Lifestyle centres are evolving into weekend getaways & community hubs: Rajiv Raichand

Retailer Media caught up with Rajiv Raichand, Director, Virtuous Retail to understand a description that sounds somehow like a mall, but there are noticeable differences.
Rajiv Raichand, Director, Virtuous Retail

A comfortable leather lounge chairs placed instead of hard plastic chairs, systematically arranged lights instead of normal fluorescent tubes and beautifully designed fountains instead of cluttered shops. Well, that’s what we call a ‘lifestyle centre’ or in another words ‘a dressed-up mall.’

The sudden boom in luxury market is the main reason behind the proliferation of these lifestyle centres in the country. Established in 2007, Virtuous Retail (VR) is an institutionally owned developer-operator of community-oriented premium Lifestyle Shopping Centers in India’s top cities.

Retailer Media caught up with Rajiv Raichand, Director, Virtuous Retail to understand a description that sounds somehow like a mall, but there are noticeable differences. He also spoke about his plans towards providing customers a spatial retail experience by combining global expertise and local knowledge

Talk to us about the journey of Virtuous Retail so far?
Established in 2007, Virtuous Retail (VR) India is an institutionally owned developer-operator of community-oriented premium lifestyle destinations in India. With a presence of a decade in the country, our pan-India portfolio includes prime city-center locations, with successfully running centres in Surat and Bengaluru and new projects coming up in Chennai, Mumbai and Pune. In one of the world’s most attractive consumer markets for organized retail, we are recognised as the leading platform of quality retail real estate.

Our focus on prime locations, strategic partnerships, long-term value creation and risk-mitigation has resulted in not only future-proofing our centres but also moving  the needle on what retail developments can be, and should be, anywhere in the world. At Virtuous Retail, we’re very proud of that.

Share with us the joy of bagging 7 CMO Asia Awards 2016
It has been an exceptional year. We launched our latest centre, VR Bengaluru in May 2016, and we have been receiving accolades since even before its opening. We are happy that our efforts and hard work to deliver the best to our consumers and retailers is shaping up beautifully, and also being noticed by the industry experts.

Share with us the trends and happenings in Lifestyle centres in India?
Shopping centres are no longer dots on a city’s map with fashion stores and restaurants clustered together. These centres are slowly evolving into weekend getaways and community hubs. There has been a shift in the services being provided at these centres and the discerning consumer is looking for an experience. Virtuous Retail, in these changing times has been a pioneer in developing & operating modern integrated lifestyle destinations, set against international design benchmarks and at the same time providing secure environments that promote locally relevant experiences.

Will it be true to call lifestyle centre just a dressed-up mall? Why?
Virtuous Retail develops and positions its centres as integrated community oriented lifestyle destinations. These lifestyle centres are very unlike other malls. Take for instance VR Bengaluru. It brings the best of retail, F&B, entertainment, serviced residences and collaborative workspaces under one roof and they are all seamlessly integrated. From premium fashion labels catering to all tastes and styles to gourmet kitchens serving an array of cuisines from across the globe, VR Bengaluru offers unique experiences for visitors to shop, dine, work, play and stay.

VR Bengaluru is part of an emerging global trend where integration and an innovative use of space are enhancing consumer experiences. Operating on Virtuous Retail’s core philosophy of ‘Connecting Communities’ the centre at its specially crafted open spaces, curates engaging events and immersive experiences through cultural festivals and cross border collaborations with the local community, keeping in sync with the vibrant essence of the city. 

These features supported by an art of place-making go beyond ‘dressing-up’ a mall. It essentially goes to the heart of a community to provide them a safe and secure environment where families can come together and experience an urban oasis.

What challenges does this segment have?
Lack of good locations at the right prices, labour shortages which impact construction timelines, lack of local government support in facilitating linkages with public transport systems are some of the major challenges we face.

Apart from these multiple layers of approvals and permissions, and a general lack of understanding about the role of retail centres as community hubs and public spaces needs enough time and attention.

Is zoning involved at your centres? How have you zoned different lifestyle verticals at your centres?
Virtuous Retail, in its efforts to deliver premium lifestyle experiences, develops and operates its centres on the philosophy of ‘Connecting Communities’. Community engagement, thoughtful design and holistic category zoning are essential to every centre from Virtuous Retail. Separate floors cater to men, women and children’s needs. The security has been integrated with the outer periphery to allow unrestricted movement in the outdoor public spaces and other pedestrianised zones. The open spaces for interactions, events also host restaurants at street level, to allow families to enjoy a meal while the children play or during a performance.

The seamless integration of the services at the VR centres is the key aspect considered during the zoning process. We have the ability to transform the daily life of a Bangalorean, where he or she can take a step into the office space, another step into the comfort of the private residences. Sip a beer after work on the Sky Deck, have a stroll in the garden, enjoy a performance or catch a movie at the country’s biggest Gold Class cinema, rejuvenate at the Spa, work out at The Tribe, indulge in a book by the poolside, eat delicious food from around the globe, and shop at leading retail brands. All the modern conveniences including select brands and luxury services in one integrated space – VR Bengaluru.

What potential do you see in tier II and III cities of the country?
Unlike major cities, malls at tier 2 and tier 3 cities are in a nascent stage. In these cities only smaller developments have been introduced so far, of which many were unsuccessful because of poor planning and an absence of up-to-date services. Virtuous Retail’s flagship, VR Surat is a step ahead. It hosts many premium brands like Zara, Marks & Spencers, westside etc., some of whom debuted in Gujarat, through VR Surat. Round the year, engagement with customers through unique initiatives has put VR Surat on the list of ‘top of things-to-do’ in Surat on Trip Advisor.

Developers and operators need to stop looking at these markets as Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. Consumers across India are becoming increasingly aware of the services and facilities at international facilities, thanks to the internet as well as to the ease and frequency of overseas travel. Their expectations from malls and lifestyle centres are the same as those of people living in Tier 1 cities. And with increasing disposable incomes and spending power, their demands are not going to be limited. Developers and operators should understand this and look at the long term view and invest in proper research and planning.

What criteria do you follow while selecting a retail brand for your centres?
Getting the right tenant mix is crucial to the success of a retail centre. We continuously deal with the large global brands but also see the necessity of housing local players who have an emotional connection with the surrounding community. Thereby, we try and cover the requirements of the catchment that we establish our centres in. Additionally, we want to have brands that will allow us to engage with the entire family making a trip to our centre something that every member of the family can enjoy. 

Give some insights on the Geo (East, West, North and South) wise response PAN India?
Virtuous Retail currently has centres in the West (Surat) and in the South (Bengaluru and Chennai). We have not been biased towards a particular geography, but have analysed each opportunity on the merits of that specific project, its local catchment, the investment required and local partners to engage with.

Where do you see the trend going 3-5 years down the line?
The existing trend will pick up shopping centres and will be developed and operated as lifestyle centres or destinations that cater to the evolving needs of digitally savvy, mature consumers. Spatial retail experience will witness a comeback with events, activations, customised offerings and novel experiences which will govern the footfalls at a centre.  

Rajiv Raichand