Trincity Mall, which celebrates it 30th anniversary this month, now attracts more than five million visitors annually, said Nicholas Hosam, general manager, malls, hospitality and resort of the HCL Group.When Trincity Mall opened in 1984, the world was far different from what it is today. There was no online shopping, personal computers still had black screens and Kirpalani's was the dominant department store of the day."We do have a confident outlook. If our retailers are challenged, we are challenged. In order to grow the business, we do need to expand the mall. Certainly, the mall is performing well as we are the biggest mall in the English-speaking Caribbean, but there is room for improvement. Over the last ten years, the economy has been conducive to the creation and expansion of shopping centres," he told the Business Guardian on Monday in an interview at Long Circular Mall, St James.
He said his role is to oversee the group's two mall operations: Trincity and Long Circular Malls."What we know today to be Block B, the oldest section of the mall, was the first development of what we know as Trincity Mall. It was a two-storey facility and housed approximately 100 tenants at that time. It was designed as part of a wider community that was developing within Trincity and the environs. Information provided indicates Trincity Mall was acquired by the Group when Clico purchased the shares of Home Construction Ltd in 1991 from private individuals."
Hosam said there has been "significant growth" over the last few decades; Trincity Mall now has about 304 tenants."The mall comprises the hub of the Trincity Millennium Vision, which is a 400-acre development planned community development comprising a mix of uses, including residential, commercial and retail. The idea that was pursued by HCL is applying the concept of new urbanism where the planning approach seeks to have those within the social space give them the capacity to live, work, recreate, within their community," he said.Hosam said the new urbanism approach is where the social space is developed in manner for a mix of uses by a mix of people."This principle has been applied in Trincity in that 400 acres. The mall is a central feature which allows for commercial use and has evolved in may ways, including entertainment, like restaurants, two well-stocked food courts and serves the Trincity area well, that HCL would have had a hand in developing the residential area as well. There are areas for further growth and development within that community."
He described the rates HCL offers tenants as "competitive.""The rent that any operator would charge depends on the location, the size of the space, and the usage it will be put to. Volume space will attract more rent than extremely small spaces. Our criteria is not to price at the premium rate, but to be competitive and because of this, we enjoy high occupancy rates. If a tenant wants to rent on main street, the rent will be generally lower. So industry rates for tenants in malls will vary from $13 to $15 per square foot to as high as $45 per square foot. At the end of the day ,it is a value proposition that the landlord and tenant have to bargain."
Hosam said despite the new malls and other shopping centres being opened in T&T now, it is difficult to take away market shares from larger, more established malls like Trincity."There are a lot of things happening in the industry as part of the real estate industry in terms of new investments in planned shopping facilities. Trincity Mall serves a community of about 250,000 people."A mall in south Trinidad will be a competitor, but all the major malls exist in their own solar systems and it is very difficult to set up a comparable mall to Gulf City in their environment. To set up a comparable mall to Trincity in that area will be a comparable risk to whoever that maybe. The cost of that land acquired many decades ago that Trincity is on is now very high. That would be one challenge to any future developer."
Hosam said Port-of-Spain and the western suburbs have a number of malls and shopping centres being expanded and refurbished."The population within the northwest area of Trinidad is significantly larger than the area that Trincity occupies. This area can sustain a larger number of players.So if there is a new shopping mall in Maraval or the Invaders Bay expansion project that is something that will catch our eye in terms of competition. So that is something we have to address strategically from our point of view."
Main street vs malls
He spoke about the evolution from shopping on "main street" concept to shopping in malls in T&T."On main street, there is traffic congestion, there are harsh penalties for wrong parking. However, in malls, parking is basically free and a mix of tenants. In developed countries, it is different, people look forward to going to Manhattan in the downtown areas and they do not want to go to the mall. That environment is attractive as there are characteristics that a mall cannot replicate. One of then popular movements in North America now is urban regeneration where they go into derelict neighbourhoods and re-invest and create an environment where people can live and shop. That has been lost in Port-of-Spain."
Despite better bargains in places like downtown Port-of-Spain, he said customers in many cases are more inclined to malls because of better conditions."Customers will tell you that they will get a better deal from the main street business. Price wise, they will shop for better bargains there as they know they will get a better deal. But their shopping experience may not stack up to a controlled and organised environment such as a mall. The mall will give you a mix of experiences in one hub."
Hosam said online buying has impacted on malls and conventional shopping."There has been a definite impact on our retailers with the advent and phenomenal growth of online shopping. It is replicating what we would have seen abroad. Initially, the retailers that would have been the first to suffer were those selling electronic goods like phones and laptops. Now, online shopping has become more sophisticated and the range of products has expanded. The online marketers have included their delivery," he said.
He said many of Trincity's tenants are not "equipped" to deal with this new way of shopping.He said there is no simple solution to this phenomenon."Retailers need to look at themselves. Traditional businesses models that rely on purchasing a certain variety of goods from abroad, pricing on a simple mark up arrangement, maintaining a certain level of stock, existing on a certain credit line. Those business models may not survive. There needs to be a re-look at how business is conducted and whether or not the retailer in a mall can adopt an online presence. Online buying challenges the traditional model to the point where they do not even have a chance to compete," he said.Hosam said one of the things HCL is considering is creating an online portal for Trincity Mall."This is something for our tenants to piggy back on that and create an online presence. In this way, they exist in the physical and virtual world."
He said crime is an ongoing challenge for shopping centres and is a reflection of the wider state of criminal activity nationwide. "Without going into too many details, while we continue to utilise both manpower and technology resources throughout the facility, it is our strong partnership with the local protective services that has also proved to be a critical element to our successes in reducing the level of criminal activity within the Trincity Mall environment."As I said, however, it continues to be a challenge that requires constant attention, significant resources and shifts in strategy towards the provision of a safe and enjoyable shopping environment for our tenants and members of the shopping public alike," he said.
He spoke about future expansion plans which, he said, would come at a "significant cost.""We are in the pre-planning stage. We are looking at adding new retail space. The renovation will include an upgrade of the older elements of the mall that are due for additional remodelling. The overall group strategy is looking at the growth potential of the community. We are confident that future growth of Trincity will be received well by the tenants, shoppers and growth areas."He said Trincity Mall carries 520,000 square feet in retail gross leasable area (GLA)."That makes us the largest mall in the English-speaking Caribbean. What makes Trincity unique is that we are part of a community and it was developed as part of a master plan community that seeks to create linkages with how people live, go to school, work and recreation."
Loyal customers keeplongstanding tenants going
Some tenants at Trincity Mall have been there for as long as the mall has existed: 30 years. Despite the changes in the economy and numerous trends in the world of business over the last three decades, some tenants have survived this competitive environment to tell their story.J Mohammed, owner of Pretty Feet, became a tenant at Trincity Mall in November 1984 and did so because she had a dream of opening her own business.Mohammed, who started at a "very young age", told the Business Guardian on Tuesday she always had a passion for shoes and fashion which led her into this business which specialises in footwear, evening bags and costume jewelry.
She also sells ladies' working shoes, casual shoes, a wide collection of children shoes and fashion bags.When selecting shoes for the stores, matching accessories are also selected.Pretty Feet has carried a line of Italian shoes for more than 25 years and customers are pleased with this line, she said.At Pretty Feet, there are shoes for all occasions: Christmas, Easter, Mother's Day, graduations.She admitted that 30 years is a long time to be in business, but said she does not regard this as a job but as leisure."There were some trying times, but I love what I do. I do it for leisure and not as a job; that is why I do it so well," Mohammed said.She said feedback from her customers drives her to continue.
She recounted some of the most memorable moments with her customers."I had customers who migrated to New York and Canada and they still return home to shop at Pretty Feet because of our choice collection. They told me no matter how they look for shoes in New York, a fashion capital, they still returned to Pretty Feet for their choice."Mohammed spoke about businesses affected by online buying."Some people would buy shoes online and after being dissatisfied, would try to re-sell it at Pretty Feet. At Pretty Feet, customers are allowed to try as many shoes, walk in them and model in them, even with their outfits. We aid in selecting the most appropriate."
She also said what has kept customers coming to her for the last 30 years is the quality service, smile and special attention of the sales people."Here we greet customers with a smile. Our service is the best, our selection is the best and my workers also love the shoe business. We all have a passion for what we do."Naziram Baksh, owner of Young Generations which sell clothes for babies, children and adults, has been at Trincity Mall since it opened 30 years ago."We started off with baby and children's accessories and garments. After that we ventured into garments. One day my sister and I were having lunch and it was during the construction of the mall, and I told her I wanted to apply for a spot and open a business there. I went for it and management accepted my request."
She started off her business with 1,200 square feet of space in the mall then expanded to 1,800 square feet and then to 4,200 square feet."For 16 years, I operated with 4,200 square feet and then I went back to 1,800 square feet as it was more appropriate for the store. That's the size of store I operate now. We did what we had to do for different eras of the business and have operated at different sizes."
She said the people of T&T are very fashion conscious and are very up-to-date with all the international fashion styles."As business owners, we must know what the international styles are. I travel to Los Angeles four times a year and buy goods to bring and sell here."Baksh said their prices are competitive, another reason why she has been successful.She said management relations at Trincity Mall has evolved over the years."Management has changed in a big way. I think when I started off 30 years ago, the relationship was better. Communication now with management is not as good and, as a tenant, I want that to improve," she said.