The FINANCIAL -- Tbilisi Mall is now breaking with the tradition of being solely a shopping centre by adding new spaces for entertainment. After opening a children’s entertainment centre, cafés and a cinema, the Mall plans to introduce new food and beverage offers, and hopefully a bowling centre in 2015. Like before, the Mall will continue to indulge its shoppers with the arrival of new brands.
Tbilisi Mall was the first shopping mall in Tbilisi when it opened back in 2012. Today the company serves over 100,000 customers who enter the mall on foot, and around 23 to 24,000 cars per week. Friday, Saturday and Sunday are the busiest days. The footfall is higher between 3-4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The most visited stores are LC Waikiki, which has a great price range for the Georgian market, Zara, and Carrefour.
“We always aimed to create the Mall as a destination. Now, as we have a children’s entertainment centre, as well as a cinema, we are going the right way. We want to improve the food offering. I am sure our leasing team will soon boost the food and beverage side. We are discussing the opening of a bowling alley. We are talking to a major operator now who is very keen on this location and plans to take over 1700 square meters and open up a big bowling centre. So, I am trying to open one of the floors for food and entertainment. This is how malls work worldwide, and this is exactly what I am planning to bring to Tbilisi Mall,” said Gary Dunkley, Tbilisi Mall Director.
Since opening, the Mall really started to get moving in 2013 and then experienced a huge leap forwards in 2014. “One of the things that caused a slight problem was that the investment in Georgia, and of course, bringing new retail brands to Georgia, really slowed down very much. We all predicted that European brands would start to get more interested in Georgia, but it never happened as we had hoped it would. That was a little bit concerning but our leasing agency worked,” said Dunkley.
However, Dunkley said that in general 2014 was a lot slower than wished. As he said, investment in Georgia is very important. Dunkley hopes that the Georgian Government will relax some of the visa regulations. “There are a lot of people that would come to invest in Georgia. But they are having a lot of trouble with visas, trying to get into Georgia. So, in the long term I hope that this matter is resolved for the best for Georgia and for the best for its investors.”
In 2014 the children’s entertainment centre Boom Boom opened in Tbilisi Mall. This May, cinema Cavea opened its doors to Georgians in the Mall. In addition, the brands Koton, Puma and Roccobarocco all arrived during 2014.
Currently over 65% of our space is occupied.
Q. Due to regional problems, the fourth quarter of 2014 and early 2015 have been quite a difficult time for Georgian businesses. Please tell us from the example of the companies that have opened in Tbilisi Mall, how has the GEL’s devaluation impacted them?
A. Our tenants are profit wise. Due to the GEL devaluation they had to reduce their profit margins, rather than increase prices and have a reduction in sales. In April and May we have been seeing an increase in visitors. So, the current conditions will have an impact on the profit of the companies rather than on sale volumes.
Q. Years ago there was scepticism about whether Georgians, who were used to shopping in separate stores and the open market ‘Bazroba’, would ever switch to going to a mall. Can you describe to us how the first Georgian mall has changed consumers’ habits and individual businesses?
A. I will try to compare it to what happened in Europe and in my home country, England. We had city centre and town centre shopping. That brought all the brands together under one roof. In England a lot of shops within the town centre started to close down. This happened a lot in Europe. Shopping stores closed within the city centres. In Georgia it was a little bit different because Georgia did not ever have anything like this. We still have to remind Georgians that they can find everything they need in the Mall. Georgian people are now catching up and understanding this philosophy.
Q. A new, huge mall will soon be opened in Tbilisi. Is Tbilisi Mall ready to maintain its competitiveness, and how?
A. The East Point Mall that is going to be opened in September is a totally different type of mall to Tbilisi Mall. It is very much an outdoor mall. Here we have everything under one roof. In summer we have cooling and in winter - heating. In East Point you will have to go outdoors to go into the different shops. I think it is great to have another mall in Georgia. It confirms that this mall is improving. I will never let myself be in a position where I just sit back and relax, assured that we are the only mall in Georgia and the best. At the moment we are the best mall, but East Point will never let me and my team, or anybody else, lose focus, because from now on we will always have competition. I am pleased that East Point is opening. It is good for the city and good for us also.
TM is a very well-established shopping mall in Tbilisi. The catchment areas of the two malls will be very different. People from the catchment area out towards the airport will probably go to that mall, whereas our loyal customers on this side of Tbilisi will come to our mall. It is also important to try bringing customers here by offering them promotions, and giving something back to the customer. However, I still think that we are two different malls. I cannot see somebody who lives over towards the airport driving all the way here when they have similar brands on their doorstep. I think it will be very interesting to see how it works.
Q. Next to the Mall there were originally plans for two towers to be constructed. Should we expect their completion?
A. The two towers were planned to be office and residential spaces. For some reason the design has changed. Rakeen Development is now looking at these buildings as a possible hotel. However, at the moment it is still in the discussions stage. Opening towers, or even a hotel, requires investments. I still think that there is a lack of three star hotels in Georgia, especially in Tbilisi.
Q. What are your expectations of 2015?
A. I think that 2015 will be the best year for Tbilisi Mall. The main challenge for the Mall will be to continue all the good things that we have accomplished so far, to improve our entertainment, and to try to attract other brands which are not already present in Georgia.
We have DeFacto, a Turkish brand that will be opening here in three or four months. We are also in negotiation with other brands. In September a huge Mango will also be opened, over 800 square meters.
Q. Please can you tell us a bit about yourself?
A. I came here in August 2012. That November I started working as Director of the Mall. At first we did not have many brands, we were just finishing construction. Previously, I had served in the military in the UK for 23 years. This followed 15 years working in Shopping Malls. I came here without my family. I had to live alone. That was a difficult time. My military background helped me to more or less accept living on my own. At the same time, it allowed me to spend six-seven days a week running Tbilisi Mall. It was good for the Mall. I had no idea what to expect from Georgia, because I did not know anything about this country. However, two and a half years on, I have found some wonderful people in Georgia. Your country has great potential. I have visited lots of places in Georgia which are very beautiful, and I was very much welcomed by Georgian people.
Q. What was the most challenging aspect that you found in Georgia?
A. My military background helped me to be a good manager. I am strict. Lots of the staff call me Teddy Bear. I have targets and I have standards. I tried to introduce not only to the Mall, but to Georgia, the European standards which I am used to myself. It has been a little bit difficult for people to adapt to these rules and regulations. However, we are now 80-90% in the right direction. People now understand how a shopping mall should be run to a very good standard. I am approachable. My door is always open to anybody. I like to discuss things with our tenants. I like to hear their views. All I ask from my staff is to give me 100%. If they do so, they will get my 100% in return.
Q. At which stage will you feel that you have completed your work at TM and can possibly move on to new things?
A. Never. I don’t think you can ever say that. Two and half years on, we have a really good shopping mall. I think that everybody can do more. Even me, I am a 56 year old and I still believe that you can learn something new every day. I will never give up on improving the Mall. If my staff have learned even one thing from me then I would say that I have achieved something. I think I can teach them to better their futures.
Q. We frequently hear that Georgians are lazy. Would you agree with that?
A. When I first came to Georgia I had that opinion. However, when you get to know people you see that it might be because they are not guided correctly by their company or management. At first I had to change several things but now I am quite satisfied with all of my 59 staff members.