With more than 80,000 items in stock, Giftland’s Chief Executive Officer Roy Beepat asserts that the imposing Pattensen Complex is by far the largest retailer in Guyana as if to deliberately underscore the magnitude of the achievement. Beepat does not utter the actual words but it is clear that the Giftland Mall is ‘personal,’ an indelible mark of his accomplishment of an ambition.
Still, seated in his office that is probably as large as the first Giftland outlet in Charlotte Street, he bares the persona of a man still engaged in a far from finished journey. The Complex, he says, is simply the canvas. “We’re in the process of painting the masterpiece.”
Beepat talks about the mental process that informed the creation of the Mall. “I suppose I thought like a consumer rather than like a businessman. I asked myself what would I, as a consumer, want from a facility like this. That was the kind of thinking that went into shaping the project.”
When Stabroek Business suggested that a body of public opinion felt that he was “mad” to undertake such a project in an economy such as Guyana’s, Beepat responded that he was not in the least bit surprised to hear that.
Still, he maintains that the completion of the project represents his recognition of an opportunity. He politely rejects the idea that has been articulated by many that the country lacks the urban population for such a facility. He points to what he describes as “the urbanization of shopping and asserts that the market “can probably handle two or three more malls” like Giftland’s.
Afterwards, he painted an absorbing picture of his journey – from his disappointment with the lack of support which the project received from the local commercial banking sector to the mind-numbing complexities that attend a project of the nature of a US$24 million shopping mall.
Sixty-six per cent of the funding for the project came from sources in Trinidad and Tobago and Suriname. He named First Citizens Bank of Trinidad and Tobago, Assuria of Suriname, the Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry and Hand in Hand Trust as his biggest benefactors. Of his disappointment with the local banking sector the businessman who says that he has been in the retail trade for more than 40 years would only say that the time has come to overhaul the banking system.
Beepat says that the impressive appearance of the structure conceals the costly infrastructure created to support the facility. He says that contrary to assertions in a section of the media the close to one-mile road connecting the railway embankment to the Complex was, in the main, part of Giftland’s investment.
The government, he said, capped the surface only after Giftland’s investment transformed what was in effect a trench into an all-weather road.
The other support services for the Mall include a deep water well, a sewage treatment plant and an electricity plant sufficiently formidable in its lighting capacity to power the entire East Coast Demerara. “You couldn’t do a project of this magnitude and not that kind of critical infrastructure.”
Just a few days shy of two months since the July 2 opening of the complex Beepat says that while he is still far from happy with where the facility is at this time he is “more than happy” with the direction in which it is heading. That is evident in the obvious sense of wonderment still exuded by visitors to the facility who have embraced the complex as though it were their own. From the space afforded in the shopping areas to the various distractions including restaurants and snackettes and eight cinemas under one roof the facility is still revered as a unique first for Guyana.
Giftland itself has already opened its OfficeMax, Giftronics and Sports Max facilities inside the complex. Mario’s, Roosters Grill, Java Coffee Bar, Church’s and M’s Delight are amongst the eateries that have also been offering restaurant services. In September Duke’s Fish and Chips, Mexican Taco and Bistro Azure Cuisine will begin trading whilst New Glory Chinese Fast Food will be ‘joining the club’ the following month.
What Beepat says he aims at is a fully integrated customer experience that offers high-quality shopping combined with cinema entertainment provided by Movie Land and a variety of food and drink that brings “different tastes in a single family” to the Mall.
He remains preoccupied with the volume of competent technical and management staff required to service a retail facility whose point-of-sale infrastructure alone can be a technical challenge. The 56-year-old businessman says, however, that he has already accepted the challenge of having to provide the quality of training that gets his 700-odd employees to the level where they can offer the service that he strives to provide.
Gradually, the transitioning of patronage from the Water Street location to the new Complex is beginning to take shape. The car-based customers have already made the switch in volumes that compensates for the lesser pace at which the foot-based customers have responded.
On the point of the transitioning Beepat says that his efforts to create a bus service from the city to the complex for his staff and customers is being held up by the delay in receiving a response to a request for permission submitted to the police. Incidentally, he adds, “we have already engaged government about putting 4 megawatts of power from our US$4 million power plant into the national grid.” In the longer term the man who is now, unquestionably, the country’s biggest retailer says he wants to give even more to his customers.