Smaller malls find their niche

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By Rory Jones  www.thenational.ae

There is a surreal moment riding the lift to the second floor in Al Ghazal Mall when visitors realise they are being watched by a giant bunny rabbit and a bear.

Oasis Centre, on Sheikh Zayed Road, has also been pushing its loyalty programme to attract visitors. Pawan Singh / The National
Oasis Centre, on Sheikh Zayed Road, has also been pushing its loyalty programme to attract visitors. Pawan Singh / The National

Al Ghazal is not an imaginary shopping centre in a fantasy children’s novel but a small mall in Dubai that is enjoying a fairytale revival.

The bunny and sundry animals are mascot-style costumes that stand outside Mr Ben’s Costume Closet, a fancy-dress store that is extending its retail space in the mall.

“[The animals] set the tone for the whole shopping event,” said one mall visitor who recently shopped at Mr Ben’s. “It was my first time in the mall and I went for that place.”

Al Ghazal, which is just a few kilometres from Dubai Mall, suffered a sharp drop in visitors in recent years that left the shopping centre with only half of its retail space leased at the end of 2010.

But one year on, occupancy is at 84 per cent and is expected to reach 100 per cent by March, according to Colliers International, which operates Al Ghazal Mall.

In the first week of December, the mall had 16,800 visitors, compared with 5,400 during the same period in 2010, and the target is to hit 30,000 per week, Colliers says.

“The truth of the matter is that there’s lots of malls suffering, because there’s so many that are repeating the same type of business,” says David Zlatarich, the property manager at Colliers. “What we have been trying to do is serve the community and not have competition inside the mall. We cannot have four shoe shops because that creates excess competition.”

After losing tenants and visitors in recent years to the emirate’s huge and hugely successful shopping centres such as Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates, the smaller malls are experiencing better fortunes as they remix their stores and offer products unique to the vicinity.

Many of Dubai’s malls are trying to offer discount shops and greater value. Some are adding service providers such as health centres and dentists, while others are being marketed as high-end boutiques.

Al Ghazal has added fewer but bigger stores. The shopping centre includes a dentist, a doctor’s surgery, an eye specialist, a phone repair shop and a Lebanese restaurant. It has added a Carrefour Market in the past 18 months and a Brands For Less store.

The mall has also been flexible in its rents, offering deals below average prices and giving tenants the opportunity to sign up for just one year to gauge sales.

Jones Lang LaSalle, a global property consultancy, estimates the average retail rent in Dubai at Dh1,800 (US$490) per square metre. More info