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The inaugural session of India Shopping Centre Forum (ISCF) 2009 kicked off with a bang in Mumbai. The back to back sessions that focused on the India overview and the way forward from the retailer’s perspective had the audience in grip.

The forum started out on an optimistic note where developers and retailers are urged to come together and share ideas. Anchor Jayant Kochar, MD, Go Fish Retail Solutions inaugurated the session explaining that when two ideas are put together then there is a win-win situation unlike profits and losses for that matter.

Pranay Sinha, MD Starcentres initiated the panel discussion by pointing out some of the reasons why the shopping centers have not been doing well of late. He observed, “There is an unhealthy competition, ignorance in planning, too much of euphoria and hype but no proper mixing of retail options for consumers. This is what translates into irrelevant market places. Also the equilibrium between the retailer, developer and the consumer gets affected.”

He further added that it is the high streets that are giving competition to the malls since the Indian consumer still loves to shop at the organic retail places that have existed for decades now. So the mall builders should pick out some fine points from them.

Not quiet agreeing to this notion, Arjun Sharma, director, Select CityWalk, said, “Organised retail is coming up in a big way as customers would not want to shop at 45 degree heat any longer. We have some 50 brands waiting to be a part of our mall, so we can replace some of the retailers who are not very focused on their business. Thus I feel it a healthy churn out and we are here to support healthy retailers to become healthier.”

Harshvardhan Neotia, MD, Ambuja Realty tried to explain how an ideal space can be created with the example of City Centre mall of Salt Lake City, Kolkata. Neotia, brought to the table how a successful shopping centre model can have a mix and match of the high street concept as well as an arcade feel. He elucidated, “Since the design of City Centre was unconventional to begin with, we required local shop owners or entrepreneurs to buy out the high street alleys that were a part of our blueprint. Hence what we came up with was an interesting mix and match of organized as well as unorganized retail. Consumers have much appreciated the variety.”

As a way forward, Bijou Kurien, president and ED, Lifestyle and Luxury Verticals, Reliance Retail emphasized on the fact that it is important to gain consumer confidence which in turn translates into consumer spending patterns. While Amar Agarwal, MD, Spa Group felt that the much needed correction to the fundamentals is taking place at this point of time.

As an international observer, Thomas Aquizerate, MD, Segece (India) shared, “Whether it is in India or Europe, if a mall is not managed well, it is bound to fail. So it is very important to understand the target audience first to begin with. Also, the plan has to be in place for the next 20 years and not just 2 years. ”

All in all, the discussion effectively addressed the primary concerns of the retailers as well as the developers about how the markets are maturing, strategies for the challenging times and key learning points.

– Sayanti Banerjee, Mumbai Bureau

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