Getting Through Renovations Smoothly

What drives malls to renovate and upgrade, and how do they make the process smoother? Busani Moyo investigates.

The fact that shopping centres have to upgrade and renovate their facilities is one that no mall can afford to ignore. Malls like Menlyn Park Shopping Centre in Pretoria and Westgate Shopping Centre on Johannesburg’s West Rand are pouring millions into upgrades and renovations.

What is in it for them, and how do they ensure the process causes the least inconvenience, brings a return on investment and shoppers come back once the dust has settled?

Time for a new look

When is the right time to renovate? “Shopping malls begin to lose relevance with time in the absence of substantial additions or renovations,” says Malose Kekana, chief executive officer of the Pareto Group, the company that owns Westgate Shopping Centre in Roodepoort.

“A renovation is one of the critical strategies available to landlords to inject new life into a shopping centre by redoing some cosmetic work, refreshing various amenities, reshuffling stores and recruiting new tenants.”

And if they don’t?

According to Tia Kanakakis, managing partner at MDS Architecture and the principal architect for retail centres such as Sandton City Shopping Centre and Mall of Africa, “Not planning to renovate a mall or not renovating at an opportune time could be quite detrimental to an owner. All buildings have a lifespan.

“Developments and malls evolve over time. Trends change, shoppers’ needs and wants change and an astute mall owner needs to be in tune with market trends and shopper requirements. Malls can easily date and with the proliferation of urban, convenience and lifestyle malls on everyone’s doorstep, not renovating a mall could lose the shopper to a more desirable shopping environment,” she says.

Setting new standards

The more desirable environment Kanakakis refers to is exactly what the owners of Menlyn Park had in mind when they recently upgraded their super-regional shopping centre in Tshwane.

According to the centre’s general manager Olive Ndebele, since the roughly R2.5-billion redevelopment, the mall now offers “a mixed-use, multi-brand experience and benefits from a large consumer footfall”.

“With its expansion and refurbishment, its position will be further strengthened for the future, as an appealing and enjoyable retail proposition.”

Menlyn’s upgrades have already paid dividends as in 2017 it bagged the coveted Spectrum Award, a category of the Retail Design & Development Awards (RDDA). These awards, which receive sponsorship from Nedbank Corporate and Investment Banking, seek to celebrate innovation, and economic achievements that are not only outstanding but also creative.

A closer look at these prizes and what they celebrate reveals the reasons behind the upgrades, the trends, and direction that future shopping malls seem to be taking when they plan renovations and upgrades: environmental consciousness and innovation. All this is aimed at creating centres that deliver a seamless shopping experience.

Creating value for tenants and customers

Renovations at Westgate Shopping Centre started in 2016, when the first phase of the project saw the lower level redeveloped at a cost of R90-million. Currently the food court is being refurbished at a cost of a further R130-million, says Kekana.

Kekana says the aim of the upgrades is to deliver “value for both tenants and loyal customers”.

The Pareto Group CEO says by the end of this development and upgrade, shoppers will enjoy access to the “latest innovations in design of dining and entertainment spaces”.

Ensuring the least inconvenience for all

Inevitable as renovations may be, they still cause major disruptions for shoppers and tenants and if the process isn’t handled well, some shoppers could be lost forever. Kanakakis says centre management and their marketing departments “play a fundamental role in keeping both tenants in the mall and shoppers alike informed of what is happening, the anticipated duration of the renovation process and the pending completion date”.

This is advice the Pareto Group has taken to heart. Kekana reports that they are ensuring as little inconvenience to the shoppers as possible through imposing specific restrictions on dust, noise and other disturbances.

“Construction barricades are creatively used as hoarding, where advertising and communications messages are displayed to keep shoppers engaged and up to date,” he says.

Benefiting all concerned

A careful look at both the new-look Menlyn Park Shopping Centre and the renovations at Westgate Shopping Centre shows that developers are focusing mostly on convenience for the shopper.

For instance, shoppers at Menlyn Park Shopping Centre now have access to 16 entrances and over 8 000 parking bays. With 12 exits from the parking lot, shoppers are not kept waiting in order to leave the mall.

While shoppers and tenants may be inconvenienced when malls are being renovated, they probably appreciate the revamps, and are likely to support the centres even more.

“The redevelopment is done on the premise of a partnership between the landlord and its retailers, and from a predefined need state that all stakeholders buy into before the development,” says Kekana. He says the primary purpose “is to enhance the ambience, tenant and customer experience value and landlord benefit in the long term”.

Patience is a virtue

When asked what shoppers can do to help make revamps smoother, both Kekana and Kanakakis are quick to say “have patience”. Kanakakis uses the analogy of surgery and “no pain, no gain”. In other words, every good outcome needs effort and understanding in the process. She believes shoppers should never punish shopping centres for renovating by abandoning them, as the owners “are very mindful of the safety and comfort levels of their shoppers who frequent their centres. They do go out of their way to try to provide a seamless transition as far as possible”.

Kekana reminds shoppers that the “renovation agenda always has the customer experience enhancement in mind and beauty comes at a price”. He encourages customers to provide feedback on their experience and where they are negatively impacted to give the centre an opportunity to improve the experience. Hence customers should reward their favourite malls by remaining patient and loyal during renovations.

Kanakakis agrees. “Shoppers should always return to their favoured malls after renovations have been completed. For mall owners to lose footfall is almost sacrilege when they are trying to provide a better shopping experience for all.”

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