Q: So how is business?
A: Well, InsiteAsset is a relatively new company trying to establish roots in a city that is growing exponentially, so it’s very exciting work and we’re doing quite well.
Q: What exactly do you do?
A: As an asset-management group, we are, as the name suggests, responsible for managing the assets of investors – and our focus is usually on retail and shopping malls. My job as marketing and PR manager is to make people aware of our product, and to make sure that we get the right type of people into these shopping malls.
Q: What are the biggest threats to the success of a Chinese shopping mall?
A: Ineffective marketing. Anywhere in the world, marketing is hugely important to the success of any product, and shopping malls are no different. If you don’t market a mall effectively, no one takes the time to visit the mall, tenants aren’t able to turn enough revenue to pay their rent, management companies are unable to fill retail space, and it isn’t long before the entire mall goes under. It’s a vicious cycle.
Q: How do you stay ahead of the curve when marketing your properties?
A: Good marketing comes in a variety of forms falling into two categories, above-the-line and below-the-line marketing. Above-the-line refers to what you see in terms of advertising – such as billboards, commercials, etc. Below-the-line refers to actual PR events that take place at the property and attract consumers.
Q: How do you keep consumers interested?
A: The more interactive it is for consumers, the more likely it is that they will revisit the mall, tell their friends and spend more money. For example, we recently had the grand opening for Channel 1 shopping mall. To keep everyone entertained, we had a New York-themed week – including live music, street performers, a hotdog eating contest. It was a lot of fun. We even had Miss New York come down for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Now, our hope is that on top of having a great time, these potential consumers will want to return for more entertainment, and when they do, they will spend more money.
Q: What types of malls are doing well in China? What types aren’t doing so well?
A: Well, remember that China is a new market. The Chinese have only had about 15 years of experience with Western brands. Chanel, Louis Vuitton – those big names didn’t have a flagship store here 20 years ago. Now they’re opening a new store every month. All of a sudden, there is a big demand for these high-end brands, and luxury malls are benefiting from it.
Q: How does Chinese retail differ from western retail?
A: There aren’t too many significant differences other than the fact that the Western market is characterised by "boutique shopping" while China has yet to move on from big-brand shopping. So, when it comes to promoting a new shopping mall here, the model is simple: Get big brands in the door. Get your H&Ms, get your Zaras, get your Chanels, get your Nike and Adidas.
Q: Has the growth of online shopping affected business?
A: No, I don’t think online shopping has really affected the Chinese consumer. Of course, you have things like Taobao where you can buy anything you want with a click of a button – but I think that the Chinese are more interested in the shopping experience. The act of shopping at a high-end store is a status symbol of sorts. The Chinese seem to like being able to walk into a Chanel with friends and buy the latest product, not sit at home and stare at a computer screen.
Q: Are there many policy impediments associated with managing these properties?
A: There’s always some level of interference, just like anywhere else in the world. At every opening we have to have the local government there to approve the operation, and we have to go through the right channels if we want to change the building’s aesthetic. But in terms of enlisting tenants, nothing is different.
Q: How hard are malls to manage?
A: Well, the thing is, people think shopping malls manage themselves. That’s not the case. It takes a dedicated team of marketing professionals and
a well-organised leasing department. And it’s because mall management is so complex that sometimes not all of the pieces of the puzzle come together. For example, some of these managers don’t tailor their stores for their clientele – there might be a Chanel and a McDonalds placed right next to each other, and the local management can’t see why no-one’s happy.
Q: Any big projects on the horizon?
A: We’ve got four big projects coming up. We just opened Channel 1 and we’re continuing to attract a number of massive consumer brands, such as Zara, H&M and Gloria Jeans, a very popular Australian coffee company. I’m also working on a plaza called Amanda Plaza, and a plaza called 889. But my biggest upcoming project is re-opening the mall next to the Yuyuan Gardens [in Shanghai]. The name will soon be changed from the Dragon Gate Mall to the Yu Fashion Garden.
Q: Any secrets to finding success in retail management?
A: [Laughs] It’s all about networking effectively and making sure the consumer gets what they want. For media, that might be ensuring the customer is pleased with their ad space – for retail, it’s making sure consumers enjoy being in your store. It takes a big network of people to make the retail world go round.