Fri, May 23, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Working House is moving forward on its expansion plan

By Kevin Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

The impact of SARS has failed to slow plans by a local retailer of home collections and kitchenware to increase its capital to NT$300 million from NT$220 million as well as earmark more than NT$50 million to open 15 new stores this year.

Working House (生活工場) currently has 126 stores in Taiwan and hopes to increase the number to 141 by the end of the year, with each store being nearly 150 pings, Dennis Hsu (許宏榮), president of Working House (生活工場) told the Taipei Times yesterday.

With sales at its main store in the Asiaworld (環亞) shopping complex reaching NT$4 million per month, more than five department stores and malls in Taiwan have contacted top executives at Working House to set up stores up to 300 pings in size, said Hsu, on the sidelines of the company's 10th anniversary celebrations yesterday.

Potential bidders include Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Department Store (新光三越百貨), the yet-to-be-built Taipei 101 Mall, and the under-construction President Takashimaya Department Store (統一高島屋百華) in the Hsinyi area, as well as the Uni-President Group's shopping mall project, called the Dream Mall (統一夢公園), in Kaohsiung, he added.

Working House opened its first 20-ping shop in 1994 and has since developed into a provider of kitchenware, home furnishings, stationery and general houseware items. The retailer had expected to compete head-to-head with Japanese home furnishings seller MUJI (無印良品) this year.

MUJI was originally slated to open an outlet in the Breeze Center (微風廣場) in the first half of the year, Breeze's executive director Henry Liao (廖鎮漢) said in November.

But that plan may be delayed because of SARS, Hsu said. "MUJI is a strong competitor with 25 years of experience in this line of business ... But we still have our edge in terms of pricing and more than 940,000 member customers."

Member customers accounted for nearly 56 percent of Working House's sales last year and the figure is expected to be lifted to 80 percent in the next year or two, Hsu said.

Working House forecasts that its "lifestyle-concept shops" will see sales increase 16.67 percent to NT$2.1 billion this year.

The company plans to list on the Taiwan stock market in 2004.

To expand its business scope, it introduced a sub-brand in April of last year, "Living Plus," mainly focusing on twenty-something female customers.

"We hope Living Plus will someday enjoy the same success that Working House does," Hsu said.

Nevertheless, the fear of SARS has kept shoppers home, which has caused Working House's sales between April 1 and May 21 to drop eight percent from a year ago, Hsu said.

Daily sales at its outlet at the Takashimaya Department Store (大葉高島屋) in Tienmu, for instance, fell by half on Wednesday after the department store reopened its doors after a four-day closure to disinfect the facility, he added.

"Judging from our sales so far, we have only reached 90 percent of the target set for the year's first four months," Hsu said, "But we have no plans to halt our expansion now."

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