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Family Entertainment Centres: Malls blend retail & entertainment into winning proposition

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Sandeep Kumar
Sandeep Kumar
A multimedia journalist with over eleven years of experience in print and digital media, Sandeep Kumar is assistant editor with Images Group. Books, retail, sports and cinema are an inextricable part of his life.

The Indian shopping centre industry has been under continuous dynamic transformation since 2000. In the year 2001, there were only three malls in India. The number increased to 343 by 2007. As of 2017, India has more than 600 operational malls and going by the report of Cushman & Wakefield, the international property consultancy firm.
Such is the growing mall culture in India that 34 new shopping malls, covering 13.6 million sq. ft. area, are expected to come up in top eight cities by the year 2020. But keeping a mall alive is no piece of cake. Raking in the footfalls takes a lot of effort, a smooth process, keen management skills and above all, a deep understanding of consumers.
The connect to the consumer is paramount and only brands which sell products and services relevant to the customer are thriving. The consumers’ ambitions to reach global standards in lifestyle, coupled with high disposable incomes, are aggressively scripting a radical change in the business viability of organised retailing. Mall developers are formulating new and modern strategies and tactics to keep up with changing consumer dynamics and accordingly provide the best for their users.
No mall today can afford to operate in isolation and just be a ‘shopping’ destination. They are transforming into community spaces, bringing to the discerning consumer the best of brands, food, and entertainment. They’re hubs where people go to rejuvenate, socialise and entertain.
The Concept of Family Entertainment Centres
Shopping centres across the globe are now focusing on prime entertainment, with actual shopping taking a backseat. There are malls offering over-the-top features including indoor skihills, indoor theme parks, water parks, zoos, science centres, shooting ranges and even an underground shark tunnel.
NCR’s Mall of India has an indoor ski-range – Ski India, The Great India Place has a water park and one of the best kids play zone in town – Worlds of Wonder and Kidzania. The Grand Venice Mall in Greater Noida offers gondola rides. The Mall of America in Minnesota has an indoor amusement park, complete with a rollercoaster an underground aquarium, a water park and a gun range.
The Venetian Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas also has gondolas that ferry consumers from one designer store to another. The Berjaya Times Square shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur, has an extraordinary 48-storey complex house with a theme park, 3D cinema as well as a hotel. The idea of adding major FECs in malls has been gaining popularity rapidly over the last few years. In fact, several new malls have been constructed around the country, with substantial square footage allocated to FECs. They substantially extend a mall’s draw, lengthen shopper stay and boost sales and revenues.
The concept of FECs came into existence a long time before the mall was modernised. Randy White, CSM CEO of White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group, writes in a research paper titled ‘The Role of Entertainment in Shopping Centers & Malls’, “Ever since the mid-1950s, when the suburban enclosed mall model first evolved, entertainment has always been some part of the mix. It might only be music, a central mall court with a periodic fashion or other shows, seasonal decorations or a visit by the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. Back in the 1950s through the 1970s, away-from-home dedicated entertainment center venues where not a part of the suburban scene, so were rarely found in shopping centers and malls, unless at a tourist location.”
He says that West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada changed all that when it opened in 1981 with Fantasyland, subsequently renamed Galaxyland. With 26 rides and attractions, in 400,000 square feet, including Mindbender, the world’s tallest and longest indoor roller coaster, Galaxyland is, reportedly, the world’s largest indoor amusement park. Later entertainment additions to the mall include World Waterpark, Deep Sea Adventure, Ice Palace and Ed’s Recreation Center with bowling, a music stage, game room and restaurant.
West Edmonton Mall became a study for malls in the United States and changed the game for them completely. Today, the US is home to more than 400 amusement parks and attractions, visited by some 375 million guests each year.
The concept petered down from the US to India, but while we are still low on numbers and technology, one thing is for certain – the Family Entertainment Centre is here to stay.
“Malls are no longer just shopping destinations. Today consumer looks for experiences and entertainment surpassing the conventional shopping and spend quality time with family and friends. Maximising on digital technology, malls are enhancing customer engagement to stimulate footfalls besides boosting sales as these factors form a vital aspect of their business strategy. They are providing customers with a wide array of national and global brands, besides enabling them to enjoy with their loved ones. Apart from big box retail we are also moving towards play zones, amusements park themes, rides and engaging events, like celebrations, special campaigns, shows, summer workshops music concerts etc,” says Abhishek Bansal, Executive Director, Pacific India.
The Indian Perspective
The amusement and theme park industry in India is about two decades old and it is relatively new when compared to its origin in USA & Europe. This industry found its roots in India during mid and late 1980s with the introduction of amusement theme parks in Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai. The growth in this industry started only in the last decade and that happened possibly during the advent of globalization when economic potential of the social capital began to be perceived. FECs first grew outside the mall in the country. These were either amusements parks or water parks like Appu Ghar, Amusement Island and Essel World.
The idea of adding entertainment mix in malls only gained rapid popularity over the last few years. Several new malls have been constructed around the country, with substantial square footage allocated to FECs. Malls like DLF Mall of India, Pacific Mall, The Great India Place and The Grand Venice Mall have allocated huge spaces to create entire entertainment cities including multiplexes and food courts.
FECs: The Game Changer for the Mall
No mall today can afford to stand tall with just a bouquet of brands. Shopping, entertainment and food go hand-in-hand and perhaps that is making malls pull up their socks and offer the best from all three worlds.
“The Great India Place encapsulates not just shopping but a never-before food and entertainment experience, the mall has redefined the concept of indoor entertainment at par with international destination mall standards. The new attractions are video game arcades, bowling alleys, air shooting, pool, children’s play areas and adventure rides. Malls can’t do with just providing shopping and eating out amenities. A developer needs to cater to diversified interests in a mall and this is where entertainment zones become important,” says Mahim Singh, Mall Head, Gardens Galleria and The Great India Place.
“A large part of the audience that visits the mall is families including toddlers, tweens and teens. When the FEC culture was introduced in the Indian Mall market, we saw a dramatic shift in the purchase patterns. We realised people were leaving their children in the entertainment zones and then shopping with a relaxed mind,” he adds.
Mukesh Kumar, CEO, Infiniti Mall explains, “Shopping malls are defined as one or more buildings forming a complex of shops representing merchandisers, with interconnected walkways enabling visitors to walk from unit to unit. Having said that, they are the heart and soul of communities, the foundation of retail economies and a social sanctuary for citizens everywhere. The growing middle classes in metro cities maintain a strong association between consumption and pleasure driving the need for more engaging shopping experiences. An ageing population and increased urbanization, which means more people living in smaller spaces and a greater need for public spaces in which to socialize and congregate. If the retail is to succeed, the shopping centre needs to have a significant amount of entertainment and F&B options. It is imperative to make the mall a Family Entertainment Centre.”
Sanjeev Mehra, Vice President, Quest Properties India Limited concurs saying that Quest Mall is no longer a shopping center. “We have become an experience center now where the entire family and group love to spend time together. And to cater to the interest of all age groups, apart from F&B and entertainment, we have also created an exhibition space called The Loft which is a permanent area for pop-up art and culture.”
Pushpa Bector, Executive Vice President & Business Head, DLF Shopping Malls agrees saying, “A customer’s visit to the mall is not limited to shopping just today; rather they view it as a way of spending quality time with their family and friends. We have accounted multiple entertainment channels to ensure the desired holistic experience a customer is looking for. We have incorporated a separate entertainment hub for kids such as Funcity; for people across age groups there is Ski India, movie theatres, etc. An ideal combination of food, hospitality, entertainment touch points and of course shopping helps in creating the holistic experience that will drive a customer to the mall.”
“LuLu Mall has been able to transform the way Kerala shops. Being the first avenue for large scale organized retail in the state, we have been able to stay far ahead of the competition across the state. We keep generating various new factors because of which LuLu has become the melting pot of fashion, food, culture and entertainment. Once you create a destination value, you automatically cater to families,” says Shibu Philips, Business Head, LuLu Shopping Malls.
“FECs are an integral part of the amusement and retail industry. They provide platforms for the family – across all ages – to spend quality time together. They are also celebration points – birthday parties, family gatherings, school and college fests and even ice-breaking mall – City Centre Raipur – has been meticulously designed with elements of architectural surprises including narrow shopping aisles leading to wide open spaces, linearity broken by sequence of trees and non-air-conditioned areas extending into the air-conditioned and all with the objective of creating ‘visual excitement’. Conceptual places like Dessert Street, Dining Street, Kid’s Street, Bar Lounge, Valentine Cafe and Garden of Senses, among others have also been incorporated into the mall. The timeless Indian concept of the Ghanta Ghar, natural daylight and positive energy, water bodies, open spaces and extensive plantation has created the mall which is completely different from any other in Central India and successful in becoming a worldclass lifestyle destination, an FEC like none other,” says Pramod Ranjan Dwivedi, Head- Group Real Estate Marketing & Customer Care, Ambuja Realty Development Limited.
Manan Parulekar, Head – Business Development, Orion Mall Panvel, says FECs are a boon for kids. “FEC is one of the most major component in any mall. It is as simple as, target the kids and the parents will follow. Newest addition to Orion Mall Panvel is Timezone which has opened on the 2nd Floor. Since day one they have managed to pull in a substantial number of people. By creating a top notch look and feel they have offered Panvel a ‘never seen before’ experience. In the fi rst two months Timezone has given the mall a growth of more than 400 percent on sales over the earlier FEC. Timezone coming in has definitely added a lot of value.”
“Our FEC is zone is a pretty important mall element. Initially we just had a 16-lane bowling alley – which was iconic in itself since the norm is 8-lane bowling alley. When we saw the category specifi cally growing and the younger generation moving into the residential areas with small kids in our catchment area, we decided to initiate a plan. We designed a kids play area. Apart from this, we used the open area to install outdoor rides for children. This became a great hit – our star attraction. Now we are planning on adding rides which we hope will pull in people from as far as Pune. What makes us different – and hence attractive – is the fact that we are not a box format mall. We have a lot of open area which we use liberally. We are already in discussion with Smaaash to bring them in, and an international player for our outdoor area. We will reveal the name of the player once the deal goes through,” says Surjit Singh Rajpurohit, CEO, Amanora Mall.
Rima Pradhan, Sr. Vice President Marketing, Viviana Mall, differs a bit saying that instead of being an FEC, malls should aim to be community centres. “Malls need multiplexes, and gaming zones to heighten customer delight. We have a megaplex, Cinepolis with 14 screens and India’s fi rst 4Dx theatre. Along with it we also have a FEC – FunCity. Right from bumper cars and twilight bowling to 32 arcade games and entertainment for toddlers, the play zone sets a new standard for family entertainment. The London bus inside our mall has become a major attraction,” she states.
“In today’s time, shopping alone cannot prop up an asset. Malls are no longer just shopping destinations, but they are more of community centres. The success of a mall hugely depends on how it caters to its visitors. It is imperative for mall to cater all age groups and deliver a unique experience to them each time,” adds Anil Malhotra, Executive Dirtector, Elante Mall.
Turning Malls into Profit Centres
“FECs certainly change dynamics for a mall, when there is extra emphasis given to a user’s experience, right from the mall development phase. Experiences like rollercoaster, large adventure rides involve a high degree of initial planning, but the results are equally good for the malls,” says Abhishek Jain, CMD, Busters, a South India-based family entertainment zone.
“With FECs evolving and international brands entering the Indian market, the average size of the centres is increasing y-o-y. All this certainly contributes towards achieving a greater recognition for the industry. Also, the proportion of time and money spent in an FEC and entertainment (nonfilm) during a regular mall tripis constantly rising. FECs are drawing additional footfalls and attracting more proportion of them. It may be very early to say shopping is the number 2 attraction in malls, but yes the dynamics are slowly changing,” he adds.
“The FEC zone is very important to us since it contributes almost 18-20 percent of the total mall revenue. We’ve also noticed an almost 25 percent growth in the footfalls since the establishment of our FEC zone,” says Rajpurohit of Amanora Mall.
One winning proposition for malls is to include a multiplex, which is invariably a major crowd puller and the most popular cinema hall for most malls in India is by far, PVR Cinemas.
“The key element for the success of a mall is its ability to drive footfalls and multiplexes being a footfall generator, mall developers prefer PVR as their anchor tenant,” says Gautam Dutta, CEO, PVR Cinemas.
“We typically spend around `2.5-3 crore per screen depending on the location of the mall, development around the city, tier classifi cation of the city and future potential. Additionally, for technology towards special formats like IMAX/PXL/4DX/PlayHouse/Cinema LED Screen, this can go up by `2 crore to `10 crore.
Most malls over time have noticed a growth in footfall and average time spent after the inclusion of PVR Cinemas specifi cally and FEC zones in general.
“An FEC has positively impacted the sales at available F&B options present in City Centre Raipur, especially since kids are a very integral part of shopping decisions. It has been noticed that visitors experiencing the gaming options are more prone to spending more time at the mall compared to the ones visiting just for shopping. This has considerably increased higher per capita spending and repeat business,” says Dwivedi.
The Infi niti Mall too has seen considerable growth – approximately 15 percent footfalls contributed by its Family Entertainment Centre.
We bring you a highlight of the entertainment and luxury provided by different FEC providers in shape of shopping malls, cineplexes, amusement parks and other entertainment hubs.
– With Inputs from Surabhi Khosla

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