Events News

#RetailReinvented: the power of retail and its potential to uplift communities

Fortress REIT's Botlokwa Plaza in Limpopo.

The shopping centre industry, along with the retail sector, is significant in the South African context. It is estimated that the retail sector employs about 21% of our workforce, making it one of the largest employers (after Government). The industry rule of thumb is that for every 30m2 to 40m2 in a shopping centre, the sector creates one job.

Fortress REIT recently hosted a webinar with industry thought leaders to discuss the profound importance of this sector, not only in the economy, but for the communities it serves and to discuss how shopping centres and malls can become a greater force for good in 2022 and beyond.

Moderated by Nozipho Tshabalala, the #RetailReinvented webinar included a thought-provoking panel discussion between Lynda Toussaint (CEO of Unjani Clinics NPC), Vuyiswa Ramokgopa (former CEO of SAIBPP), Tim White (CEO of Profica), and Vuso Majija (Executive Director of Fortress Retail) who shared their insights gained from their experiences of working in and with the retail sector:

Community engagement. This is a cumulative process that can at times be quite difficult. Trust between parties is built over time and property developers need to be very deliberate about being in a real partnership with the community. There are benefits to good community engagement that allows for everyone’s voices to be heard and their needs to be considered.

The importance of bringing services into the retail space for consumer convenience. By using retail spaces as offices for Government services, like Home Affairs, or establishing clinics, partners can benefit from the mall’s footfall, security, and transport nodes, in turn, providing a convenient option for consumers.

True partnerships between Government and the private sector. While community engagement is important, the panellists all agreed that Government and municipalities need to step up and play their part more effectively in order to make significant progress in job creation and improvement of services offered to communities.

Finding new ways to partner with Government, retailers, and the community. We need to unlearn old methods of negotiating and to find new ways to create real partnerships with communities and municipalities that truly deliver modern infrastructure.

Putting communities first to make retail a force for good requires thorough research and market insights. Transport routes, access to the facility within the shopping centre and consumer behaviour needs to be considered to ensure the services being offered are actually utilised by the community and that the right balance of retail tenants, experiences, and services are offered.

Design with the community in mind. The consumer should be the focus of the design process – who are you designing for? How are you designing the space with the community in mind? For example, the panel gave insights around really understanding their transport needs, where do you put the clinics to ensure privacy of patients, queue management etc.

Integration of local businesses into the tenant mix. In general, when a mall is built in a township area, there is a micro-economy that emerges right outside the centre. What needs to be done to create formalised spaces for these traders? Is there an opportunity to generate non-GLA income, keeping in mind that they have credible businesses that make money? Enterprise development funding should be redirected to these traders, who form part of the community.

E-commerce is a huge opportunity. Service providers can’t always provide door-to-door delivery in townships or rural areas, so existing retail spaces can act as last-mile delivery points. To make this a reality, partnerships with e-commerce providers are essential. This would not only bring more feet into the centres but serve the community in more meaningful ways.    

We hope that everyone who watched the webinar is inspired by the prospects that are available in the retail sector. There are so many innovative ways to take advantage of the opportunities in a way that continues to uplift and empower communities and we look forward to partnering more with government and the communities we operate in to serve them better”, commented Steven Brown, CEO of Fortress REIT Limited.