Advice and Opinion

Shopping Centre redevelopments: keeping customers through the chaos

Olive Ndebele
Olive Ndebele, general manager of Menlyn Park Shopping Centre.

It’s to be expected: when the project the size of the one that has been steadily transforming Menlyn Park Shopping Centre over the past two years is undertaken, there’s going to be “bleed” – once-loyal customers are going to choose other retail outlets over the noise, dust and inconvenience of shopping on a construction site.

In the case of Menlyn Park Shopping Centre, however, the opposite happened. During some phases of the R2-billion redevelopment, which will position the 37-year-old shopping centre as the largest in Africa, with a total lettable floor space of over 170 000m2, foot count numbers actually increased.

“There were three keys to this success,” explains Olive Ndebele, general manager of Menlyn Park Shopping Centre. “First, our brand message, ‘be the change’, allowed customers to engage and feel a part of what was happening. Second, we used hoarding not only to hide the construction but as an end in itself, as a draw card and talking point. And third, we phased the expansion in order to minimize inconvenience to both our tenants and our customers.”

The media, and social media in particular, played a very large role in keeping customers abreast of developments at the shopping centre and communicating a sense of excitement about the changes. “We held a lot of activations, for example, in April 2015, when we launched the second phase, which was the new triple-level fashion wing and included the world-famous Paris Hilton store, we ran a ‘We brought Paris to Pretoria – come raid her closet’ mini-campaign, which resulted in a foot count increase in the new fashion area of three percent, and a total feet into the area increase of 14% from the month before. A total of 46 457 more customers visited the new fashion wing.”

Another very important part of making customers part of the project was the “concierge” service introduced during the final phase of redevelopment. “To ensure ongoing top-notch customer service, we stationed teams of fully trained, friendly, helpful concierge ambassadors at the busiest nodes of the mall to advise and guide shoppers during trading hours, seven days a week,” explains Ndebele.

The use of temporary hoarding as a unique art installation turned the perceived ugliness of hidden construction on its head. The third-phase redevelopment work, which involved the demolition of a portion of the existing Checkers Hyper and the construction of the new grocery wing, took place behind a fantastical three-metre-high origami wall that paid homage to Pretoria’s world-renowned jacaranda trees. The huge wall of individually cut and intricately folded jacaranda flowers, detailed jacaranda leaves and hand-sculpted proteas became a draw card in itself.

The extensive redevelopment was broken down into several phases in order to minimize disruption. This had the threefold benefit of giving centre management a high level of control over shoppers’ experiences during the two-year redevelopment, minimizing negative effects on tenants’ turnover, and allowing construction to continue unabated. “It also enabled us to communicate with tenants about plans for ‘business as usual’ during the redevelopment, and with a bit of extra thought and work, we were able to turn the negatives of the situation into positives.”

One example of this was the temporary trading space for some of the centre’s best-loved stores, called “The Village”, which was opened on a parking level of the shopping centre during the reconfiguration of the old event arena into the new food court, fashion wing and grocery outlet. “We took a cue from the popular Neighbourgoods Market and Maboneng Precinct in downtown Johannesburg, and The Village, a 8 533m2 space with a metro-grunge feel, became an interim home to 29 shops including Poetry, Old Khaki, Fossil, Sunglass Hut, Home etc., Mr Price Home and Boardmans,” says Ndebele.

For any centre planning major renovations, Ndebele offers the additional following advice. “Understand the vision for the centre, the size and necessity of the renovations, how long it will all take, and the probable impact on all relevant stakeholders. And bear in mind that can’t over-communicate during a time of major upheaval at a shopping centre: use every possible outlet, from social media, PR and advertising, to hoarding and posters, to keep everyone informed, using simple, upbeat messages.”