How Lifebrandz lost its shine

How Lifebrandz lost its shine

There was a time when the champagne and cocktails flowed freely at the glitzy Clarke Quay nightspots owned by public-listed group Lifebrandz. Hip brand-name spots such as Kandi Bar, Barfly and Cafe Del Mar were places to be seen. Thousands of partygoers grooved to the beat at Ministry of Sound (MoS), the crown jewel of Clarke Quay.

At its peak in 2006, according to a report in The New Paper, MoS was reportedly taking in $2 million in sales every month.

A decade since the group made its stratospheric debut as a nightlife behemoth, it seems the party is over, following a series of business failures in a highly competitive market. Last Friday, Lifebrandz announced that it had closed its five outlets in Clarke Quay, the last vestiges of its Singapore nightlife empire: gourmet hotdog eatery Hopdog, live music venue Aquanova, Mulligan's Irish Pub and nightclubs Fenix Room and Playhouse.

Landlord CapitaMalls Asia says it is looking for new tenants for the 57,000 sq ft space Lifebrandz has surrendered in the The Cannery, where all five nightspots were housed.

The Manpower Ministry (MOM) is investigating after it was found that employees under Lifebrandz's subsidiaries, which manage the five nightspots, had not been paid salaries since Feb 7.

Lifebrandz chief executive officer Eddie Chng Weng Wah, 52, has filled the hot seat for less than two months after his predecessor Cedric Chong resigned in February. Mr Chng tells Life! the company is working with its subsidiaries "to address all the outstanding issues in accordance with MOM laws".

He adds: "Whatever happened is unfortunate and honestly, I'd like to apologise to the staff. It is important for the management of the subsidiaries to get their act right."

His predecessor, Mr Chong, who reportedly quit to pursue personal interests, is director of the subsidiaries managing the outlets. Attempts to reach him on his mobile phone were unsuccessful.

Despite having no experience in nightlife, Mr Chng, who is also chief executive of public-listed electronics trading company Equation Summit, joined the company and became Lifebrandz's executive director in January to "try something new". He had hoped to "turn the business around", as he was well aware it was "losing money".

He did not say how much money was owed to employees, but said "all necessary steps will be taken to close this chapter".

Competition from other nightspots, lower spending by patrons and government restrictions on liquor licensing hours in 2013 were what led to the group's decision to shut down the outlets here, said Mr Chng. The group still owns the pub Mulligan's in Pattaya. Industry insiders here are shocked at the tanking of Lifebrandz's nightlife ventures.

Ku De Ta entertainment manager Joshua Pillai, 34, who was a part-time DJ with Lifebrandz, says: "I feel a bit sad because Clarke Quay is a nightlife entertainment area and Lifebrandz played a big part to create that atmosphere."

Limited Edition Concepts' director and co-founder Godwin Pereira, 40, who was music director for all of Lifebrandz's clubs for 2½ years in 2006, says: "It's shocking and unfortunate that the outlets would go underwater just like that."

Mr Pereira, who left the group in 2007 after a management change, says MoS and the other outlets did "super well". Lifebrandz was "a raging bull" when its Clarke Quay outlets first opened, giving the area a new dynamic, he adds. Founded in 2001 by former bankers Michael Wong and Kenneth Goh, Lifebrandz started as a beauty and health products company, achieving commercial success in 2002 with the launch of Extrim, a slimming product. Two years later, it made its debut on the Singapore Exchange.

It made a splash in the nightlife scene in 2005 when it opened the 40,000 sq ft Ministry of Sound, linked to the famous London nightclub, in Clarke Quay.

The group followed with five more outlets, investing a total of $16 million to operate the 80,000 sq ft The Cannery entertainment complex. They included chi-chi clubs Kandi Bar by Hed Kandi, Barfly under Buddha Bar, Fashion Bar and Bice Bistro. In 2007, it opened beach bar Cafe Del Mar in Sentosa.

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