In a quite unexpected way, the Giftland Mall may have become a victim of its own success. The planned expansion of what has become a near iconic shopping and entertainment showpiece to include, among other things, what the mall’s Chief Executive Officer Roy Beepat says will be a novel supermarket that will aim to offer a 70 per cent level of local foods, is likely to place further pressure on what has become its Achilles Heel, parking. There is no space left on the area of land allocated for the mall and its appurtenances and the anticipated level of additional patronage which Beepat believes will result from the advent of a supermarket could disrupt what is already the delicate balance between patrons and parking space, particularly at weekends.
Efforts by the mall’s management to persuade government to allocate a further five acres of the one hundred and nine acres of state land located south of the Arthur Chung Convention Centre to add to the customer parking capacity appears to be moving painfully slowly. Beepat remains optimistic though it is not difficult to detect his preoccupation with moving the mall in the direction of optimizing the services that it provides in the shortest possible time.
“We already have an investor for the supermarket and there is the potential for the creation of an additional 800 jobs once the supermarket is up and running,” Beepat says. He believes that the job-creation potential of the new supermarket reposes what will be its focus on offering a range of locally produced foods, a service which he says could add fresh impetus to what has been, until now, a relatively sluggish manufacturing sector while, hopefully, “contribute to the development of local industries in the agricultural and agro-processing sectors, better positioning them to take advantage of the US$13 billion Caricom import market and spur value-added activities in the agriculture and livestock sectors.”
Beepat explains that the existing bureaucratic logjam that has been created in the company’s quest to secure additional lands to expand its customer parking could be inhibiting in more ways than one. The Giftland Mall, he explains, enjoys–during peak hours and special events–encouragingly high levels of patronage. “As with all malls these peak times offset the quieter periods of the day. The peak periods are essential to balance the revenue inflows of the small merchants, allowing them to remain in business and essentially allowing the continuance of the mall.” Not that the businessman, who currently provides direct employment for more than 500 persons, appears to be allowing himself to be preoccupied by the parking issue. Since the opening of the facility in July last year more than 3 million customers have walked through its doors and the current preoccupation with adding value to what the mall already offers appears to be the prevailing preoccupation going forward. The mall, he says, has become “an important part of the community landscape, providing a range of otherwise unavailable services… We are also particularly pleased with the positive feedback that we have had from the visiting Guyanese diaspora and tourists.” Though he adds that visitors “continue to draw attention to the paucity of the parking.”
Beepat says that it is the urban social transformation which the mall has created that has been one of its biggest accomplishments. Even he marvels at the way in which the facility with its food court, cinemas and other service providers ranging from boutiques to cellular phone shacks draws crowds, mostly as night falls. He believes that where shopping and entertainment are concerned the Giftland Mall has been a game-changer.
Beepat explains that in its initial feasibility study and in the initial presentations to government and investors which resulted in the present acreage being granted for the project it had been projected that the need for additional parking would become greater as the mall expanded to its full capacity. He points out that an initial survey commissioned by the Department of Lands and Survey had determined that the three acres of land allocated was insufficient for the needs of the mall.
Beyond the planned supermarket Stabroek Business understands that the mall’s expansion plans include a Health and Fitness Centre and other services. “We simply cannot proceed comfortably with our expansion plans until we have remedied our parking challenges,” Beepat says. In essence, the inability of the Giftland Mall to guarantee convenient parking to its anticipated additional patronage likely to derive from an increase in the range of its services has in effect put a brake, a temporary one, Beepat believes, on growth and expansion.
It is not, however, Beepat says, a concern that he can dwell on. He points out that “there is simply too much going on, too much to be pleased about in terms of the social impact of the facility and the manner in which it has transformed public perceptions of both shopping and entertainment.”
It is the public response rather than the entrepreneurial success of the venture that animates him. Beepat talks about the weekend throngs that include patrons of all walks of life who find their way to the mall to soak up the experience of shopping in its unique environment.
Going forward, there are more services to be added to those already in place at the Giftland Mall. There is, Beepat says, constant discourses with potential franchise holders and the expectation is that the facility will experience a growth in a range of sectors that include home furnishing, optical, travel agency services, hairdressing salons and food.
Beyond the consolidation of its own range of services Beepat believes that the mall possesses capacity in some service areas that can redound to be broader benefit of the community that hosts it. Multi-million dollar investments in electricity has ensured a level of redundancy that now positions Giftland to provide electricity to institutions and communities along the East Coast. Beepat makes mentioned of the potential for Giftland to provide power supply support for the University of Guyana which suffers from the accustomed outages arising out of the vulnerabilities of the service provided by the national grid. Some exchanges between Giftland and Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson on the possibility of UG sourcing electricity from the mall have been initiated.
Good help, Beepat concedes, is hard to find. “It really is a matter of being able to recruit staff of the quality that can allow us to provide the kind of First World service to which we aspire. Because we are always aiming for that quality of service we give a high level of attention to the quality of service provided by our staff. We spend large sums on training but that does not say that there are not still gaps. I can tell you that because of our service quality ambition our staff turnover is high.”
Investment in children’s entertainment has targeted a playground, rock-climbing and a modest facility for contemporary indoor games. Beepat says that children are a large part of the reason why adults visit the mall and that part of the focus of the management is to provide “safe and appealing spaces” for children.
For all that it has already accomplished Beepat says the Giftland Mall remains a work in progress. Even now, work is proceeding, painting, plastering, erection of fences and guard huts and signage. He believes, however, that the mall is in a good place. “Perhaps the real accomplishment is that the people have embraced the mall as their own. They have taken care of it and at a national level they see it as a place that Guyana can show off. As the creators of the facility we really cannot ask for more.”