Snacks chain Best Mart 360 Holdings Ltd. has seen revenue drop by double digits as its stores come under attack by radical Hong Kong protesters in the ongoing anti-Beijing movement that’s gripped the city.
As protests become increasingly violent, more than 70 of its 102 stores have been vandalized in over 180 instances, Chairman Lin Tsz Fung said in an interview this week with Bloomberg TV. The company has been targeted because some protesters believe that Lin has ties to pro-Beijing gangs from the Chinese province of Fujian, an accusation he denies.
Protesters have shattered store windows and broken shelves, set goods on fire, and sprayed graffiti on walls.
“I’ve lived in Hong Kong for more than 30 years,” he said. “I don’t know how Hong Kong can become like this, a war field. The government should establish an independent inquiry committee to give Hong Kong people an explanation.”
The company’s shares fell as much as 3.9% yesterday in Hong Kong trading, compared to a 1% advance in the benchmark Hang Seng Index.
As the protest movement rages into its sixth month with few signs of resolution, tensions between demonstrators and pro-Beijing factions, including mainland citizens living in Hong Kong, have flared into violence and businesses have been dragged into the fray. In August, some Fujian natives allegedly attacked protesters with poles during a march in the North Point neighborhood, an incident that catalyzed the grudge against Best Mart.
It’s not the only business that’s regularly attacked by protesters. Starbucks Corp. outlets are also now often vandalized, after anti-protester comments made by a member of a billionaire family which operates the coffee giant’s stores in the city. And Chinese financial institutions like the Bank of China Ltd. and Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd. have seen their ATMs and branches destroyed.
On the other side, companies have also been censured by Beijing for any sign that they are supporting the movement. Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. faced a clampdown from Chinese regulators after some employees took part in demonstrations, and its chief executive and chairman resigned amid the unrest.
About 1.2 million Fujian people are living in Hong Kong, including many businessmen, out of Hong Kong’s population of 7.5 million. Lin said that it was “not very responsible” to link all Fujian people to gangs just because of the North Point incident.
Known for offering a wide collection of imported snacks at attractive prices, Best Mart 360 listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange in January. So far, it’s managed to avoid layoffs, forcing workers to go on no-pay leave, or reducing salaries, said Lin. Some of its landlords have granted the chain rental reductions ranging from 10% to 30%, he said.
Lin is trying to focus on the future: the company plans to open 15 to 20 stores in Macau next year or the year after, and it’s also exploring entering mainland China.
Despite the current situation, “we don’t have any change in our plan for Hong Kong,” he said. “I still have confidence in Hong Kong and I think this movement will pass.”
“I never thought my company could be targeted like this,” said Lin, who migrated to Hong Kong in the late 1980s. “Until today, I don’t understand why. I am innocent.” Jinshan Hong & Yvonne Man, Bloomberg