Judging by the swanky shopfront of CYC The Custom Shop at Raffles Arcade, you might be surprised to know that the tailoring company used to have to hold warehouse sales just to stay afloat. That was in the 1980s. No wonder Mrs Fong Loo Fern, now CYC’s managing director, had her work cut out for her when she decided to leave her high-flying post in the Commerce Department of the US Embassy in 1992 in order to save her grandmother’s ailing business.
Speaking at the Women’s Entrepreneurship Forum 2009 at Novotel Clarke Quay on 13 November 2009, Fong shared how the drastic changes in the retail market scene caused the company’s market share to plummet, as it was ill-prepared to face new challenges and competition. Unwilling to see the family business fall apart, she ploughed through a series of rebranding and relocation exercises, and gradually managed to pull the company out of the red. But it was an explosive mix of ingenuity and opportunity that set the tills ringing for good for this 74-year-old establishment.
Taking its cue from customers who would come into the shop commenting that they had been buying clothes from CYC for the past 20 or 30 years, Fong initiated a promotion in 2001 for long-time customers to trade in their old shirts for a free new shirt, with the collection going towards an exhibition of old CYC shirts . The quirky offer brought Mrs Lee Kuan Yew to the shop with three of her husband’s shirts — one of which was the very shirt he wore on Independence Day in 1965. The event made its way into the dailies, and generated a windfall of mileage for the shop.
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“To this day, people still remember the story. It really helped to elevate our image and create the awareness we were trying so hard to build.”
Ever the shrewd businesswoman, Fong also realized the need to develop a new bread-and-butter business to supplement its tailor-made business. The opportunity to branch off into the corporate uniform market presented itself in 2002, when CYC was approached to make new outfits for the wax figures at Fort Siloso. But there was a catch. How do you tailor clothes for a body with immovable limbs? An engineer on the team offered the nifty solution: Velcro patches fixed to the clothes facilitated not just the creation of a perfect fit but easy changing. Since then, they have built up a corporate clientele that includes UOB, Standard Chartered, the Esplanade and the upcoming Sentosa IR.