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A foothold in Europe
Publication Date : 18-04-2013
Thailand's Central Retail Corporation is making inroads into Europe with the purchase of stores in Italy and Denmark
When Tiang Chirathivat launched his general merchandise store in Bangkok's Chinatown back in 1947, he had little idea that 65 years down the line, his descendants would be running one of Italy's oldest luxury department stores.
And Central Retail Corporation (CRC) is continuing to expand across Europe. Thailand's largest retailer acquired La Rinascente in Milan in 2011, investing more than 10 billion baht (US$346.58 million) in the store, and has just purchased Illum, Denmark's oldest retail business.
Sean Hill, 34, a third generation member of the Chirathivat family, is in charge of sourcing prime locations for expansion, information analysis and business planning for the group's future projects. At his headquarters at La Rinascente, the retail expansion manager reveals that every Chirathivat goes to department stores not to shop but to learn. "We all follow in the footsteps of my grandfather, Samrit Chirathivat, who opened the first Central department store. He has always taught us to notice the good points in the stores we visit so as to improve our own."
Twenty Thai journalists also had the chance to learn about the department store and the future plans of the Chirathivat family during a recent trip to La Rinascente organised by Central Department Store president Yuwadee Chirathivat.
The group is aiming to take La Rinascente's concept of style and exclusivity across national borders. "Our future plans are not limited to the flagship store in Milan but extend to other branches including those in Piazza Flume and Galleria A Sordi in Rome, as well as in Florence, Cagliari, Padova and Venice in accordance with the brand's new take on its positioning," Hill explains.
"The new department stores in Rome and Venice are scheduled for completion in 2015.
"CRC purchased La Rinascente with the intention of growing the business. We have responded with projects in Rome and Venice, as well as by purchasing Illum. With the continued support of CRC management, we are evaluating many different types of opportunities in Europe and will proceed with those projects that best fit our business plans," Hill continues.
"We focus on major European cities, which have large populations as well as important tourist numbers. The actual locations of these opportunities remain key for our projects to work.
"Luxury brands are accessible to everybody. Eighty per cent of people shopping today are enjoying a day out," adds Alberto Baldan, chief executive officer of La Rinascente. "My strategy is to be the best in any city we are based in. We are looking at the city, not the number of branches; Rome is the store of history, Florence is the store of art, while Venice is the meeting place and the house of crafts. Italy is a big country; each city has a long history and fascinating stories."
La Rinascente - meaning 'rebirth' - was established in 1877 and sold by its founders to entrepreneur Senatore Borletti in 1917. In a prime location next to Milan's famed cathedral, the Duomo, it is at the heart of the busiest shopping areas in Europe.
In 2005, La Rinascente repositioned the brand towards the premium end of the market, transforming it into a showcase for both Italian and international brands under the concept "Shop-in-Shop". Clients were invited to independently mix and match the best brands, the window displays underwent weekly changes, while the services offered were - and remain - second to none.
Each of the eight floors of the store has a different theme but all are home to leading high-end products. "We stock 280 women brands, 150 men brands, 50 children brands, 450 house and design brands, and about 1,000 gourmet products, as well as offering a wide selection of eating options under one roof," Baldan says.
Hill is confident that Central Retail's visions will bear fruit. "Although Europe is going through an economic recession, the luxury market still has great potential and for that reason, prime tourist destinations are at the heart of our priorities. Pricing here is also better. CRC has a very strong market in Thailand and with Central Embassy scheduled to open later this year, there are obviously great advantages for our business expansion in terms of European supplier chains and top executive management."
"It is important that we keep the brands - La Rinascente and Illum - so as to maintain the essence and the integrity of the brand and its city," says Hill, who worked as a lawyer in the US before he entered the family business.
"I chose law because I found the profession fulfilling and I liked the challenge of analysing problems and legal frameworks in order to provide practical solution," he says. "Even though I'd never worked for the family prior to this position, I'd always discussed the business with my family and stayed up to date with any recent developments." So, a few years ago when he'd been speaking to his uncle Tos [Chirathivat], and he mentioned that CRC was exploring opportunities in Europe, Hill knew he wanted to be a part of it. "Now a year and a half into my role, I can say that I am very happy with my decision."