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Cleopatra Mall and the future of retail with Philip Evans, TriGranit

In a fascinating and wide-ranging interview Malls.Com got the thoughts of the TriGranit Management Corporation CEO on many different issues.
To get started we asked Philip about what it is that makes his company special to work with and what he thinks is the key to success. He started off his answer by explaining to us that his firm is a “hybrid between a developer, a management company and a real estate services company”. What this means is that they own their own real estate as well as being a consultant for other property owners.

This means that that they can carry out just about every aspect of the property management process. Philip confirmed that this means that they “don’t really have too many competitors” who do the same as them. Because they own real estate, they “understand the needs of an owner”. They’re “not just after a quick deal for the sake of generating a fee” and “absolutely understand the impact of every action on the bottom line P&L”. He also pointed out that they aren’t constrained by geographical boundaries or business lines. If they find a worthwhile business opportunity then they can pursue it regardless of where and what it is.

Philip Evans, Trigranit

At this point we asked Philip what it is that makes his shopping centres unique. He stated that that there isn’t necessarily anything unique about them. However, from a development perspective they are keen to make sure that they “don’t just roll out the same business model in every city”. Instead, they “like to leave something behind” in the cities in which they develop that “forms part of the heritage of the city”. They also like for “people to like the geographical significance” of their real estate.

Philip confirmed that from a leasing perspective all of the TriGranit malls are successful, with occupancy rates that are “well over 90%”. He let us know that his firm spends a lot of time and energy in “building relationships with retailers” in order to understand the way that they do business so that they can work together in what he called “turnover growth management”. As part of this, they “invested a lot of money” in their Omni-channel strategy because they “recognize the impact of e-commerce on bottom line sales” and want to make sure that they “are capturing that spend”.

As the interview moved onto foreign markets, we discussed the latest TriGranit developments in North Africa and the Gulf. This is an area that Philip has a lot of experience in and he suggests that North Africa is now “appealing for international retailers” so that real estate developers “have to develop the real estate to house these brands”. He let us know that they have taken on a project in Cairo, Egypt called the Cleopatra shopping mall. His company is providing “international expertise to assist them with that leasing process”. This has led to them being able to open their Dubai office. The link between Dubai and North Africa is that the Gulf area is where the big franchise retailers who represent thousands of different brands are located. Philip called North Africa “a tremendous opportunity” and a region where his firm’s expertise can “make a real difference”. Morocco, Algeria and Nigeria are other African countries that he expects to move into shortly.

To further understand the TriGranit business we asked the CEO who their main audience is. Philip said that this would mainly be “high net worth individuals that have access to land but don’t have access to know-how”. What they deliver for these people is a “whole one stop service” so that they don’t need to recruit their own on-house teams. He likened it to a “cradle to grave” service for “people who want to get into the real estate field but don’t have the know-how”.

Philip said that he would expect it to be 90-95% international and the rest local brands in North Africa

As for the consumers who would use the company’s shopping centres in North Africa, Philip stated to us this would be “the middle and the upper class”. As a fascinating example, he explained how Cairo is undergoing a process of “mass de-urbanization”. This means that millions of people are moving out of the city to suburbs such as the 6 of October area where the Cleopatra Mall is based. There are “huge residential hubs being developed” in areas like this and the people who live there “have money and they have a real desire for international brands”.

As to whether or not they would rely on local or international brands in North Africa and other markets, Philip said that he would expect it to be 90-95% international and the rest local brands in North Africa. When it comes to the example of mainland China, the difference there is that it is undergoing a process of mass urbanization, which is the opposite of what was just described as happening in Cairo. This means that many developers are building big residential complexes. However, as part of their building permits “they have to develop some retail” even if it isn’t something they are particularly concerned about. This means that new malls are “being designed without any real thought process or care for long term success or sustainability”. Because of this many of them are “failing” and become “white elephants”. 

Philip thinks that this means that there is an opportunity for his company in this respect. They are working with a Chinese real estate firm to bring international brands but also to “bring best practices in terms of design and operation”. He thinks that in China they need to understand the “importance of property asset management”.  He confirmed that the country isn’t “an equity play” for TriGranit but a place to work on a pure consultancy basis. 

China as “quite challenging”... success can be achieved with the “right product and the right city and the right location”

He described China as “quite challenging” for foreign investors because of the red tape and bureaucracy. However he believes that success can be achieved with the “right product and the right city and the right location”.

We also discussed today's most interesting European retail markets, Philip explained how “Poland has had a good run” and that the fact that it has had the “largest growth in Europe in e-commerce” is a challenge for real estate owners. He thinks that retail sales will continue to grow in Poland and provided that they keep an eye on the e-commerce side of things. Russia is “going through a period of huge uncertainty” and other, more interesting countries include Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania and Serbia, all of which could be opportunities in the future.

When the conversation turned to more traditional markets such as the UK and France, Philip said that these markets are “too competitive” and that means vastly reduced fees. To back this up he revealed to us that his firm can earn 4 and a half times more fees on a project in North Africa than in Central Europe. This means that he doesn’t see Western Europe as an interesting market. On the other hand, he thinks that Finland and the Baltic region could also offer “interesting opportunities for the future”.

We decided to take the opportunity to ask Philip about whether he thinks malls or department stores will be more popular in the future. In his response he suggested that shopping centres needs to become “lifestyle centres” in order to survive. This would be where people go to spend a day out. To show how this would work he pointed out the difference between people in Europe traditionally spending 1 hour 40 minutes in malls while in the Middle East it would be more like 4,5 or 6 hours. He sees key components to keeping the family occupied as being “great food offers, great entertainment and great edutainment”.

He also pointed out that retailers need to “start mirroring in their store what they’re doing online”. This would be the opposite of what many did in the past, when they used their websites to mirror their physical stores. Now, he believes that it is necessary to make stores “fully interactive” and to have “every single shop assistant walking around with an iPad”. As for department stores, he thinks that “it’s quite difficult for them to have an online experience because it’s just hosting other people’s products”. This means that they have to “focus more on the experience as opposed to just the pure transaction”.

To get to what Philip describes as utopia you would need a relationship with “the retailers, the landlords and Google” in order to understand who the customer is and what their Google search pattern has been. This would mean sending them an alert when they enter a mall that lets them know where to find what they have recently searched for.

We ended this fascinating interview by asking about some of the TriGranit’s most interesting projects for the next year. Philip pointed out that their new Omni-channel strategy will be launched in early 2015. He also talked about their facility management system that will be used for “managing and measuring the performance of our buildings” from 2015. He stated that this will “probably reduce the running costs by about 20% of any individual piece of real estate” through things like better energy efficiency. As for real estate, he is “very excited” about the Cleopatra Mall in Cairo. It has a “great design” and is the “first high end shopping centre in Egypt”.

Cleopatra malls, Trigranit
Image courtesy of Design International, architects of Cleopatra Mall

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