Hong Kong Investment Firm Takes Over Popular Bookstore as Founding Family CEO Steps Down
Popular Bookstore, a fixture with nearly a century of history, has been acquired as of 1 November 2023.
This 99-year-old institution has cemented its presence as a frontrunner in the book retail and education service sectors, broadening its reach from Singapore to major cities across China, and even extending to Canada and the UK.
So, who’s the new owner?
New Ownership: A 7-Year-Old Investment Firm
In an interview with Zaobao, Popular Holdings confirmed the change in ownership, with Hong Kong-based ZQ Capital taking the helm.
Since its inception in 2016, ZQ Capital has emerged as one of the most rapidly expanding investment firms in Asia.
The firm’s investment strategies, renowned for their uniqueness, aim to generate consistent returns with minimal exposure to market fluctuations and the impact of disruptive emerging business models.
ZQ Capital boasts a seasoned team with over six decades of collective experience in investment management and corporate advisory. The team’s educational pedigree spans prestigious universities from China, the UK, and the US.
The company has stated its strategy is to pinpoint “industry leaders poised to flourish alongside China’s long-term macroeconomic trajectory.”
A Young Firm Inherits a Time-Honored Legacy
Popular bookstore’s journey began in 1924, founded in Singapore by Mr Chou Sing Chu.
Originally named Cheng Hing Company, it began as a purveyor of picture and comic books, along with Chinese literature and stationery.
Transforming through the decades, Popular has evolved into a dynamic hub offering a wide array of products in various languages, educational materials, stationery, gadgets, and IT products.
The shift towards a diversified product range was significantly aided by the company’s privatisation in 2015.
However, Popular has faced challenges such as declining foot traffic and escalating costs, including rent and labor, which were particularly exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Remember the 90% clearance sales in 2020? Subsequently, several outlets have been shuttered, including the expansive 17,000 sq ft branch in Marine Parade.
In alignment with the company’s strategic acquisition to curb losses, the CEO, Chou Cheng Ngok, son of the founder, has also chosen to retire following the transfer of ownership.
A Commitment to Continuity
Popular has reassured all stakeholders that its “core values, business practices, and quality of service will remain steadfast. The company’s dedication to publishing excellence, customer satisfaction, and the pursuit of cultural heritage will continue unwaveringly.“
Furthermore, the group’s existing ownership structure will stay intact, with no changes to employee salaries and benefits.
The company also intends to strengthen its positioning as a comprehensive provider of education services and to capitalise on opportunities in the burgeoning markets of China and Southeast Asia.
Yet, amidst these assurances, there are concerns within the community.
Denon Lim Denan, the executive director and editor-in-chief of Lingzi Media and president of the Singapore Writers Association, shared his perspective: “Upon learning of Popular’s change in ownership, our primary concern in the publishing industry is the potential impact on bookshelf space allocation.”
Moreover, Denan expressed skepticism regarding the new ownership’s commitment to maintaining the bookstore’s traditional values.