Col­lab­o­ra­tion, the key to re­tail suc­cess

VM&RD - - INTERVIEW - Fairy Dharawat

B en­tel As­so­ciates In­ter­na­tional (BAI) es­tab­lished in 1960, is one of South Africa’s lead­ing re­tail ar­chi­tec­ture firms, with more than 50 years of rich ex­pe­ri­ence. It has been on the fore­front of de­sign­ing shop­ping cen­tres and has pi­o­neered the “Theme Cen­tre” con­cept. In 2004, the ICS Group recog­nised the need for spe­cialised ar­chi­tec­tural ser­vices in the re­tail real es­tate and mixed used de­vel­op­ments in In­dia. To cap­i­talise on this op­por­tu­nity, ICS Group part­nered with Ben­tel As­so­ciates In­ter­na­tional (BAI) to rep­re­sent them in In­dia. Ben­tel In­dia is head­quar­tered in Mum­bai and has a fully op­er­a­tional de­sign stu­dio. It is cur­rently one of In­dia’s lead­ing re­tail ar­chi­tec­tural firms in­volved in de­sign­ing projects cov­er­ing over 40 mil­lion square feet, which in­cludes re­tail projects, IT parks, ho­tels and mixed use de­vel­op­ments. In a free­wheel­ing one-to-one with VM&RD, Stephen Roberts -- Head of the Store Plan­ning di­vi­sion of Ben­tel As­so­ciates In­ter­na­tional, shares his in­sights on the In­dian mar­ket, es­pe­cially in the con­text of shop­ping cen­tres and malls, the chal­lenges of be­ing here and why he prefers In­dian clients. Com­ing to In­dia – The ex­pec­ta­tions and the re­al­ity We came to In­dia as ex­perts in re­tail de­sign. To­day we have com­pleted many re­tail projects in In­dia and have worked on a com­bi­na­tion of re­tail com­mer­cial projects and hos­pi­tal­ity and over the years we have found the re­tail In­dia scene chang­ing . On the de­vel­op­ment side, we have seen steady progress and the In­dian re­tail in­dus­try has be­come more so­phis­ti­cated. But we find that shop­ping cen­tres take a long time to be com­pleted and that it needs a lot more so­phis­ti­ca­tion and man­age­ment. When we en­tered In­dia we were promised 8 mil­lion square feet of re­tail space in a cou­ple of years. I think it was a very high ex­pec­ta­tion and it did not ma­te­ri­al­ize. Af­ter the first two three years, we re­al­ized that it was go­ing to be a long process. None­the­less, we were al­ways op­ti­mistic about it as we are see­ing im­prove­ments ev­ery year. The last two-three years’ fi­nan­cial re­ces­sion apart, In­dia’s growth has not been af­fected. Right now we are very happy that our ex­pec­ta­tions have be­come much more re­al­is­tic. We know now that there will be lot of hard work in store for us and we are happy to be here.

The chal­lenges

There have ob­vi­ously been hur­dles while work­ing in In­dia and we learned to work in that en­vi­ron­ment. I find that the is­sues are more or less the same when start­ing out in both coun­tries - South Africa and In­dia. The his­tory of re­tail in In­dia is sim­i­lar to the re­tail his­tory of the world as sim­i­lar chal­lenges and dif­fi­cul­ties needs to be faced. This will even­tu­ally work out as we are al­ready see­ing it work­ing out.

There are con­cerns – es­pe­cially from high street ten­ants and shop­pers. But I think his­tory proves that there is a ben­e­fit for ev­ery­body. High street shop­ping still pro­vides con­ve­nient shop­ping and there will al­ways be con­ve­nient shop­ping. Also, we con­cen­trate on tier one cities and we need to go be­yond that. Be­sides, there are still go­ing to be a lot of cul­tural and fi­nan­cial chal­lenges which needs to flat­ten out. But we have the ad­van­tage of hav­ing es­tab­lished a lo­cal of­fice in Mum­bai. A com­bi­na­tion of our ex­per­tise and that of the lo­cal ar­chi­tect en­ables us to find the right so­lu­tion. We de­pend very much on lo­cal knowl­edge and the reg­u­la­tions and this part­ner­ship is the source of our vic­tory.

The In­dian ad­van­tages

We find it ex­tremely ex­cit­ing that the In­dian client is will­ing to learn, lis­ten and adapt. We come from a coun­try where the clients think that they know ev­ery­thing. In In­dia when they say “yes” you have some­thing to of­fer; it is ex­cit­ing to work in that en­vi­ron­ment. I also find that the In­dian de­vel­op­ers are will­ing to adapt. We are also amazed at the amount of mar­ble and gran­ite work­man­ship and crafts­man­ship which ex­ists in this coun­try. Th­ese to­gether can pro­duce crafts­man­ship that we would never even at­tempt in a de­vel­oped coun­try. Also, in In­dia peo­ple are more con­cerned about the big pic­ture which should be the case un­like in the West where peo­ple are con­cerned about ac­cu­racy.

For­eign in­vest­ments in In­dia

The in­tro­duc­tion of for­eign brands is nec­es­sary for de­vel­op­ing the In­dian in­dus­try. If ma­jor in­ter­na­tional ten­ants come in, it’s go­ing to help in va­ri­ety and in the plan­ning of re­tail moves in the coun­try. We have to know their re­quire­ments and lim­i­ta­tions and we need to make al­lowances for th­ese in the ini­tial plan­ning. Th­ese changes are slow in na­ture and will take place grad­u­ally. There won’t be a ma­jor in­flux, but I am pretty con­fi­dent that it will in­crease.

Sus­tain­abil­ity in the In­dian con­text

Sus­tain­abil­ity has be­come a big is­sue world­wide but from the de­sign point of view we can se­lect ma­te­ri­als which are en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly. You al­ways have to see the ad­di­tional cost that is in­tro­duced in the sus­tain­able and en­ergy ef­fi­cient ele­ments and com­pare it against ben­e­fits to your op­er­a­tional cost and this is where the chal­lenge comes. In­dia has the op­por­tu­nity as most of the de­vel­op­ers are look­ing for long term in­vest­ment and they will be open to sug­ges­tions. It is also go­ing to mat­ter how many lo­cal au­thor­i­ties will leg­is­late, and are will­ing to adapt to changes. An en­ergy ef­fi­cient build­ing is a world­wide is­sue; we need to be fru­gal. We have built one in Thane and Navi Mum­bai where we have used a lot of lights. Ten­ants and de­vel­op­ers need to get to­gether and work as a team. De­vel­op­ers, ten­ants, builders, de­sign­ers, the mall man­age­ment teams and oth­ers need to un­der­stand that this is a col­lec­tive team­work.

Look­ing ahead

We are look­ing to ex­pand our of­fice in Mum­bai and are plan­ning a branch of­fice in Ban­ga­lore and/or in Kolkata to cater to the mar­ket needs. When the time is right, we are also plan­ning to ex­pand our In­dian op­er­a­tions to the Mid­dle East. The de­ci­sion to come to In­dia hap­pened by chance, but we are very thank­ful to be here. Peo­ple in In­dia are fan­tas­tic. In­dia needs to work on its prac­ti­cal side but we are be­com­ing a lot more so­phis­ti­cated now and I am very happy to be here. I love com­ing to In­dia; it is a sec­ond home to me

Stephen Roberts Head of the Store Plan­ning Di­vi­sion of

Ben­tel As­so­ciates In­ter­na­tional

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