 1998 and Compass Point in 2002.
Today, Metro has one flagship store in Paragon at Orchard Road, and two suburban stores in Woodlands and Sengkang. Aside from Singapore, the company also has retail investments in Malaysia, Indonesia, and China.
Other Business Areas
Perhaps its most successful diversification move to date is in property investments. In 1974, the group took a stake in the development of a vacant site on Orchard Road, which later became Ngee Ann City. Their 27 per cent stake, which was eventually sold off in 2005, reaped substantial profits for the company. More recently, the group has expanded to become a major property investor in China with the development of Metro Tower Shanghai, Metro City Shanghai, and Metro City Beijng.
Metro is currently headed by Jopie Ong, son of founder Ong Tjoe Kim.
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(Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN)
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Quek, K. H. (Interviewer). (1982, February 11). Oral history interview with Ong Tjoe Kim (transcript of Cassette Recording No. 000151). Retrieved April 16, 2009, from National Archives of Singapore Web http://www.a2o.com.sg.
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The information in this article is valid as at 2009 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.