The livelihood of retail centres largely depends on global economic conditions, rapid urbanisation, population growth and increased consumerism, as well as on the efficiency with which operators meet complex design and development challenges. Retail professionals say superior trading performance and the longevity of shopping malls reflect architectural designs and built structures that came about through consultation among business operators and users, and where engagement with local communities reflect an integration with urban spaces.

Asset managers equate the increased delivery and proliferation of quality real estate to the upholding and improvement of high standards within the listed- and private-property sectors. This practical investment approach extends to the ability of retail operators, who in a competitive business environment are responsible for securing long-term leases and repeat business from powerful anchor tenants amid varying economic conditions.

In his address at the International Council of Shopping Centres Industry Summit for sub-Saharan Africa last year, Mike Williams of Investec Asset Management said, “One of the better parts of what we do is the positive socioeconomic impact of retail real estate.” He said that the industry specialists that are active in this region, AT Kearney Consultants, had shown that if you do good business in Africa, you will make a difference. Increased consumer spending and subsequent demand for quality shopping at different ends of the retail market and geographic locations is therefore fast debunking the age-old view in some design circles of shopping as a trivial pursuit.

 

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Kenako Retail Centre, New Brighton, Port Elizabeth, designed by Stauch Vorster Architects

 

Statistics SA reported the uptick in overall consumer spending to have reached an all-time high of R183 3785-million in the third quarter of 2014, compared with a record low of R260 612-million in the first quarter of 1960. Local consumer spending monitored by retailers reflects varying shopper demands. The growing need for consumers to leave their homes, which may be located in high-rise apartment buildings or outlying townships, relates directly to their need for convenient, quality shopping and entertainment experiences.

Greater emphasis in the retail industry on the primary function of aesthetically designed spaces as practical revenue-producing facilities comes irrespective of the socioeconomic groups that make up the foot traffic. A recent example of functional design and convenient access resulting in growth in trading is the award-winning Modi Mall, in Limpopo. Increased foot traffic has raised the demand for tenancies over a short period and is set to improve stakeholders’ prospects of long-term sustainability. Franzen Architects of Pretoria, the winner in last year’s South African Council for Shopping Centres and Retail Development Awards – Category B for shopping centres smaller than 20 000m2, was awarded for the design of Modi Mall in cooperation with Longwalk Property Investments, Improk Properties and McCormick Property Development.

Franzen said local residents had every reason to burst with pride when their fashion mall opened its doors in August last year. “This award is aimed at outstanding creativity in the retail development industry, and highlighted the architectural design and finish of the centre, the type of tenants and the breakdown of tenants within the centre, as well as the layout and the geographic location of the centre.” Modi Mall was rated among top centres, including two Gauteng finalists, the Olievenhout Plaza and the Club Retail centres.

 

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The strong relationship between the livelihood of industry specialists and shopping centre design and layout reflects in the ability of service providers to fill retail space with quality shoppers that ensures commitments to long-term leases and repeat business from tenants.

Retail operator Francois Coetzer of Retail Shop Space says spending 20 years in the retail letting arena has highlighted the needs of tenants and shoppers alike: “While there is a place for prize-winning designs, as seen among super-regional centres in urban areas, the trading performances and long-term profitability of retail centres is enhanced by architectural designs where consideration was given to business performance and customer needs above aesthetics.”

Coetzer said shoppers are attracted by convenience of access for practical, time-efficient, quality shopping experiences, whereas quality tenants and anchor brands, whose lease renewals can be the livelihood of a centre, rely as heavily on good locations as they do on efficient layout and design that eliminates dead space, poor flow and impractical shopping experiences.

“When architectural awards are handed out, anchor tenants and some line shops should be consulted, and their response to the building should also be taken into consideration.” He said the recent letting of a 300m2 floor space with 16 corners to a pharmacy owner once again proved that higher levels of consultation between end users and designers could only enhance foot traffic, repeat business and capital growth on investments.

Long-term sustainability remains a powerful attraction for the economic success of centres, such as where escalating energy costs motivate the introduction of maximum volumes of natural light in ceilings, as seen at Kenako Retail Centre in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth, which was designed by Stauch Vorster Architects and marketed by Retail Shop Space.

Added value at Modi Mall, says Sonja Beukes of Franzen Architects, is that the centre is located in an accessible position, and that while it provides sufficient shopping space, it facilitates a small enough shopping environment where retail facilities are close together, with ample secure parking. “Superior quality security adds value to the positive shopping experiences of consumers, that facilitates 24-hour camera monitoring and car guards who are contracted out.”

 

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Modi Mall Limpopo, designed by Franzen Architects of Pretoria and winner of the 2014 Category B winner: SA Council for Shopping Centres and Retail Development Awards – Shopping Centres Smaller Than 20 000m2

 

Innovative design solutions on local and global fronts have to cater for a multitude of constantly changing retail behavioural trends, such as a growing need for entertainment since the novelty of online shopping is slowly wearing off in affluent communities.

Melbourne architect Neil Masterton, the design director of ARM Architecture and who was involved in the refurbishment of Australia-On-Collins, has been quoted as saying: “The early 21st century is a very interesting period for retail. In the context of e-commerce, bricks and mortar, retail is a complex amalgam of different issues created by the ease of online trading.” He relates the challenges of meeting shoppers’ needs for alternative urban shopping experiences over and above what online retail portals offer.

Success stories of local, regional and global shopping centres reflect all-round consideration and consultation between top achievers within the professions of architecture, investment, development and built environments.

 

Words: Anna-Marie Smith