Retail isn't what it used to be. For a country that boasts of the highest number of retail outlets in the world—close to 13 million—organised retail is a relatively new segment, constituting just four per cent of the overall retail pie. But this number is growing, and with that is the growing need for space to expand. And architects, design firms and mall developers are more than happy to help give that space to expand. Malls are mushrooming all over the country, from metros and mini metros to tier II and III cities.
Mall space is expected to touch approximately 60 million square feet by end-2008, says Jones Lang LaSalle's third annual Retailer Sentiment Survey-Asia. This is a quick rise from just about a million sq ft of space recorded in 2002.
Another report by Images Retail estimates the number of operational malls to more than double to over 412 with 205 million square feet by 2010 and 715 malls by 2015, on the back of major retail developments even in tier II and III cities.
In a scenario such as the one that Indian retail is witnessing, it is but natural for global firms to eye the sector. So while we have the Wal-Marts and Metro Cash and Carry of the world eyeing this emerging market, closer home, it’s biggies such as Reliance, Bharti and DLF who are aggressively laying out plans to expand their retail ventures, giving rise to a need for malls that are aesthetically designed and functional too.
"We saw the opportunity coming about five years back and decided to enter the Indian market," says Darryl Skinner, MD, Bentel Associates Realty Design Consultants Pvt Ltd., one of South Africa's leading architectural firms, that specialises in mall development and management for the retail sector. While the beginning was a little slow, the past two years have been a lot better than what Bentel, which came to India through a joint-venture with ICS Realty, had expected.
"The growth was slow initially, but we have witnessed a rather meteoric rise in the last two years, where the business grew five-fold," says Skinner, whose firm has some plum projects under its belt right now. Perhaps this is a sign of things to come. With one of its most ambitious projects yet, the Mall of Punjab, an Emaar MGF venture that's coming up in Mohali slated to come up soon and Vijay Mallya's high-end retail mall—UB City—designed by Bentel to open up to the general public in about two months, Skinner says his company has just scratched the surface. "We are working on over 50 projects throughout India and are looking to scale up our operations."
But while there's no dearth of opportunities for mall designers and developers, it's the basic talent that poses a problem for most global firms that are coming to India for a piece of the mall space pie.