Hong Kong investment firm acquires Popular bookstore chain

In a significant shakeup in the retail book industry, the prominent Popular bookstore chain has been sold to the Hong Kong-based investment company ZQ Capital, reports the Chinese newspaper Lianhe Zaobao.

While the financial details of the transaction remain private, the acquisition marks a new chapter for the storied bookstore chain, which has been a staple in Southeast Asia since its inception.

Popular Holdings, the parent company of Popular bookstore, operates a widespread network of retail outlets, with a significant presence in Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong, totaling 169 stores.

The firm also has extended its reach into e-learning, publishing, and property development sectors. Notably, its expansion efforts have recently focused on China, where it has established several offices.

ZQ Capital, known for an investment strategy resilient to market volatility and focused on long-term industry leaders in China, is poised to leverage Popular’s robust presence in the region.

The acquisition has precipitated the retirement of Popular’s CEO, Chou Cheng Ngok, as indicated in a communication to the company’s Malaysian suppliers. Despite the change in ownership, assurances have been given that Popular’s core values, operations, and employee remuneration will not be disrupted.

Looking ahead, Popular aims to redefine itself as a comprehensive education service provider, capitalizing on opportunities in the burgeoning markets of China and Southeast Asia.

This strategic pivot builds on Popular’s deep roots that trace back to 1924 when it began as Cheng Hing Company, evolving from a comic book specialist into a leading Chinese book retailer following a merger with World Book Company.

Incorporated in Singapore in 1996 and previously listed on the Singapore Exchange, Popular Holdings was taken private by Mr. Chou and his wife in 2015. Since its delisting, the chain has diversified its offerings to include a variety of non-book items to adapt to the evolving consumer landscape.

Nevertheless, Popular has faced challenges with decreased foot traffic and rising operational costs, leading to the closure of several outlets in recent years.

The acquisition by ZQ Capital could provide the necessary impetus for Popular to navigate the competitive retail environment and emerge with a stronger foothold in the market.

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