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Expect steady expansion for retail real estate: Harshvardhan Neotia, Ambuja Neotia Group

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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.

Padma Shri Harshvardhan Neotia, Chairman, Ambuja Neotia Group, speaks about his retail journey, the group’s strategic vision and industry trends

In 1999, Harshvardhan Neotia, Chairman of the Kolkata-based Ambuja Neotia Group, bid for a tender for an office-cum-shops structure in Kolkata. “We didn’t really have an idea what we’d bid for,” he recalled. The bid was for a mall, a concept unfamiliar to India at the time, and led to the development of India’s second shopping centre—City Centre—which was twice the size of Mumbai’s Crossroads, the country’s first mall.

Neotia went on to develop several landmark retail projects that have redefined the shopping experience in the country. These projects include shopping malls, retail complexes, and mixed-use developments strategically located in key urban centres.

Encouraged by the success of City Centre, the model was replicated, resulting in the establishment of six malls across Kolkata, Siliguri, Haldia, Raipur, and Patna.

Neotia’s vision for these projects goes beyond mere retail spaces; he aims to create vibrant destinations that offer a holistic shopping, dining, and entertainment experience for consumers.

In an exclusive interaction with IndiaRetailing the shopping centre veteran and Padma Shri awardee talks about his retail journey, highlighting the evolution, biggest changes, vision and goals of the group.

How has this year been for the group? 

This year has presented its share of challenges and opportunities for our shopping malls as well as residential projects. We have remained resilient and focused on delivering value to our customers and stakeholders despite the complexities of the financial cycle. Each of our six malls has performed admirably, adapting to changing market dynamics and consumer preferences and the reason is very simple.

Our pursuit transcends conventional retail, as we aspire to craft immersive spaces fostering social connections, curated events, and vibrant activities. Each of our malls emerges not merely as a commercial entity but as a pulsating nucleus for community engagement and collective enjoyment.

How do you adapt to changing consumer behaviour? 

The evolving consumer behaviour poses a substantial challenge for retail real estate. We recognise the need to stay agile and responsive to these changes, ensuring that our malls remain relevant and appealing to modern consumers. Embracing innovation, integrating cutting-edge technology, and curating experiential offerings are integral to addressing this challenge and positioning our retail spaces for sustained success.

Having said that, changes and shifts in consumer behaviour are also opportunities for us to evolve and be better versions of ourselves. We perceive these trends and shifts as a cue to elevate the overall shopping experience, by integrating new trends, leveraging cutting-edge technologies, and implementing customer-centric initiatives.

This strategic vision is designed to position City Centre malls at the forefront of retail, ensuring that we not only adapt to the changing dynamics but also set new standards for value and satisfaction for our discerning visitors.

How has your category mix evolved to reflect the change?

There’s a palpable shift in the dynamics of category mix within shopping malls. At City Centre malls, we remain vigilant in assessing market trends and discerning consumer preferences to fine-tune our offerings.

The recalibrated category mix now embodies a harmonious fusion of fashion, food, entertainment, and leisure options. This thoughtfully curated blend caters to diverse audience segments, enriching the overall shopping experience for our visitors.

Food & Beverage, fine dining, and family entertainment centres (FEC)/multiplexes have been accorded heightened importance in our malls. We recognise the potential of these categories in driving foot traffic and enhancing the overall mall experience.

Is FEC the new hot spot in retail?

FECs are undeniably emerging as focal points in the retail landscape, providing a versatile array of entertainment options for families and individuals alike. The response to FECs within our malls has been exceptionally positive, underscoring their widespread popularity among our discerning visitors.

Earlier location and retail mix were crucial for a mall. Is today all about experience and luxury?

While location and retail mix remain important factors, the success of malls today is increasingly tied to the overall experience they offer. The infusion of luxury and experiential offerings has become paramount in not only attracting but also retaining customers, mirroring the shift in consumer preferences towards a more immersive and gratifying shopping environment.

Do you incorporate sustainability in malls?

Sustainability and environmental concerns are integral to our mall operations and design. We prioritize energy efficiency, waste management, and green initiatives to minimize our environmental footprint and create healthier, more sustainable spaces for our communities.

Which marketing tactics have helped drive footfall and sales?

Effective marketing and promotional tactics, such as events, promotions, and partnerships, have proven successful in driving foot traffic and increasing sales for our tenants. By understanding our audience and delivering targeted campaigns, we maximize engagement and enhance the overall mall experience.

What are your growth projects for the sector in the new fiscal?

Retail real estate is poised for growth, capitalising on a healthy economic outlook. Anticipating an upward trajectory, we expect a steady expansion in the sector for the coming year. This growth is fuelled by heightened consumer spending, ongoing urbanisation trends, and the persistent demand for experiential retail destinations.

In navigating the challenges of the retail real estate sector, strategies such as diversification, innovation, and collaboration are crucial. By embracing technology, sustainability, and customer-centric initiatives, real estate players can mitigate risks and seize opportunities for growth and recovery.

Has the approach of retailers to stores openings changed over the years?

From a brand perspective, opening a new store at the mall now involves a greater emphasis on creating unique, immersive experiences for customers. Brands are increasingly focusing on customization, personalisation, and engagement to differentiate themselves and drive footfalls.

What’s next for malls from an experience perspective?

Experiential retail is on the brink of transforming the shopping paradigm, focusing not only on transactions but also on creating memorable, engaging moments for visitors. Innovations such as interactive displays, immersive technologies, and curated events will play a key role in this evolution. The physical shopping experience remains not only relevant but also irresistibly captivating in the face of digital commerce.

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