NTUC FairPrice senior management marks its 40th anniversary at first store

If you were to head to your nearest NTUC FairPrice outlet today, you would be greeted with countless shelves displaying a multitude of products, well-lit displays and spacious aisles.

But you would probably have seen something quite different 40 years ago at the first NTUC FairPrice store, which was opened in 1973.

Back then, space was more limited, so aisles were narrow. The lighting was also dimmer.

Mr Gerry Lee, 58, who has been with NTUC FairPrice for over 35 years and who rose through the ranks to become the Managing Director of Business Groups for NTUC FairPrice, recounted: "Back then, it was much smaller and there was only one storey.

"The aisles were also narrower and there were much fewer products on offer."

One thing that has not changed, though, are the friendly faces of the staff.

"Today I came in and I saw some familiar faces, which made me happy," said Mr Lee.

"I'm proud to say that many of our people have worked with us for over 20 years, I'm not the only one."

The first store, at Block 192 in Toa Payoh Lorong 4, was then called NTUC Welcome.

It was opened by former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, and attracted flocks of Singaporeans.

For them, this was the first store of its kind, a social enterprise that aimed to provide customers with quality goods at fair prices.

Aptly enough, NTUC FairPrice commemorated its Founders' Day and 40th anniversary on Friday at the first store.

Several members of senior management went to work at the store and interact with customers.

One of them was Mr Lee.

He started out as a supervisor at this Toa Payoh store five years after its opening.

On his return, he said: "It's like coming back home. This store holds a lot of memories for me. It's changed since, now there are other facilities like a pharmacy and a photo booth."

Bagging goods

On Friday, he spent his time bagging goods for customers, and chatted with customers and staff alike.

Mr Lee described how processes were much more time-consuming in the past.

Labels had to be pasted onto products by hand, and cashiers had to key in items individually.

Customers also had to cut out coupons from newspapers to get promotions on different products each week.

"We don't do 'cut and save' any more, but I think customers prefer how it's done now," Mr Lee said with a laugh.

On Friday, some old-time customers of NTUC FairPrice also joined him at the store, including Mr Soon Kian Chye, who has been patronising the Toa Payoh store since it opened.

He said he still visits the store at least twice or thrice a week.

The 70-year-old retiree added: "Whatever you want to get, you can get it at NTUC. In terms of prices, quality and variety, it's fantastic."

He said: "As I grew in my career, I watched the company grow too. I'm emotionally attached to it now."

At the celebration on Friday, NTUC FairPrice also revealed its new staff uniforms, which will be introduced from August.

NTUC FairPrice's chief executive officer, Mr Seah Kian Peng, said: "This effort to refresh our uniforms mirrors our pursuit in upgrading our service levels."

Get The New Paper for more stories.