Thursday, August 6, 2009

One-Way High Streets and Mall Footfalls

The front page of Times of India (Bangalore edition) today proclaimed loudly, “MG Road will be one-way for a while”. What worse news than this for Retailers in and around this area! And Economic Times (Bangalore edition) which is also owned and published by the same Bennett Coleman and Co., created headlines, quite literally, how the upcoming Mantri Mall has remained “unscathed” by global retail slump. With due regards to those who write such news items, one would agree that good research is a “MUST” before writing such articles. For starters, Mantri Mall was conceived in the year 2004/05 and leasing started even before Indian Retail hit its peak in 07/08, before coming down to realistic levels a few months ago. Most of the Retailers have been signed quite well in advance and the Mall is ready to commence operations within a few weeks time. So, the Mall space was not signed like, six weeks back! And by the way, this would be the first and only Mall (for now) to have a direct connection from the Malleswaram Metro Rail station – what a way to bring customers to the Mall. Wow.

In Mall Management, Space leasing discussions (with Retailers and Leasing companies) start almost along with Mall design and construction. As the construction proceeds in phases, Key Anchor(s) are signed up, who occupy almost 50% of the total space that’s available. And then, the smaller ones are signed up, leaving it lastly to “fillers” or last moment concepts. This is historical and usually followed all over the world. Large Retailers in India such as The Future Group, Reliance Retail, Shoppers Stop, TRENT, etc. also play “consultants” to Mall developers in terms of space and adjacency planning, provision of utilities and facilities including Mall entrances/exits and even Car parking. This helps quite a bit as the Retailers have much better experience and exposure due to their large scale operations in India and abroad, while the Mall Developer could be a budding Real Estate Company. There are only two kinds of Malls – the successful ones & the others. The first category is usually because of the unstinted support & commitment from the key Retail partners & Leasing Companies. The second category is also largely due to the same reason (pun intended!!).

Coming back to my title – the first thing that consumers would get in their mind after reading the “MG Road one-way” article is to avoid visiting/passing through MG Road/ Brigade Road over the weekend. The proposed routes are not only long, but illogical (according to me, but I am not a town-planning expert, you see) and tiresome, wasting valuable shopper time and automobile fuel. Even if it was such an important issue, the news item could have been articulated better. As it is, footfalls on MG Road have seen a sharp decline over the past year and a half, thanks to construction of Metro Rail piers. Parking was always a key concern and Retailers in the area were battling this with utmost courage. And now, a one-way comes into place.

Dashera-Diwali shopping is expected to commence in two-week’s time and this area would usually see a surge in traffic – humans as well as vehicles. This is all set to drown this year. Retailers downtown have just started to recover from the slump and were expecting the “season-shopping” to boost Sales. Unfortunately, they have to wait for a few more months, probably just ahead until Christmas.

A parking complex was not just a requirement, but a necessity in this area. The City Corporation planned this (for once) very well in advance, and commissioned a Multi-storey parking lot close to Brigade Road. However, due to “various” reasons, this parking lot ended up becoming a Mall… - The Garuda Mall. So, today most consumers think they could drive into Garuda, park their vehicles and shop within and not step into MG Road/Brigade. For those who know the charm of these areas, they would know what it means to be seen on MG & Brigade. To Shoppers. And for even those who walk, simply.

Bangalore has two large Malls, Forum and Garuda and over a dozen smaller Malls (mostly neighborhood) and other Large-format Stores. For a city of 8 million people, assume 1% of them would be those who could shop at High-streets and Malls including premium and luxury products. That’s 80,000 people. If half of them were to be seen in the busiest shopping areas together, trust me, we don’t have enough walking space, forget car parking! And many shoppers visit their locality for most household needs and avoid the ever-crowded shopping hubs.

Need of the hour are new Malls – with lots of space. Mantri would fill the gap immediately. And then the upcoming Brigade Mall. And then the Shobha. And so on. In the next five years, over 2 million sqft of Retail areas would be made available for shopping, including parking facilities for over 50,000 vehicles. By then, (hopefully), the market would have grown. The demand-supply mismatch is expected to continue atleast for the next 5-7 years, by when things would have stabilized quite a bit.

One’s loss is another’s gain, they say. MG Road’s loss should be somebody else’s gain. Sadly, not to be. We don’t have so much of Retail Space in this city, for the city-dwellers to relax, unwind, congregate, consume. Not for the time-being. Instead, many would be glued to their television sets. And many more, reading the same newspapers on weekends, increasing their readership. Such is life.