SM Department Store of retail pioneer Henry Sy, now called THE SM STORE is an unforgettable part of the shopping journey of generations of Filipinos for over four decades. It has revolutionized fashion merchandise which even to the new generation has been a major breakthrough. “Going to SM STORE is such a treat. I had an idea of what was uso because of the displays on the store when the internet was not yet so widely popular and there were no OOTDs yet,” Nikki Policarpio, 25 years, a young professional said.
From its first store in the 1970s, SM expanded to a network of 53 stores today. This growth comes from SM’s willingness to fully embrace change and passion to satisfy the evolving customer tastes and preferences of its customers.
As a market leader, the SM STORE has come a very long way from Calle Echangue that was the first full blown department store in 1972.
The company is never one to rest on its laurels says SM Vice Chair Teresita Sy-Coson. Sy-Coson is Henry’s eldest child who helped her father build the retail business when it was then known as Shoemart. “The world is changing so fast. What drives retail is that we always have to move forward,” Sy-Coson said. The longevity of Sy’s retail business is founded on a culture of innovation and an understanding that sustained growth means staying ahead in a rapidly changing market.
The SM STORE was one of the pioneers in the new urban centers in Makati and Cubao and later on, in key cities around the country as a major anchor in SM Supermalls. It was one of the first stores to showcase the clothes of Filipino fashion designers, playing a big role in spearheading local ready to wear fashion. It is also redefining the shopping experience today with new brands and modern concepts to bring world-class shopping closer to Filipinos all over the country.
“Tatang (as Sy is fondly called) was really a trendsetter in many ways,” SM STORE President Chelo Monasterio said as Sy always wanted to bring the ideas he had learned and the merchandise he had seen from his travels in other countries to the Philippines.
For Cai Ordinario, a 35-year old journalist, the SM STORE in Cubao was her first concept of a “mall” with its wide array of merchandise and its cafes, food courts, and other services. Ordinario recalls frequenting the store in Cubao since she took ballet lessons at the studio located in the basement. “Sa SM kami bumibili lagi ng new shoes pag pasukan at damit sa Pasko. Pati pagpapalagay ng baterya sa relo doon na din. Para siyang one-stop shop talaga lalo na nung ‘80s,” Ordinario said.
Transformation throughout the years
Sy innovated on many firsts in product mix and systems of operation, including a unique way of delivering shoes to waiting customers using what technology was there and an inventive combination of codes and body language.
Today that system has been replaced by a process that uses more sophisticated technology which is a long way from the callers that shout out orders like brokers on Wall Street and shoe boxes falling from a hole in the ceiling.
Abigail Ho, 35 years old and a young professional who loves to shop, remembers passing by the old Shoemart Carriedo in the 1980s to the 1990s every day on her way home from school in Quiapo. A highlight of her store trips would be seeing the “falling” shoeboxes from the ceiling which she describes were like “manna from heaven”. “Those “falling” shoe boxes are also among my fondest memories–2CKS sa black size 7,” Ho said remembering the old system of getting shoe inventory.
Store design also transformed in a dramatic way from the boxy interior and standard display modules. New York’s Point Design did the the three-level SM Aura store in in Taguig, now representing the next generation of stores. Using the “less is more” approach, the new stores emphasize lighting and art instead of the previous colorful graphics, creative ceiling and wall treatments. Innovating space, the SM STORE also highlighted every merchandise and emphasized individual and collective glamor and luxury. A fresh upmarket vibe was also added to key elements of the store such as the entrance, atrium and cash counters.
“We wanted to be able to offer our current customers a new experience while still enjoying the same prices. We came up with designs that would make people feel good but not to intimidate them,” Monasterio said.
Retail stores we know today also started as departments in The SM STORE. Monasterio said that the store’s Home Department became HomeWorld and now, Our Home. The Toy Department became Toy Kingdom while Infants and Accessories became Baby Co.
A visit to the newly renovated SM Makati for example shows how much SM’s retailscape has changed over the years. Global retailers H&M, Uniqlo and Forever 21, all major players in the fashion industry, welcome customers on the ground floor, as does Spanish brand Uno de 50 with its artisanal jewelry.
American home retailer Crate & Barrel has a flagship store a few steps away. The SM STORE itself has undergone a major transformation where the shop-in-shop concept has created different “worlds” within a store. Each category is designed and conceptualized like an individual boutique with its own look and feel. Likewise, merchandising features are customized to fit the categories that are to be used. The Beauty Department for instance is home to brands like Dior, Clinique, MAC, Kiehl –each with their own shops-in-shops. Spanish fashion retailer Sfera has a store in the second floor as does Fashion Forum, a multi-brand boutique know for its international labels. All these global and beauty brands are complemented by homegrown brands that SM has developed for many years.
Priorities that don’t change
While styles have come and gone even for the iconic sales ladies of SM donning their crisp blue and white uniforms, the passion to serve remained the priority. “Tatang was very particular with the kind of service we all delivered. He made sure we always took care of the people,” Monasterio shared.
Offering services beyond shopping, it pioneered the business center concept where customers can avail of remittance, bills payment and government services, as well as show tickets. SM’s Rewards Program through the SM Advantage and Prestige Cards has millions of members.
JP Fenix, a strategic communications consultant, even recalled that when he was in grade school in the 1970s, his mom bought him a pair of black shoes in SM STORE Makati. The sole of one of the shoes split open by a little after a week so he and his mom brought it back to the store to have it repaired. Sy’s wife, Felicidad was in the store, saw the item being returned and got the shoe herself and tore off the whole sole. She then called a clerk to call the supplier of the shoes to give feedback on the product and to show them the quality. “Then she told my mom I could get a new pair at any brand,” he said.
With the entry of new technology, the SM STORE is gearing up to bring world class shopping closer to Filipinos. And it will continue to be part of the lives of millions of Filipinos with new store innovations and renovations in existing stores, creative merchandise selections and superb service to cater to the ever changing needs of its customers.