I am pleased to report that F J Benjamin (FJB) returned to profitability in the financial year ended 30 June 2022 (FY22) despite a still challenging operating environment. The nearly $3.0 million in net attributable profit was a welcome relief following the devastating blow to the retail industry dealt by the global COVID-19 pandemic.
The easing of restrictions and reopening of borders during the second half of FY22 were undoubtedly major factors behind the recovery, but the seeds had been planted long before the outbreak of COVID-19. We are now beginning to reap the fruits of our restructuring efforts which have involved ceasing loss-making brands and stores in the past several years.
Strategically, we have, even before the pandemic hit, started to diversify our income streams so that we are not overly dependent on fashion. Our wellness and skincare brands, namely Airfree, Dr. Barbara Sturm and MZ Skin, although launched in the last two years, were planned and negotiated prior.
Our omnichannel strategy was also in the works, and COVID-19 gave us the opportunity to persuade our principals to let us take some of the brands online. The latest label in our online portfolio is Cole Haan, the iconic US footwear and accessories brand.
In FY22, our turnover from online channels accounted for 6% of total sales in Singapore and 3% in Malaysia, coming from 14 brands, up from nine previously. While still small, e-commerce will become an increasingly important part of the retail mix, and the Group will increase our online presence and improve our omnichannel execution so that there is seamless online and offline experiences over multiple channels.
We will continue to diversify whether by expanding into new businesses or geographies. We recognise that entering unchartered territories is not without risk and we wish to assure our shareholders that the intention is not to stray from our core competence, which is brand management of lifestyle and luxury products that bring delight to our customers. Instead we will continue to leverage existing business relationships and work with partners who share our customer-centric, value creation approach.
There is no doubt that the Group has seen better days. Although our prospects have brightened up with the reopening of economies, we view it as our solemn mission to scale previous highs in our business performance, and to even exceed them.
During the year, FJB raised net proceeds of $2.9 million from Western Properties, a member of the Far East Organization, via a share placement for working capital.
Far East Organization, the largest private property developer in Singapore, develops, owns and manages a diverse spectrum of real estate in the residential, hospitality, retail, commercial, healthcare and industrial segments. With the placement, Western Properties now owns 16.7% of the Group, an increase from 7.4% previously, making it the second largest shareholder after the Benjamin family.
I would like to express my deepest appreciation to Far East Organization for this show of support and look forward to deeper collaboration between the two groups.
Despite the uncertain global economic outlook due to rising interest rates, disrupted supply chains and geo-political tensions, FJB is hopeful about prospects in the current financial year.
Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia continue to see strong growth in retail sales as of end-August while visitor arrivals have soared as borders reopen and COVID-19 becomes less of a concern. The job market remains healthy notwithstanding the many economic headwinds.
A recent study by DBS show consumers in Singapore are spending more relative to income, with the expenses-to-income ratio rising to 64% in May from 59% a year earlier.
Meanwhile, Indonesia’s economic outlook remains positive as structural reforms and higher commodity prices auger well for new investments and fiscal revenue.
FJB now has a stronger portfolio of brands and effective channels, and we will work hard to ride the upswing in consumer spending while keeping an eagle eye on costs. With much reduced gearing of 10%, down from 32% in the last financial year, we believe we are also in a stronger financial position to seize opportunities as they present themselves. We will grow in a sustainable manner bearing in mind that today’s retail landscape is still undergoing changes that will require us to be nifty and adaptive.
Finally, I would like to thank my fellow directors for their wise counsel, and our staff, customers, shareholders, business partners and associates for keeping faith with us during the difficult times.
F J Benjamin Holdings Ltd.