Pareto's CEO expects tough times for retail in South Africa

Marius Muller, CEO of Pareto

With pessimism permeating local markets and some fundamental concerns internationally, Pareto Limited CEO Marius Muller is expecting things to be tougher than they have been in a very long time for retail in South Africa. However, he sees the tough economic conditions as the ideal opportunity to make shopping malls even more appealing to South Africans.

Pareto Limited is South Africa’s premier shopping centre investor. Decisively shedding its institutional image over the past five years, Pareto has strategically re-established itself as one of the country’s leading retail property industry players.

By acquiring and enhancing, super-regional and regional malls in South Africa, it has created a highly desirable, dominant and growing portfolio of retail assets.

Pareto owns an unmatched portfolio of regional and super-regional shopping centres. Besides being the full owner of Cresta Shopping Centre, Southgate Mall and Value Market, and Westgate Regional Shopping Centre, all in Johannesburg; and Menlyn Park Shopping Centre in the East of Pretoria, it also wholly owns The Pavilion in Durban; and Mimosa Mall in Bloemfontein. In Cape Town, Pareto co-owns Tyger Valley Shopping Centre. Pareto also holds 25% of Sandton City and its surrounding assets including the Sandton Convention Centre and three hotels: The Sandton Sun, The InterContinental Johannesburg Sandton Towers and Sandton Garden Court.

Now, Muller has set Pareto’s sights on gaining greater market share and dominating the market.

“Growing market share is a big focus for us. For shopping centres, this means moving more people into our malls every day. To do this, we need to provide compelling spaces and experiences that really entice shoppers,” explains Muller.

It is well documented that at many South African shopping centres, especially large super-regional malls, foot counts are stagnant or decreasing. Yet, people are spending more money each time they visit a mall. “This shows that shoppers want to do more in fewer trips to the mall. So, we want to give them more reasons to visit malls, and more to enjoy during their visits,” says Muller.

Muller stresses this takes more than the latest gimmick to grab the attention of shoppers. Instead, a long-term view is needed to grow shopper markets.

“We’re not here for a quick win,” says Muller. “Pareto is investing in development, upgrades and redevelopments. There’s a lot happening, and it all ensures our shopping centres improve and change to keep step with ever-evolving retail and consumer trends.”

For Muller, this goes further than simply keeping the fabric of its malls updated. It means keeping each mall’s attractions – its retailers, restaurants, entertainment and services – appealing and fresh to captivate shoppers’ attention.

“Introducing more international retailers to South Africa has become a big focus for us,” says Muller.

“South Africans have had a taste of what is on offer from the world’s top retail brands and they want more,” reports Muller. “We’re also seeing many of our local retailers vulnerable in the face of competition from international retailers. This is a concern for mall owners. So, it’s important to create greater diversity in our tenant mixes.”

Pareto is actively searching out new retailers from other territories that are likely to appeal to South African markets and support the performance of its malls. To do this, it is also looking beyond retailers from markets that are already familiar to South African shoppers, like the UK, US, Europe and Australia.

“We’re looking at places like Turkey and the Middle East for new retail brands to come into South Africa. We believe there will be great opportunities for these retailers here, and they’ll find a good fit with our shoppers,” says Muller, who recently returned from the International Council of Shopping Centres (ICSC) Retail Connections event held in London.

Right now, Pareto has upgrades underway at Menlyn Park Shopping Centre in Pretoria, Cresta Shopping Centre in Johannesburg and The Pavilion in Durban. Through these projects, Pareto is creating the opportunity for new retail brands to gain access to scarce new space in South Africa’s well-established, strongly trading, dominant malls.

“At the same time, we’re improving the shopping and leisure experience for customers with the very latest retail innovations. We’re actively creating more compelling reasons for people to visit our malls,” says Muller. “By introducing new international retailers to South Africa it is ultimately the consumer that wins.”