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Bringing Luxury to Thane

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Viviana Mall in Thane, Mumbai, is Sheth Developers’ inaugural venture into retail. Spread over 1 million sq.ft., the mall encompasses more than 261 stores comprising 20 anchor and mini-anchors tenants across 3 floors of prime retail and leisure space. The company has hired US-based Development Design Group to develop the property. Ashwin Sheth, MD, Sheth Developers & Realtors, tells Nivedita Jayaram Pawar that the satellite town of Thane with its attractive economic drivers is the right choice of location for a mall like Viviana

Why did you choose Thane?

Over the years, Thane has undergone a complete make over from an industrial hub to a well-developed city in itself. The city has witnessed growth of commercial office and retail spaces, which has also helped in the growth of the area. Thane with its own character and economic drivers, including large businesses, has driven the demand for residential properties mostly in the last five years and has witnessed the demand across the stratum from one-BHK houses to luxurious apartments. The region has evolved as a satellite town to the MMR similar to what Gurgaon and Noida are to the capital and Chandigarh is to Punjab/Haryana. The concept of walk-to-work is also gaining momentum in Thane as major IT/ITES corporates are now choosing it as their new destination to set-up offices, which is further contributing to the demand of homes, supporting the growth of residential and commercial real estate in the town.
Cost advantage is the main cause of the rise in demand for residential spaces in Thane, which is coupled with good infrastructure and good connectivity by rail and road to other locations of Mumbai. The lifestyle quotient of the city is also changing with numerous retail options, multiplexes and other leisure facilities coming to the town with biggest of spaces and offerings. With the development of malls, multiplexes, the influx of big retailers, cosmopolitan population and modern lifestyle, it is also witnessing migration from across Mumbai.

Good malls always have a story to tell. What’s the Viviana story?

Being the flagship project by Sheth Developers, Viviana is our most ambitious project till date. We have aimed to create an iconic destination that will constantly surprise and stimulate visitors with its vibrant mix of unique retail and entertainment concepts. We are confident that our offerings will form an integral part of our commitment towards the community at large in providing a world-class shopping experience, thus resetting benchmarks in retail shopping at Thane. With the supreme brands made available all under a single roof, we strongly feel that our customers will truly rediscover the way they shop.

What is the brand mix of the mall?

Encompassing over 240 stores, Viviana will house 19 anchor tenants for the first time in the country. The brand mix of the mall includes Shoppers Stop, Marks & Spencer, Lifestyle and HyperCity for the first time in Thane. The mall will also house Forever 21 for the first time in the eastern suburbs of Mumbai. In addition, brands and outlets such as Manchester United Café, Cream Center, Clarks, Inc. 5, Pepe Jeans, Gloria Jean’s Coffee, Tanishq, Ethos, Being Human, US Polo Assn, Esbeda, and Hidesign will be available for the first time in Thane. Some of the international brands present in the mall are Calvin Klein , FCUK , Zara, Jack & Jones, Only, Vero Moda, Gas, Nautica, Celio, and Tissot.

How is Viviana different from other malls in India?

Viviana boasts of a unique tenant mix – a megaplex with 14 screens and 19 anchor tenants for the first time in the country. The mall will also house India’s largest Bata store, spread across 20,000 sq.ft. Covering 10,00,000 sq.ft., Viviana has achieved a significant milestone by opening 4,00,000 sq.ft. of retail space on day one.

Tell us something about the uniqueness of Viviana design.

To develop the mall, we have partnered with Development Design Group from USA, which is an internationally renowned planning, architecture and design company. The design aesthetics and material standards are very high and the attempt has been to provide a “best-in-class” environment for a high-quality shopping experience. The design matches international standards not only with its unique architecture but also with its thoughtfulness towards providing best of facilities such as an ideal mother-care room and designated parking for physically challenged along with the grandeur it offers all along circulation spaces.
The most special feature of this project is the fantastic customer-friendly circulation pattern both external and internal which will ensure that mall footfalls convert into store footfalls. All the levels are connected so well visually, not leaving a single store unattended. The icing on the cake is its distinct architecture with great frontage making it a landmark hard to miss.
Courtyard plaza is a beautifully designed landscape area serving as a transition space from drop-off to mall entry. The space is flanked with F&B outlets on both sides, has informal seating spaces, water features, etc, forming an ideal hang-out space for all age groups. It also creates a positive environment welcoming customers for exploring the interiors with greater shopping experience.
The roofing systems adopted for all atria and food court of mall comprise excellent acoustical and heat insulation values supported by stunning truss designs. All the roofs have clear-storey glazing all along their running length filtering ample natural light in the mall. Thermatek tiles have been used for terrace, which act as an effective reflective material for heat reduction, and modifoam wall panels are used for better heat insulation value.
Mall building has been designed to protect and enhance the local environment. The greenery around the property is planned in such a way that it helps reduce the heat surrounding the mall since the heat around the shopping centre radiates the heat back to the building leading to increase in discomfort and load on HVAC system. Keeping the food court odour confined to the area is the biggest challenge and a separate AHU with a lot of fresh air system has been installed for this purpose. To maintain a healthy indoor environment, a 30 percent increased ventilation and MERV 13 filters have also been installed, ensuring that the occupants always have more fresh air and less pollutants in the air. Keeping sustainability in mind, the major construction materials used are regional and with very high recycled contents.

How have you merged the aspects of the local culture into the architecture?

We have hired leading international design and architectural consultants to create an international shopping destination. However, we strongly felt the need for also bringing in an element of the Indian culture that will truly enhance the retail experience for our customers. The design of the mall is based on the concept of contemporary design with classical architecture. Contemporary design comprises excellent space planning with respect to both the interiors and exteriors of the mall, creating a customer-friendly environment. Glimpses of classical architecture can been seen through decorative stone plasters, trellises, canopies, landscaped courtyard, and grand entrance on the exteriors and a voluminous atria with interesting roof structures, decorative trusses in the interiors.

While national and international retailers set the brand positioning of a mall, regional tenants add uniqueness to it, which help them stand out of the crowd. What’s the regional flavour at Viviana?

A balanced tenant mix helps enhance the shopping experience of customers. While we have on board some of the major international and national brands, the mall also houses some of the renowned regional brands such as Hastakala (women’s ethic wear brand), Blur (accessories brand), Zoo (children’s apparel brand) and L’effet (women’s ethic wear brand).
The leasing and brand team had conducted a study on the need to incorporate regional brands in the tenant mix and consumers receptiveness to the same. Based on consumer feedback and industry analysis, we decided to incorporate the above-mentioned brands in our tenant mix.

Tell us something about the positioning of the mall.

Through our retail offerings, we aim at resetting benchmarks in Thane and Mumbai by providing the best-in-class community destination that has been strategically designed to ensure delight to both, the shoppers and retailers.
Viviana offers its shoppers countless choices when it comes to shopping, food and entertainment, thus giving them an experience of “endless discoveries,” which is its tagline.

What is your assessment of the mall scene in India?

While the sector was facing a slowdown post 2008, the shopping centre industry has shown signs of recovery with the opening up of FDI in retail. According to the industry analysts and reports, major national and international brands are on an expansion spree, and this will in turn boost the sector in terms of retail real estate space. There might also be an uptrend in leasing activity from retailers in 2013. This may result in an upward movement in retail rents, particularly in the second half of 2013 across most cities.

What challenges you faced while building Viviana? How did you deal with those?

Our endeavour has always been to bring the best to our consumers through our offerings. Being our flagship retail project, our vision was to create an iconic retail destination that would uplift the retail experience of our consumers with each visit. Right from the sheer size of the magnanimity and vibrant tenant mix to the international partners and consultants in design and architecture, we have aimed to create nothing but the best. The biggest challenge was to put this vision into action; however, with the assistance of our retail partners, international consultants and best-in-class professionals on the project, marketing and leasing fronts, we have been successful in what we set out to achieve.

Tell us something about the retail real estate trends in the country. How will it will affect the overall shopping centre industry?

Over the last decade, there has been a shift in the shopping habits of the consumers. Malls have emerged as the new destinations for leisure, entertainment and shopping needs. Today, customers are looking for an overall experience, which malls offer as compared to the retailers on high street. One can also observe that mall development is now moving from metros to tier II and III cities. This sector has immense potential, which is still untapped.
According to the industry reports, approximately 5 percent of the Indian retail market is organised, which is minuscule as compared to Western economies where modern retail is over 80 percent. Analysts forecast that this sector is likely to grow at 25 percent per year till 2020, which indicates the large opportunity in this sector.

Minimum guarantee or fixed rentals – which according to you is a better model and why?

A good retailer–developer relationship is inevitable for the growth of any retail entity. This relationship throws the challenge of discovering and understanding each other’s needs, developing respect for each other’s businesses and becoming partners in progress of the overall retail industry of a country.
Retailers and developers need to work like partners to establish a right balance and create a healthy model. Ours is a relationship where by adopting minimum gaurantee and revenue share we have tried to achieve a healthy balance.

Do you think India is ready for new malls considering its present economic conditions?

Considering the rise in disposable income and higher standards of living, customers are now aspiring for international retail and leisure destinations in the country. However, there are several factors that a developer needs to consider for retail real estate development in India. These are assessing the demand supply in the market; in-depth study of the location, catchment, etc; unique retail offerings (vibrant tenant mix); and thorough understanding of the business model. If the mall design, tenant mix and zoning are planned keeping the target audience in mind, one can attract a fair amount of footfalls.

How do you think the opening of FDI in retail will help mall developers in terms of footfalls, investments, and returns?

While a lot has been spoken about FDI in retail, the policy is still undergoing deliberation in the industry department. Also so far only 13 states and union territories have expressed support for the policy. According to the industry analysts, FDI norms may take a year or more to stabilise. Opening up of the FDI in retail will definitely increase the demand for retail real estate as international brands will now want to enter the Indian market. This will also have an impact on the footfalls as people who have been aspiring for these brands will now actually get a sense and feel of it in the Indian retail market.

According to the latest study by ASSOCHAM, malls across India are facing huge vacancy rates. How do you plan to tackle this?

As disposable incomes are getting higher, the average shopper is becoming younger and retailers are facing a new-age challenge “loyalty.” The only way to make them come again and again would be through new attractions such as a change in the tenant mix, periodic revamp of the mall and organising promotional events. Most importantly, the tenants in major shopping centres must bring to the property high comparison of quality goods and services in popular fashion and retail categories that the customer demands because a mall is a habit, but to keep a loyal customer base, it has to change its offerings and be dynamic.

What are your other shopping centre projects?

Viviana is our maiden retail venture. We have not planned for any retail projects as of now.

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