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Home > Business > Special

Zen and the mall

Arati Menon Carroll | June 02, 2007

Ishanya, a dedicated mall for exteriors and interiors, joins the small but growing breed of specialty malls sprouting up across India. Nine out of ten billboards that line the streets of Pune's developing periphery advertise real estate ranging from "IT destinations" to "prestigious row houses".

It is boom time for the construction trade in the city, so it doesn't take much to understand why Pune was chosen to host Ishanya, the country's first specialty mall dedicated to exteriors and interiors related products and services.

It's equally easy to see why corporate houses -- like fertiliser biggie Deepak Fertilisers and Petrochemicals in this case -- in unrelated industries, are diversifying into real estate.

"The same shareholders who questioned why we were getting into the 'mall business' now ask us what took so long," says Sailesh Mehta, vice chairman and managing director, DFPCL.

At the time of the project's inception in 2005, it was estimated that Pune and the six adjoining cities (the targeted catchment for the mall) would need some 570 million sq ft of built-up area in the three years till 2008. Ishanya will do its part to release 5,50,000 sq ft of commercial space.

According to company executives, over 70 per cent of that space is already booked by 80 stores. The rest has been held back by the management. "We're very selective because we're building brand value here," says I S Narula, CEO, (retail business), DFPCL.

The project didn't close in the projected 15 months and project outlay grew from Rs 100 crore (Rs 1 billion) to Rs 130 crore (Rs 1.3 billion), but at the teaser unveiling this week, symbolic certificates were handed out to the malls's first lessees, perhaps as a confidence builder.

Ishanya is scheduled to open for business by mid-August although construction activity on four acres out of a ten-acre plot of land (the rest will be mixed-use development) is nowhere close to concluded.

The mall's tenants will stretch across 52 categories, and although the offering is tilted towards products, the company is aiming for greater representation from service providers, like architects and designers.

"Eventually we'd like to have turn-key project service providers," says Mehta. For now Trammell Crow Meghraj will operate its property consultant services, office furniture manufacturer Haworth will set up an ideation centre, and Institute of Indian Interior Designers will run a knowledge centre with facilities for computer-based simulations.

The stores and brands straddle the middle and high-end markets in a bid for Ishanya to be perceived as a strong value proposition, so Welspun, Fab India, Bose and Goodlass Nerolac will share shelfspace.

However, you are unlikely to find a Rajubhai marble or a Kapoor sanitaryware here. The favoured ones -- "anchor brands" consumer durables retail brand Croma, Pantaloon [Get Quote] Retail's, home improvement venture, Home Town and @ Home -- will themselves take up 1,80,000 sq ft. "The whole idea is to offer breadth and depth of choice under one roof so that a customer doesn't feel the need to look elsewhere," says Narula.

And so there will be provisions made for dining and entertainment needs as well, although non-related categories will be kept down to a minimum. A company executive proudly shows off the location for a water body and a high-tech amphitheatre that a fine dining restaurant will overlook.

Ishanya sports, as they say, a distinct campus-like atmosphere, with the emphasis on a horizontal, not vertical, spread. Six buildings will make up the arcades that have been designated by product category and even within arcades, floors will cater to specific types of visitors -- institutional, trade and home owners. "A lot of intellectual capital has been invested into the project," says Narula.

Although Mehta suggests Ishanya will turn into a pan-India hub for design ("If you can go to South-East Asia to buy furniture, why not?"), a Pune-based real estate consultant expresses doubt as to why customers would travel to Pune to shop at stores that have presence in their own cities.

"It isn't going to just be an aggregation of brands but a venue for design," clarifies Mehta, referring to their facilities to host seminars workshops and exhibitions.

Which will also provide them with their non-rental incomes; lease income being projected at Rs 25 crore (Rs 250 million) when fully operational. Talks are on with National Institute of Design to rope it in, in some capacity.

And so the mall, that is "less mall" and more "dynamic institution" takes shape, with its interiors being fitted out to differing specifications.

The futuristic architecture, with its geometric protrusions, is a tad unclear.

"It's zen-inspired," says a company executive. It certainly stands out. And as a company that clarifies they will never be commodity players in the real estate market, that's a good thing. By 2010, DFPCL hopes to turn this division into a Rs 400 crore (Rs 4 billion) business.

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