A mall, when combined with a theme and an entertainment zone, becomes a social space for people to visit again and again. Queency Bhasin, CEO, The Grand Venice Mall, talks about the need to create a differentiation factor as the key USP to survive in this digital age. Excerpts from the exclusive interview…
Describe the journey of your mall? What are the challenges and difficulties you had to face when you came up – from real estate to technology challenges?
This journey has been a dream comes true for us. We had started this project almost eight years ago and this is a product of our rigorous labour. We are a mega tourist destination based on a Venetian concept. This concept is very new to India. Making the architects, technologists and labours understand the concept was really difficult. They took two- three times more time than usual to create what we had dreamt of. We also need to take good care of the safety and security of people who come to visit the mall so with the complex design and concept, we still are facing a few difficulties when we work on both real estate and technology side of the mall.
What are the key elements that determine the success of a mall?
A combination of factors: location, the catchment area around it, the right retail and product mix, design and maintenance and off course size. The most important thing is to address the needs of the majority of the catchment area around it. A lot of expertise is required—the way it’s designed, the displays, the shops and part of this design is to make it possible for visitors to see as many shops as they can, where they stand. The ultimate goal is to provide an atmosphere that is conducive to consumers. This involves a careful planning of the centre to provide an effective flow of customers that gives greatest exposure to shop fronts, where merchandise is attractively displayed to encourage sales.
What role does innovation and customer centricity play in keeping a customer engaged? How is your shopping centre different from others?
Our basic idea behind conceptualizing the mall was our unique offering to the customer. Customer experience has always been at the forefront. The fact that they get enamored of the charm created around Venice gives us a feeling of satisfaction. Customer experience is our priority and we cannot afford to compromise on that. Every element in the mall is designed with the customer in mind, be it the theme, grandeur, gondola ride, food court, parking services, overall ambience, choice of brands, entertainment etc. To be concise, every corner of our mall is customer centric. Our mall is based on Italian theme. We have the Dodges Palace, Italy and other tourist elements like Fountain D’ Trevi, Statue of Julius Caesar and the clock tower – all reminiscent of Italian architecture and its glory. On the inside, there are two canals complete with Gondola rides. The inside is a replica of Venice city architecture, including the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Tell us about the physical experience, personalization, and intelligent technologies your shopping centre offers?
The Grand Venice is modern India’s first mega tourist destination operational since 2015. We are now gearing up to give our customers to have our mall experience at their finger tips. Complete digitization process is underway and the coming year we will be taking it to the next level. The mall has been designed as per international standards and introduces the unique concept of Venetian architecture. From its architecture and canals to its unique pulsating energy, the mall brings alive the magic of Venice in India. The design elements of our mall are Leaning Tower of Pisa, Gondolas and inbuilt canals for gondola rides, Julius Caeser, musical fountain and magic sky.
What’s your location strategy and why?
With nearly 100 malls in operation across the region, Delhi-NCR is the default ‘mall capital’ of the country. No other Indian city comes anywhere close to its undisputed position. In 2015-16, Delhi-NCR influenced about 60 percent of the pan-India supply and demand for retail real estate – and this scenario is unlikely to change in time to come. Greater Noida is part of the tourist circuit on Golden Triangle. The Golden Triangle is one of the fastest growing business, commercial and education hubs. Therefore, it was an ideal choice!
Importance of zoning in a mall.
Zoning allows retailers help attract both types of consumers. Under Zoning, mall developers basically formulate right tenant mix to attract both types of customers especially the impulse buyers. It creates a distinct image in the minds of the customers. Creating the right tenant mix not only helps in attracting and retaining shoppers by offering them multiple choices and satisfying multiple needs, but also facilitates the smooth movement of shoppers within the mall, avoiding unnecessary clusters and bottlenecks. In the era of competition, zoning (sectors) exercise, if done properly helps in building a separate image in the minds of the visitors. This also helps influence shoppers’ mall preference and frequency of visits, which is critical considering the robust upcoming supply of malls.
What is a brands’ location preference today? Are they looking at malls or high streets and why?
What a mall can offer, a high street can never. ”Shopping centres in Delhi NCR provide consumers with the advantage of a holistic retail experience that integrates social activities like F&B and entertainment with shopping. The success of shopping centres can be largely attributed to their constant endeavors to bring in new brands, apply excellent mall management skills and adopt critical differentiating factors. For brands today, the question isn’t where to go, what matters the most is the target audience catchment and the location. Footfalls are almost five times higher in malls than on high street locations. Malls offer the convenience of location and comfort – not just for shoppers, but also for retailers in form of building maintenance and security, parking space etc.”
International brands share the major limelight in the malls, do you think homegrown brands should be also given more space and value?
Homegrown retail brands are facing tough times in retaining their spots in top performing malls as a host of international brands make a pitch for quality real estate. Top performing malls are increasingly giving prime space to foreign retailers over domestic brands. Most mall developers have relocated or resized stores of local brands in order to accommodate big global players such as Gap, H&M, and Zara. I think homegrown brands should also be given more space and value.
Is there need for Omnichannelization of malls? Your views.
It is very essential to harmonize attention across all channels. It is also crucial to offer superior services to consumers, give them memorable and sharable experiences. The Omnichannel approach not only gives the consumer an option to venture out to shop at the store but also gives him the convenience to shop anytime, from anywhere. An Omnichannel strategy will enable retailers to re-think their business strategy in order to tap the best of both worlds and maximise on footfalls. Omni channel strategies are therefore of extreme importance and over time; both (retail & e-tail) will learn to co-exist as they are independent on each other. It is the next progressive step for shopping centres.
Elaborate on the importance of food courts and the role F&B plays in generating footfall in malls?
Food courts also boost overall sales because they offer panoramic views of what is available at the lower levels. Besides driving footfall, larger food courts are major revenue earners as they generate multiple sales. Food courts attract footfalls that are critical for the success of food business. So from quick coffees, laid back family brunches to those special and extensive dates, food courts are today fun, adventure and laughter in the form of a never heard or seen before concept. No matter how badly a mall is doing, food courts will pull crowds on their own steam.
The importance and benefits of being a Family Entertaining Centre (FEC) instead of a mall.
Malls today are redefining entertainment. Standalone gaming arcades and entertainment centres that opened before the retail boom are a thing of past. Developers are increasingly tapping into their potential and offering more than shops and restaurants. In fact, entertainment zones are catching the fancy of mall developers as an alternative to draw customers, keep them spending and even increase revenue for other tenants. The Grand Venice Mall is soon going to have Mastiii Zone, one of the most loved brands of FEC which will offer Zip Line Ride (for the first time in India), Bowling Alley, Cricket Lanes, Virtual Realty Arcade, 7D theatre, House of Dead – India’s Scariest House, Dashing Cars, Kids Play Area, Pendulum Swing, Archery & Shooting, Carnival Games and Arcade Games.
Tell us about the role that hospitality plays in generating footfalls? What are the other services that you offer? What is the importance of these services?
Hospitality has emerged as a lucrative category to keep the mall bustling. With an intent to leverage on the higher revenues generated by this segment, malls are leasing out prime ground floor spaces to bring new F&B brands within their fold. We are making it a destination for convenience needs, lifestyle shoppers, tourists, youth and children. Our Zip line is one of the first in the country and this adventure has never been a part of any mall before; we also promote art, theatre, music learning to the aspiring by having stalwarts train them.
What initiatives are taken at your end to keep footfalls rolling?
“The Grand Venice is one such mall where there are various key attractions like the Dodges Palace, water bodies, Gondola ride, and other tourist elements like Fountain de’ Trevi, Statue of Julius Caesar and the clock tower – all reminiscent of Italian architecture and its glory. On the inside, there are two canals complete with Gondola rides. The inside is a replica of Venice city architecture, including the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. We constantly try to provide wholesome family entertainment apart from best of shopping experience to all our customers. We are moving from movies to play zones to much more appealing events depending on the festival season.”
What does the future of retail hold for the malls of tomorrow?
A seismic shift in the market is underway, and retailers are racing to ensure they’re able to meet the needs of demanding shoppers. With the advent of e-commerce in 2014, realtors again started anticipating a threat. Though they didn’t get cold feet, they did start strategizing – having learnt from past mistakes – thinking of more and more creative ways to retain spending customers. Malls are constantly upgrading and evolving keeping in mind the changes in customer’s preference and are devising strategies to create better customer connect. While shopping on-line may offer a level of convenience in an otherwise busy lifestyle, the mall of the future will be based around consumer experiences that go well beyond traditional shopping.”