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Global brands in the city of joy

By Gargi Gupta in New Delhi
March 03, 2007 14:48 IST
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The retail revolution in Kolkata is gearing up to house some of the biggest, most globally renowned brands.

If a retail revolution is sweeping India, it has touched Kolkata too. The city may have only three malls at present, but 12 more have been announced and if all of them open in the next few years, there will be around 1.5 million square feet of additional organised retail space on offer.

Pantaloons, Shoppers Stop, Westside, Globus, Pyramid, Spencers, Reliance -- all the major mass-retail chains either have a presence in the city already, or will open shop in the coming months.

And while the Kolkata market has retailers in the mass segment, is the city now ready to move up the value chain? Is their a market in the city for Louis Vuitton, Esprit and Mont Blanc? More importantly, does Kolkata have the real estate to house these brands?

Abhishek Kiran Gupta, senior manager, research, Jones Lang LaSalle (India), gives a positive response.

In a statement issued on the occasion of the opening of JLL's sixth Indian office, Gupta said, "Kolkata now has most of the ingredients in place to move its economy up the value-chain -- its size, skill base and heritage point to a significantly higher international profile over the long term."

Abhijit Das, associate director at property consultants, Trammel Crow Meghraj, believes the problem is that the five- and seven-star hotels in the city, which is where the luxury brands would ideally like to set up shop, are not retail friendly.

"And neither does the city have a high street with a uniform high profile to suit that of these brands," adds Das.

But the city with a 35 per cent of its population in the A & B socio-economic strata, an IT sector that is growing at 70 per cent -- twice the national growth rate -- is "a high priority destination for international retailers", according to JLL's recently released report, Emerging City Winners Profiles: Kolkata.

Which is why some developers in the city are trying to come up with alternative spaces with design and ambience criteria to suit exclusive brands.

Early last month, Planet Retail brought names like Marks & Spencer, The Body Shop, Guess — some of the brands it is a franchisee of — to Avani Heights, a residential-cum-commercial project located on Chowringhee Road. And residents have been thronging the stores, not just looking, but also buying.

"The overall response has been highly encouraging," says Arun Bhardwaj, managing director, Planet Retail, adding, "comparable to our best performing stores in other parts of the country."

Later this year, Planet Retail will bring its bouquet of international brands to the South City Mall. "The right quality of real estate development is now happening (in the city)," feels Bhradwaj, "conducive to providing an international shopping experience to the consumers."

Encouraged by the success of this experience, two other real-estate projects were launched recently in Kolkata, targetted exclusively at luxury brands. One of these is aptly named Haute Street.

With 5-metre-high ceilings, 10-feet-wide corridors and an automated building management system, Harsh Sanon, its architect, expects it will provide an ambience that "will be in synergy with the positioning of the brands".

This stretch of road is poised strategically between new Kolkata, the IT hubs in Salt Lake and Rajarhat, and old Kolkata, Park Street and Ballygunje. As of now, the 80,000 sq ft retail space that will open mid-2008 has two confirmed bookings -- Omega and Rado -- but talks are on with Mango and Zara too, informs Das of TCM.

The other project with similar ambitions is Forum Courtyard, the annexe to the existing Forum mall, that will open by the end of this year. The Courtyard, which will house a helix-slab multi-level car-park, will also offer 40,000 sq ft dedicated to luxury retailing, which Rahul Saraf, its developer, says will "add one more layer to the retail experience in the city".

While it's too early to reveal names, Saraf would like to house brands like Esprit and GAP at the Courtyard. The objective of the design and interiors here, he says, would be to "create the mental embargo to attract the serious shopper at these stores and keep out the casual hangers-out".

But it's not just the annexe that will see all the activity -- Saraf also plans to rejig the Forum mall and re-work its retail mix to reflect the changed realities of the city, especially the rising aspirations of the consumers here.

"The retail mix of the Forum was planned 6-7 years ago at a time when many of the new formats that have come into the country now were not around." Saraf has planned another exclusive zone to house more international brands for his next -- Forum II mall -- on EM Bypass, one that will coexist with a hypermarket and a lifestyle mall for the hoi polloi.

Evidently, retail space in Kolkata is maturing and becoming more differentiated on the back of rising disposable incomes and an economy that is becoming more and more consumption oriented.

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Gargi Gupta in New Delhi
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