Mohamed Mustafa and Samsudin Co Pte Ltd

Singapore Infopedia


Mohamed Mustafa and Samsuddin Co Pte Ltd (MMSC), established in 1971 and located in Little India, is one of Singapore’s local retail giants. Hard work, honesty, humility, and the importance of listening to customers’ needs are the guiding principles behind its monumental success.1 Commonly known as “Mustafa’s”, it was named one of Singapore’s top 50 enterprises between 1996 to 2000.2

Early history
MMSC was founded in 1971 by entrepreneur Mustaq Ahmad with his father, Haji Mohamed Mustafa (b. 1916d. 2001) and his uncle, Samsuddin. However, it was Haji Mohamed Mustafa who laid the foundation for the company.3

Haji Mohamed Mustafa was born in India to a farming family. He arrived in Muar, Malaysia in 1950, and began peddling dumplings, from village to village.4 In 1952, he came to Singapore, and sold food items from a make-shift cart. When his first wife died a few years later in India, he sent for his five-year-old son, Mustaq Ahmad, who came to Singapore in 1956.5 As he grew, Ahmad started helping out at his father’s food stall, selling tea and bread. Soon he began to sell handkerchiefs at fixed prices, next to his father’s food stall, using pocket money given to him by his father to buy the goods he needed.6

Haji Mohamed was so inspired by his son’s business acumen, and having realised the potential in the clothing retail business, Haji Mohammed gave up selling tea and bread at his stall, and started selling children’s clothes and garments for adults in the 1960s.7 Meanwhile, Ahmad continued to help his father and uncle at their clothes’ stall. As the business blossomed, the family added vests and more items to the range.8

In 1971, Ahmad expanded the family business, setting up a small 500 sq ft shop in Campbell Lane that sold ready-made garments, and named it Mohamed Mustafa, after his father.9 Ahmad then took on the role of its managing director.10 Over the years, business expanded with the addition of more retail space along Serangoon Road, and the inclusion of more product offerings such as electrical appliances. Eventually, in 1995, the store expanded to become Mustafa Centre – a 75,000- square feet department store with a 130-room hotel, along Syed Alwi Road in Little India.11 Well-known as an astute entrepreneur with a sensible approach to business, the unaffected and humble Ahmad is now synonymous with the Mohamed Mustafa stores in Little India.12

Later developments
Over the years, MMSC went through several rounds of expansion made possible through finances from its own internal resources, and bank loans.13 Although the company had no plans to go public in 2003,14 it did so eight years later, with its first bonds sold in February 2014.15

Today, MMSC comprises two departmental stores; the retail space at Serangoon Plaza,16 and its 24-hour main store, Mustafa Centre, at Syed Alwi Road.17 In 2003, the departmental stores occupied a sprawling 150,000 sq ft of retail space.18 The following year, the 130 hotel rooms were converted into more retail space, expanding it to 200,000 sq ft offering a supermarket, a jewel mart, money changer, postal services, air ticket services and a café amidst many other services.19 Renowned for being a shopper’s paradise, MMSC had a turnover of about S$400 million in 2006.20

Mustafa Centre was renovated and extended again in 2010 to include a roof garden restaurant and a nine-storey annex. Opened in January 2011, the extension is connected to the older building by a second floor walkway. This increased the total size of Mustafa Centre, and allowed for an even wider range of consumer goods from as far as Iceland.21

The company ventured into regional expansion as well, when it opened its first outlet in Chennai, India in 2000. An 8,000 sq ft jewellery shop called Mustafa Goldmart, housed in a 16,000 sq ft building, was bought by Ahmad.22 In 2003, it paid S$15 million for a building in Jakarta, Indonesia, that stands on a 33,000 sq m plot of land. Rental dues paid by tenants in that building acts as another source of revenue for the company.23 Mustafa Centre has also expanded its reach into the Bangladesh economy in 2012, opening a chain store at the Bashundhara City mall.24

The company launched a successful online store on its website in mid-1999, but losses incurred via credit card fraud forced it to cease its operations by the end of that year.25 Despite this, the company still planned to use the internet to expand overseas via franchisees through a business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce system. The franchisees could buy from the company and sell to retailers, or set up shop themselves with goods ordered from them, freeing the company from collecting online payment from final buyers, which was the cause of its security problems with its online store earlier.26

In June 2003, Mustafa became the first and only major department store in Singapore to operate 24 hours daily. This attracted widespread media attention, and increased its customer base by at least 20 percent. Foreign tour operators like Jakarta Express, regularly brought tour groups from Indonesia to enjoy night shopping at the stores.27 With the increase in Chinese clientele, the company also employed Chinese speaking sales persons. Subsequently, Malay, Indonesian and Filipino staff were also recruited to make the various ethnic groups feel at home.28

The company developed their own six-storey warehouse at Kallang Pudding Road in 2001 with the approval of the Urban Development Authority (URA).29 In 2004, the company planned to open a new business selling groceries, clothes and other items in bulk quantities at low prices from the warehouse, similar to the successful warehouse club concept such as Costco and Sam’s Club in the United States.30 Their application to change the use of the building to a wholesale centre was denied by the URA as the sale of products was not allowed in the zone that the warehouse was in. The building was later discovered to house a department store and a supermarket in 2009, and was served a summon by the URA.31 The company was fined $10,000 in April 2010 for the offence.32

Reasons for strong business performance
The Mustafa stores are well known for selling products catered to a wide variety of needs and people. It has products for everyone, whether one is well-to-do or not.33 The store stocks more than 300,000 items displayed on four levels of the six-storey building along Syed Alwi Road,34 ranging from ready-made apparel to jewellery, sundry items and household goods to luggage bags and electronics.35 The company keeps abreast of consumer needs and trends via regular customer surveys and market research. Hence, its product mix changes accordingly with customer needs.36

With a fairly small profit margin of 10 to 15 percent on most products, prices of products sold at Mustafa are lower than its competitors. The lower prices are possible because of the huge turnover. Goods are imported directly, eliminating the need for middlemen. They are bought in much bigger quantities, so lower prices can be offered. The goods are bought at the cheapest possible sources, from countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Britain, United States and Japan.37 Even though the company has grown, it has remained true to its budget concept,38 a business strategy that has worked for the company.39

Consumers are attracted to the wide range of products at reasonable and fair prices at its stores. They then help to generate word-of-mouth publicity by recommending the stores to their friends.40

1971: The first Mohamed Mustafa shop was set up at Campbell Lane, a development of the family’s sari stall originally at Buffalo Road.41
1973: Expansion at Serangoon Road with electronics included in the range of goods offered.42
1978: The first department store in Singapore to computerise its operations.43
Dec 1985: Mustafa moved to Serangoon Plaza along Serangoon Road, after the government acquires its shops for conservation.44
Aug 1994: The first department store in Singapore to launch a mail-order business45
Apr 1995: Established Mustafa Centre along Syed Alwi Road. Besides expanding its shopping area, it included a 130-room hotel.46
Mid-1999: Launched its online store47
Mustafa Goldmart opened in Chennai, India48

2001: Development of warehouse at Kallang Pudding Road started49
Jun 2003: The first local department store to open 24-hours for business50
Jun 2011: Opening of a garden restaurant and nine-storey annex51
Dec 2012
: Mustafa Centre opens at Bashundhara City Shopping Mall, Bangladesh52
Feb 2014
: Company started selling bonds53

The store has made it to the annual Enterprise 50 (E50) awards list for five years, from 1996 to 2000.54 Listed by Andersen Consulting and The Business Times and supported by the Economic Development Board (EDB), the award ranks the top 50 local private companies that are most enterprising.55

In March 25, 2004, Mustaq Ahmad was named Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB). This is because, according to the STB, Ahmad contributed greatly to Singapore’s tourism industry, as his stores became a must-visit destination for the 300,000 Indian tourists who visited Singapore in 2003.56 Mustaq Ahmad was also honoured with a Special Recognition Award by the Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SMCCI) in 2015 for his long term contributions and services to SMCCI.57

Head office: Block 668, #02-18, Chander Road, Singapore 210668.
Main store address: Mustafa Centre, 145 Syed Alwi Road, Singapore 207704.
Branch: Serangoon Plaza, 320 Serangoon Road, Singapore 218108


Nureza Ahmad & Noorainn Aziz

1. Karl Ho, “Big Man in Little India,” Straits Times, 29 July 2001, 3; Azhar Khalid, “$250M Annual Sales but No Plans for Mustafa Centre to Go Public,” Straits Times, 27 September 2003, 26 (From NewspaperSG); Phoebe Thin, ed., S-files: The Story behind Their Success: 20 True Life Stories to Inspire, Challenge and Guide You to Greater Success (Singapore: Success Resources, 1997), 126 (Call no. RSING 338.04095957 SFI); Jayati Bhattacharya, Beyond the Myth: Indian Business Communities in Singapore (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2011), 279. (Call no. RSING 338.708991405957 BHA)
2. Corrine Kerk, “The Man Who Built Mustafa Centre,” Business Times, 30 November 1996, 22 (From NewspaperSG); “Winners,” Enterprise 50, accessed 4 October 2016.
3. Ho, “Big Man in Little India.”
4. Ho, “Big Man in Little India.”
T5. Zakir Hussain, “S’pore Needs More Talented Foreigners Like Mustafa’s Managing Director,” Straits Times, 21 August 2006, 3 (From NewspaperSG);
Bhattacharya, Beyond the Myth, 275.
6. Ho, “Big Man in Little India”; Bhattacharya, Beyond the Myth, 275.
7. Ho, “Big Man in Little India.”
8. Bhattacharya, Beyond the Myth, 275.
9. S. Tsering Bhalla, “Megastore for India, from Singapore’s Little India,” Straits Times, 28 June 1997, 2; Ho, “Big Man in Little India.”
10. “Mustafa Centre Closed after Its Founder Dies,” Straits Times, 18 July 2001, 5; Kalpana Rashiwala, “Retailer Mustafa to Develop $52M MacPherson Warehouse,” 
Business Times, 4 August 2000, 10(From NewspaperSG)
11. Kerk, “Man Who Built Mustafa Centre.” 
12. Ho, “Big Man in Little India”; Kerk, “Man Who Built Mustafa Centre.” 
13. Bhattacharya, Beyond the Myth, 278.
14. Khalid, “$250M Annual Sales but No Plans.”  
15. Mok Fei Fei, “Smaller Firms Tapping Bond Markets,” Straits Times, 14 April 2014, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “About Us,” Mustafa Online, accessed 4 October 2016.
17. Rashiwala, “Retailer Mustafa to Develop”; Kerk, “Man Who Built Mustafa Centre.” 
18. Khalid, “$250M Annual Sales but No Plans.”  
19. Vince Chong, “One-Stop Shopping Experience,” Business Times, 9 December 2004, 28; “Singapore Firms Expand,” New Paper, 13 August 2004, 6 (From NewspaperSG); Bhattacharya, Beyond the Myth, 277.
20. Hussain, “S’pore Needs More Talented Foreigners.”  
21. Melody Zaccheus, “Mustafa’s Posh New Look,” Straits Times, 12 June 2011, 21. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Rashiwala, “Retailer Mustafa to Develop”; Bhattacharya, Beyond the Myth, 277.
23. Khalid, “$250M Annual Sales but No Plans.”  
24. “‘Mustafa Centre’ Opens Outlet at Bashundhara City Mall,” Financial Express, 2 January 2013. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website) 
25. Edna Koh, “Mustafa Let Down by E-commerce,” Straits Times, 13 December 1999, 64. (From NewspaperSG)
26. Rashiwala, “Retailer Mustafa to Develop.”
27. Shobha Tsering Bhalla, “Retail Therapy Round the Clock,” Today, 26 March 2004, 40. (From NewspaperSG)
28. Madhu Madan, Yamini Vasudevan and Rita Raman, Singapore Indian Entrepreneurs: Dreams to Reality (Singapore: Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry, 2004), 106. (Call no. RSING 338.0409225957 MAD)
29. Leow Si Wan, “Mustafa Told to Stop Selling from Warehouse,” Straits Times, 6 November 2009, 48. (From NewspaperSG)
30. Glenys Sim, “Next: Buy in Bulk Cheaply from Mustafa's,” Straits Times, 26 March 2004, H6. (From NewspaperSG)
31. Leow, “Mustafa Told to Stop Selling.” 
32. Leow Si Wan, “$10K Fine for Using Warehouse for Retail,” Straits Times, 1 April 2010, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
33. Bhattacharya, Beyond the Myth, 274.
34. Mustafa Online, “About Us.”
35. Bhattacharya, Beyond the Myth, 274–7.
36. Bhattacharya, Beyond the Myth, 280.
37. Bhattacharya, Beyond the Myth, 280.
38. B. Dolven, “Shoppers’ Paradise,” Far Eastern Economic Review (3 September 1998), 45–46. (From ProQuest via NLB’s eResources website)
39. Bhattacharya, Beyond the Myth, 280.
40. Bhattacharya, Beyond the Myth, 280.
41. Bhattacharya, Beyond the Myth, 275.
42. Corrine Kerk, “The Mustafa School of Business,” Business Times, 28 November 1996, 50. (From NewspaperSG)
43. “At Least 180,000 Shoppers Throng the Store Each Year,” Straits Times, 23 September 1994, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
44. Kerk, “Mustafa School of Business.” 
45. “Shoppers Throng the Store.”
46. Kerk, “Mustafa School of Business.” 
47. Yeow Pei Lin, “Now Mustafa’s Doing Roaring Business Online,” Straits Times, 30 May 1999, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
48. Rashiwala, “Retailer Mustafa to Develop”; Bhattacharya, Beyond the Myth, 277.
49. Leow, “Mustafa Told to Stop Selling.” 
50. Arti Mulchand, “24 Hour Shopping Comes to Mustafa’s,” Straits Times, 11 June 2003, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
51. Zaccheus, “Mustafa’s Posh New Look.” 
52. “Outlet at Bashundhara City Mall.” 
53. Mok, “Smaller Firms Tapping Bond Markets,”
54. Enterprise 50, “Winners.”
55. Kerk, “Man Who Built Mustafa Centre.” 
56. Sim, “Buy in Bulk Cheaply.”
57. Ong Kia Xuan, “Satay Maker among 5 Muslim Firms Honoured,” Straits Times, 14 February 2015, 8. (From NewsapeprSG)
58. “Our People,” Mustafa Online, accessed 4 October 2016.  

Further resource
Create Distinct Niches to Gain an Edge, Retailers Told,” Straits Times, 15 July 1995, 25. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as of 2016 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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