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Robinson & Co., Singapore

Robinson & Co., Singapore

Robinson & Co. Limited is a retail company which has department stores in Singapore and Malaysia. The company owns the Robinsons department store, John Little in Singapore and has franchise outlets of Marks and Spencer in both countries. The company has grown into one of the country's most renowned department stores. Robinsons celebrated their 150th Anniversary in 2008.

Robinson & Co. was established on February 25, 1858 by Philip Robinson formerly from the west of England and a brother of Elisha Smith Robinson [1] and his business partner James Gaborian Spicer, who was a former keeper of the Singapore jail, and a partner in the shipwright business. The company was then known as Spicer and Robinson and it was located at Commercial Square (now Raffles Place). However, on October 5, 1859, less than two years after the partnership, James Spicer pulled out from the partnership, and the company was known as Robinson and Co. Robinson found a new partner, George Rappa Jr.. At this point of time, Commercial Square was renamed Raffles Place. Robinson and Co. moved to the corner of North Bridge Road and Coleman Street.

Robinson developed his business a different way. He employed travelling representatives to canvass the Malay Archipelago and Borneo. Many of the Malay Rulers were among his customers, as well as King Mongkut of Siam.

Near the end of 1864, there was a financial crisis, firms crashed and hundreds of shops closed down. Robinson managed to survive during this period of time. A new shop was opened at Battery Road, and the company's first assistant was appointed from England, T. C. Loveridge, which took charge of a newly opened tailoring department. Loveridge took lessons in Singapore from an experienced cutter and first tried out his skill by cutting out a frockcoat for a colleague. It fitted well and the latter became a partner in the business. Robinson offered to sell out for £1,000 (which was a huge sum of money then), but Loveridge rejected the offer.

1881 was when Robinson died. His son, Stamford Raffles Robinson took over the business. In 1886 he employed A. W. Bean as assistant, eight years later making him his partner. The 1890s saw the company doing more business than ever before in the Malaya. The company launched a large advertising campaign in the Malay Mail and increase the number of travelling representatives. In 1891 the company moved to a bigger shop in Raffles Place.

Robinsons also stocked musical instruments in the early 1900s as most homes had a piano, gramophone among many. Robinson & Co. became a limited company in 1920, when Robinson and Bean were still partners. The carefree days of Singapore and the then Malaya were gone when the Great Depression came. Year by year, the company made losses until 1936 when it made a profit. Stamford Robinson died in 1935 at 83 in Edinburgh, Scotland.


[1] Jason Lim. Assumptions and Evidence The Case of Philip Robinson 1830-1886.
[2] Wikipedia

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