VR MD, Rohit George on Expansion Plans
“VR’S strategy is to hit the market in multiple ways. The company is looking at purchasing land and will get down into brown-field development level. The way the retail market has been played out, it is necessary to build plans for the future,” says Rohit
Virtuous Retail has been at the forefront of retail news in India over the past many years. VR, as it is better known, is the retail arm of the Xander Group, and recently marked its 10th anniversary in the retail industry.
Renowned as the forefront of building and operating cutting-edge lifestyle centres, VR Group’s objective is to serve the evolving retail market in India as well as discerning Indian consumers.
Following the successful launches of VR Surat in May 2013, VR Bengaluru in 2016, and the acquisition of North Country Mall and its subsequent conversion to VR Punjab in early 2017, the brand has now moved on to polishing the latest, exciting addition to its kitty – VR Chennai.
VR’S current portfolio comprises of 5.5 million sq. ft. of space with these four flagship centres across India. Going by its reputation of leveraging extensive capabilities across the value chain of development, ownership and operations, VR aims to grow its portfolio by adding centers in other key markets, including the National Capital Region of Delhi, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, Pune, Hyderabad and Kolkata.
VR got into the retail business exactly 10 years ago. The group was formed in 2005, ironically at a time when the retail scenario in India was in the doldrums, severely struck by soaring inflation rates.
However, the group took it slow and steady, making impactful inroads in the field to successfully establish organised retail of 4-5 percent over the
years. Today, this rate has grown to approximately 10 percent.
“Fundamentally from a macro standpoint, we have always believed in India’s consumption story. For us, the biggest challenge in the market today is to find quality real estate,” said Rohit George, Managing Director, Virtuous Retail South Asia.
At the sidelines of the India Retail Forum 2017, held in Mumbai, he said, “Back in 2007, when the market was in a similar kind of euphoria, everyone wanted to have a retail mall of his own. Be it the land owner or any real estate developer, everyone wanted to be a retail leader, irrespective of experience or background. That was the time when capital was given more importance than skill, knowledge and experience. However, over a period of time, people started realizing that retail was a very specialized business. They understood that successfully running a mall required experience and knowledge. People understood that there were certain levels of retail businesses where it was important to understand different categories and also how the market was moving. We figured out that it was important to hire a team of professionals to design an effective retail space.”
The Market Standpoint
From a market standpoint, VR has been bullish over the past seven to eight years and will continue to be so in the near future.
“We continue to look for acquisition opportunities in India’s top 10-12 cities where most organised consumption predominantly is. Our strategy is to hit the market in multiple ways. We are looking at purchasing land and will get down into brown-field development level. The way the retail market has been played out, it is necessary to build future plans. We are aggressively trying to leave build an impactful footprint,” said George.
Importance of Design & Zoning
Beyond the type of tenant, or the size of an anchor, the most important question to ask from a developer’s point of view is what type of a user experience is being created for consumers. From interiors and aesthetics of the interior, but also the need to create a development that offers the consumer a varied and unique experience.
The quality of the exterior and interior lighting, the nature of the public realm, the design and placement of the environmental graphics and way finding elements are all designed by specialist consultants that when managed well can add great value to user experience.
The recognition of people wanting to move around quickly with good supporting infrastructure and offering qualitative public spaces supported by a rich offer in tenant mix adds to creating the sense of lifestyle.
Concurring with this,
We continue to look for acquisition opportunities in India’s top 1012 cities where most organised consumption predominantly is. Our strategy is to hit the market in multiple ways.
George said, “At some level, we are a curator of experiences from the point of view of the consumer – essentially how the consumer thinks about our product. We make sure that everything is new, innovative. We will not take design which is in Surat and replicate it in Bengaluru or Chennai. A lot of our product is based on history and essentially just what connects the community and the city to our project.”
“Apart from this, there are certain other things which need to be kept in mind before developing a mall. Developers need to understand what makes a mall different from others.
Is it a high tech interactive facade? Is it a new open public plaza holding a range of events during the day and turning into a performance plaza at night? Or is it a place where people can gather and watch a film via bluetooth on the big screen? Is it the retail supplementary to an even bigger type of offering? The important thing is to think outof-the-box and find new exciting ways to incentivise people to shop and linger,” he added.
“We need to think of malls as lifestyle centres that form an integral part of our town centres and daily activities. Instead of boring long facades, we need buildings with active edges that create and animate the streets,” he further stated.
Highlighting the balance between the design, branding and zoning, George said, “It is important to understand what brand mix works for a city. Mall developers should also explore other avenues which are important and necessary for a wholesome shopping and social space experience. In the case of Virtuous Retail, we are in the business of creating experiences. At every step we are a master retailer. We bring the right experiences to people. Every place is not about the right retail mix.”
The Omnichannel Approach
Omnichannel offerings and the challenges behind the process are top of mind for every mall developer, retailer, retail analyst, and industry expert.
Convenience and ease of purchase have become key decision-making factors for retail consumers and Omnichannel provides consumers with varied options to achieve this objective.
“We have a very strong Omnichannel strategy and we have a very solid reason behind creating Omnichannel retailing – to get current retailers to trade up, increase sales and enhancing consumer experience. Implementing an Omnichannel plan and introducing new technology aids both of these, and we are well on the path to Omnipresence,” George concluded.