28 October, 2009

Ampa Skywalk – Newest in Chennai

I couldn’t resist visiting the newest Mall in Chennai – Ampa Skywalk last week. The first of its kind in North Chennai, this Mall has been in the making for over five years now. In my previous stint at Benetton, we managed to get two outlets for the Brand – one in the Ground floor and the other in the Second (exclusively for kids). While it took more than three years to finish the construction, it took as much time probably to get all the necessary approvals. And the final product is worth the wait as many would believe. Located along the ubiquitous Cooum River, this five storey structure has a colour combination on the exterior that’s almost impossible to miss. Lots of colourful alucobond and glass with very little concrete gives it a different look than its few counterparts in the city. Located on a corner plot, the Mall is expected to cater largely to the surrounding residential areas –parts of Anna Nagar, Nungambakkam, Aynavaram and Kilpauk. Maybe for the first few months, this would be a Destination because of its novelty, but once the upcoming “Express Avenue” is ready, all the focus in town is about to turn towards it. (Will write more about EA later).

Entry into the mall is from Nelson Manickam Road while the exit leads into Poonamallee High Road. Parking is managed by Central Parking Services, (the same one who operates at Bengaluru International Airport) its first big project in Chennai and also a leader in providing parking solutions in south India, aiming to grow all across the country in the coming years. The height of the car parking areas is quite comfortable (even for SUVs or for novice drivers of small cars) and the ramp that leads to different levels is quite spacious – the turning radius is very minimal and thereby provides comfort while driving. Every floor of parking has an entrance into the Mall – something that could have be combined with two floors (like in Forum Bangalore) thereby saving ton loads of concrete and construction material. Open wires and drainage pipes are visible all over but this could be very nicely covered with advertising/mall communication panels. Only 40% of space is occupied yet and the rest in under fit-out stage

First impression as one gets into the Mall – impressive, by Chennai standards. I quite liked the spacious Atrium from where one could see the famous “Skywalk” – a bridge that connects two sides of the top floor which would house PVR Cinemas as an anchor. This would be the first location for PVR Cinemas (preceded by INOX in 2006 at Chennai Citi Centre). There are over 100 Cinema screens in Chennai city limits and the ticket prices are almost 50% of those that are charged at these multiplexes. So, I would be curious to see their pricing and marketing strategy as time goes.

The Mall has more than one anchor – PVR for Entertainment, Westside for apparel, Landmark for Leisure, Star Bazaar as a Hyper for home-needs, Mc Donalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, TGI Friday, a 200 seater food court, a couple of speciality restaurants and a very large entertainment centre for children and the young at heart. Although the F&B Outlets may not be technically classified as “anchors”, they do more or less the same job as the anchors – to act as a destination and to pull consumers into the Mall. Cafe Coffee Day, La Boulangerie (a chennai based gourmet and speciality bakery chain), Booster Juice, Cookieman and Kalmane coffee bring in a fresh lease of life in every floor as they are massively spread across. I spoke to my friend from JLL who was part of the floor-design and he gave a strange logic used by the developers – that every floor, along the car parking exit would have an F&B joint – a cafe, bakery etc. I hope this works.

On product retail, the line-up is impressive: Benetton, Levi’s, Will Lifestyle, Lee, Zodiac, Metro & Mochi, Peter England, Allen Solly etc. The surprise ones are Bossini and Health and glow – it’s quite some time that we remembered these brands, but nice to see them here though. Zimsons, a leading player in premium and luxury watches has several stores for different categories on the Ground Floor. Given that there are very few premium watch stores in the city, this is sure to draw in the right crowds. The positioning of the escalators that go up and come down looks nice – but they do not seem to circulate footfalls. This is a very important aspect in Malls – afterall, driving footfalls to the Mall is quite easier than driving them along the corridors, in front of the stores. Light colored marble flooring make the floor look cleaner and larger.

The most interesting part is that the Food court called F3 that stands for “Food, fun and frolic” offers a pre-paid card. On payment of INR 10, a smart-card is given that can be loaded with currency in denominations of INR 10 and this single card could be used across all the outlets. Sounds interesting, as it makes life easier for diners – they don’t have to wait in long queues at cash tills while the cashier is struggling for returning change. It is also a great way to increase consumption – shoppers would load for a minimum and may not consume for all the amounts, so they would come back regularly to this place. The only glitch seems to be the cash-flow for the operators – I doubt if the settlements would be done even once in a week. That means, they have to wait for the bi-monthly/monthly cycle to get their turnover that is collected by the Mall Developer. But this is a good way to keep a tab on the Sales – since most of the Malls are now following the Revenue share model and thereby, this becomes easier to track every transaction that occurs at the various outlets.

Overall, this is a welcome inclusion in the city and am sure this would continue to serve very well as a friendly neighbourhood mall for a long time to come, I guess.

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