Pushpa Bector’s executive leadership and management skills have played a significant role in DLF becoming a force to reckon with in India’s shopping centre space
New Delhi: In an industry like retail real estate that is riddled with gender stereotypes, Pushpa Bector is a renowned name. She has been the driving force for DLF malls, the real estate giant which has been the pioneer of retail revolution in India.
Pushpa Bector joined DLF Ltd. to expand food courts in its malls. Almost 17 years later, Bector is in-charge of not just running the half a dozen DLF malls but also expanding the New Delhi-based real estate giant’s presence into newer markets.
Backed by more than two decades of business management experience, Bector’s executive leadership and management skills have played a significant role in DLF becoming a force to reckon with in India’s shopping centre space. Over the years, Bector has set new benchmarks for the industry and stands tall as a torchbearer for women in leadership roles, especially in retail.
In an exclusive interaction with Shopping Centre News, Pushpa Bector, Senior Executive Director, DLF Retail talks about her retail journey with DLF Malls, highlighting the evolution, biggest changes, and ambitions of the group.
What were the key milestones and achievements during your long journey in retail real estate.
I would rate DLF Promenade as my first achievement. When we started DLF Promenade, right from the repositioning of the mall to the name change (earlier it was DLF Vasant Kunj) to getting the right brands and the marketing, it had to be done from the word go.
We were clear that DLF Promenade must be repositioned as the fashion destination for Delhi NCR, and we achieved it in three months. To bring in quality in terms of footfall, consumers and sales was a big redefining moment.
The incredible journey of Mall of India, was another key milestone. It was a greenfield opportunity to create the best destination mall in the country. Filling up the huge retail space of 2 million square feet (sq. ft.), with quality and value- based brands, was a defining moment not just for DLF but also the retail infrastructure in India.
The third accomplishment was holding up to the retail ecosystem during the pandemic…handling the whole crisis, becoming a trendsetter and coming out stronger from all the unprecedented challenges.
We weeded out the weaker brands, but at the same time supported the brands in a very transparent way. And as retail picked up, we started commanding much better handles and continue to do so.
Commons at DLF Avenue, Saket was another highlight too. It was a ‘pandemic baby’ and a differentiated product. We at DLF started food courts and now there’s no food court, we created Commons.
Please give us an overview of the projects in your portfolio.
Going by the DLF portfolio of malls, we have almost six and a half million sq. ft. of retail space. Out of this, three million is under construction.
I would categorize our properties into different product types. Mall of India is a destination mall. Then there are city centre malls, including DLF Avenue, DLF Promenade and the upcoming mall in Goa. These are 5,50,000 sq. ft. retail spaces with the Goa project coming up in a 7,00,000 sq. ft. of retail space.
DLF Cyber Hub, is a differentiated anchor-based setup in Gurugram. We also have almost a million sq. ft. space for office amenities, which is another aspect we are looking at. There are six more in the pipeline.
How have DLF malls been performing financially?
For DLF malls, the year has been a good one. We are expecting a growth of 20%, in profitability terms from the previous financial year. Although the market slowed down a bit in April, it has been on the rise since then and should reach a peak during September- October.
The footfall has gone up. The interesting part is that the spending per footfall has gone up, which means people are discovering digitally and then shopping at a mall.
What’s the new buzz at DLF malls, from a consumer behaviour and trends perspective? Please highlight the impact associated with this.
Buyers are more digitally savvy now. Their shopping is highly planned and they do a lot of research before they buy. We find that they are more They are serious, educated and explored than they used to be earlier.
What we have observed is that millennials have started spending, and their shopping patterns are different from other generations, because of their approach to work. F&B has taken off in a big way, and millennials are driving it. They hangout and dine out more— sometimes three to four times a week—and hence, the vibrancy is visible in the malls.
The other thing which I am seeing as a trend is that certain categories in the luxury segment are really doing well. Athleisure is one such category. We did athleisure as a zone at Cyber Hub, way before the pandemic and see how much this category has boomed in the last two years. The timing was right, and I think the consumer has matured now. The online versus offline debate is settled forever.
Today, consumers are clear about what they want to buy online. They also want to shop as an experience.
What makes DLF unique, is it the concept, or differentiating each mall from the previous one?
We at DLF do not follow the mob-mentality. We are trend- setters and we have been doing this through decades of retail development in India.
We look at the catchment and then see how we can differentiate in it. For Avenue, we strategically thought to give F&B the edge as a category. We thought of introducing new brands, but not in the form of a regular food court. We therefore went for a series of casual dining restaurants at Commons considering the location was South Delhi.
If you look at the mall coming up in Goa, it is again a different story. Goa is a fresh market and hence we will be going to do a Mall of India concept there. A concept of four levels of retail and one level of F&B would work quite well in Goa. There is enough F&B by the shacks and seaside, hence the focus should be on retail.
It is all about what a catchment requires at a particular point, be it retail, luxury or F&B. We are clear in our positioning of that property and then do everything around that positioning. I think that’s the difference DLF makes…it’s what we bring to the retail infrastructure across properties.
What is new category-wise at DLF’s malls? Any specific changes you have made?
If we take the Mall of India, for example, we have got almost 100 new brands during the pandemic and post pandemic period. When we reopened, we caught the opportunity of making the mall a more premium property, because that market had evolved.
Noida is becoming a premium market as a lot of people are shifting there. The population is increasing and so is the demand. Hence, we are strengthening premium brands at the Mall of India, making full use of the opportunity.
As far as Delhi malls are concerned, they have been the gateway for new brands to enter the Indian retail market. DLF malls have been pioneers in this area, and we have been utilising this opportunity in every possible way.
Apart from this, F&B has emerged as another huge trend in recent years. We saw this category as a differentiation product and hence created Commons at DLF Avenue. Despite the presence of Select Citywalk and its retail portfolio, we decided as a strategy, to strengthen F&B and hence added new brands to Commons, which has paid off.
We still think that Avenue has got a good and long way to go, to grow and become even better. In future, we’re going to be introducing quite a few similar concepts.
Please elaborate on DLF’s expansion plans.
The new projects in Gurugram and Goa are under construction and will be ready by 2025 or so. We are also coming up with two plazas in Gurugram and West Delhi.
The Goa Mall will have five levels. Four levels of retail and one level of F&B. Goa, as a market, I think will be a good retail market for us.
Any revamp in the pipeline for any of the malls?
We are considering DLF Emporio for some changeover and refurbishment. We are doing a lot currently, wherever there is an opportunity, we are expanding and adding space accordingly.