Tawar Mall to open in Q4 2016
In conversation with The Edge, Pedro Ribeiro, general manager, Tawar Mall speaks about what the mall will offer to the retail landscape in Qatar, reasons behind the delay in opening and their plans for the first quarter after they open.
Tell us about yourself, your educational and professional experience prior to joining Tawar Mall.
I started to work at a Levi Strauss store at the age of 16 with the aim of being financially independent. Within the next three years, I had been promoted as the deputy store manager and eventually to country manager. I was also doing my studies at night after work, to get my degree.
At that time, when I managed Levi’s, honestly, it was their golden era, which allowed me to understand the full cycle of a brand itself – from producing to selling – so this exposed me to the full knowledge of the retailer’s expectations and their frustrations.
At that time, about 14 years ago, in Europe, the outlet format of shopping centres was not yet being implemented and I was approached by Factory Vila do Conde for implementing the outlet shopping centre format, policies and procedures. In 2006 the International Council of Shopping Centres awarded the project, which was under my leadership, as the best Shopping Centre in Europe. After this role, I managed the biggest shopping centre in Spain as a general manager.
Thereafter, E.Leclerc, a French company that runs hypermarkets and shopping centres in Portugal, appointed me to be CEO. This was followed by my stint with Mall of Qatar for three years, immediately prior to my current role at Tawar Mall.
How do you see the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) market in comparison to your European exposure?
While European markets are more mature, compared with the GCC countries, we all are part of the economic cycle, which sees a period of growth and then a downturn. In my opinion, even a downturn presents an opportunity, where one can take advantage of it. I will give you the Dubai example. They passed through a downturn and they understood how to turn that around with income from industries such as tourism, which has made them comparatively less dependent on hydrocarbons.
This year will be a relatively tough year, but it will depend on how each retail player positions its offerings in the market. To a large extent, it will be a function of the strategy, the vision and how well one delivers and executes that vision.
As of this moment, we have already signed 60 new brands that are not operating in Qatar. One month ago, this number was 37. This is clearly an indication that the retailers even in a challenging market scenario respect our credibility.
How does Tawar Mall plan to compete with its regional competitors?
We are in a specific part of the world where, due to the culture and due to the climate, a mall is not merely a mall, but a small city with space enough to accommodate families, so they can find entertainment options too.
Tawar Mall has a built-up area of 300,000 square metres (sqm) of which the leased area would be 91,000 sqm. With this we have room for spacious and wider corridors with natural light, internal water fountains, external musical water fountain, such as in Dubai Mall, cinemas, family entertainment area, large food court and fine dining areas.
These are in addition to our prime location and easy accessibility.
We do not want to be the largest mall in Qatar, but we want to roll out a feasible project for the owners, the retailers and as a pleasant option for visitors, who will come back.
We will use our space wisely. For instance, even if I have the possibility to sign 10 fashion stores in a certain area of the mall, I will rethink the numbers. While calculating the footfall, we need to factor in that Qatar does not have the numbers of Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Given the location of our mall, we have factored in the people that live nearby – our first catchment area – which comprises the surrounding high-income Qatari neighbourhood, so this ensures that even on weekdays, we are guaranteed a decent number of visitors.
Given your past experience with shopping malls all across Europe, what advantage do you bring for Tawar Mall?
As I have been a retailer, I can understand their needs and when they are explained rationally – that the operator will take care of the surrounding area of the store, and all they need to invest is in creating the store itself – they get the concept.
As a proof of this, we have been able to sign some French, Italian and German brands, which are coming to Qatar for the first time.
“We do not want to be the largest mall in Qatar, but we want to roll out a feasible project for the owners, the retailers and as a pleasant option for visitors, who will come back.”
What is your take on the delay that the mall has experienced, because it was slated to open in 2014? How soon can we expect it to open?
There have been two main reasons for the delay of Tawar Mall. One is of course the macroeconomic realities, which have delayed all the major projects around the region. The second is that the mall, owned by the Al Kuwari family, has been affected by the sad passing of Jabr Tawar Al Kuwari, after whom the mall has been named.
Now his son, our CEO and chairman Jassim bin Tawar Al Kuwari, has been involved in the development process, every step of the way and the aim is to open the mall in the last quarter of 2016.
What will be the total investment that the company will have made?
The total investment will be in the region of QAR2 billion and that makes Tawar Mall the most expensive mall in the region.
I started from scratch in mid-2015, and have already leased out 60 percent of our gross leasable area. I have a good international team, the right resources and the necessary budget. Even though I know that within the next few months there will be a bit of a slowdown in terms of leasing, we are prepared to face it.
Can you list two priorities within three months of your opening?
After opening the mall, we need to have a secure and safe operation. We will take good care of our clients and their safety and this is what needs to be reflected in the daily activity of managing the mall as it is an important responsibility. So priority one, will be to implement preventive systems with my operation team.
The second priority, within three months’ time is to have the mall 100 percent leased, because to be very clear, the mall will not be opened with full occupancy, but our aim is to open with at least 75 percent leased.