Al Sarkal: increasing population and rising per head household consumption will remain key drivers for growth of UAE's retail industry
Retail City is a two-day power networking conference and awards ceremony that brings together global leaders in retail to discuss the hottest topics in retail real estate and to source investment opportunities in new markets. It is an essential networking event for regional and global leaders in the retail sector, addressing key business issues and challenges facing retailers, retail developers, operators, mall manager, consultants, architects and property management organizations. Al Sarkal was speaking on a panel entitled "The Developer Challenge", which addressed issues such as whether the Middle East market has reached saturation point; reinventing the mall concept into lifestyle centers and leisure experience destinations; how regional developers are taking advantage of the economic slowdown; creating sustainable and relevant developments; reviewing key retail projects in the region and their delivery; determining current market needs in order for concepts to be relevant, sustainable and profitable; the importance of community engagement; and how to produce fully-integrated mixed-use schemes. "The increase in the number of state-of-the-art shopping malls is shaping the retail sector in the Middle East, with the scene rapidly changing across the industry," said Al Sarkal. "High rates of consumer goods consumption and the service industry potentials are further pushing the industry's growth. However, the retail scene in the region varies from one country to another depending on the size and disposable income of the population, and the brands which are operating there. The increasing population and rising per head household consumption will remain key drivers for the growth of the retail industry in the UAE, and a wave of new top brands is still arriving in the Middle East reflecting the vibrancy of the market." According to Al Sarkal, consumers have become more socially conscious and responsible, placing higher value on family, relationships, community and the world as a whole. As such, competition to meet consumers' needs is now greater than ever. "To prosper developments need to embrace change and reinvent themselves to have relevance to the consumer. In the case of shopping malls, this means becoming experience centers that offer not only enhanced retail experiences, but also entertainment, education, sports and dining. Developments need to have a sense of place, starting with the design, ambience, authenticity and tenant mix. Developers need to create spaces that will give customers a reason to use the facilities, other than their primary use," he said. And Al Sarkal knows whereof he speaks. Realising the importance of giving consumers and residents what they want and of highlighting history to improve a sense of community, Shurooq is undertaking to revitalise areas of Sharjah through projects such as the 'Heart of Sharjah', which will link Sharjah's heritage areas together, reflecting the emirate's 1950s identity, and transforming it into a tourist and trade destination with modern contemporary artistic touches. "What we have learned from the economic slowdown is that unlocking creativity in creating developments does not depend on huge budgets or complex megaplans," said Al Sarkal. "Successful places inspire, engage and surprise. Urban environments that make the most of existing place assets are what most consumers are looking for. This is why Shurooq is determined to develop the historic area in Sharjah in a way that helps spotlight important stages of the history of the Arabian Gulf region and brings its historic role back into the limelight." "Our aim is to achieve social, cultural, environmental and economic benefits based on Sharjah's distinct Arab and Islamic identity through projects such as the 'Heart of Sharjah', which will introduce new, necessary facilities, while making the most of what is already there," he added. The goal of the Heart of Sharjah project is to develop Sharjah's Heritage Area while preserving its national historic landmarks. Important historical sites will be turned into focal points, while selected historic houses will be transformed into hotels, restaurants, art galleries and markets in a wonderful fusion of the traditional and the modern, perfectly highlighting Sharjah's identity. Al Sarkal explained that the models inherited from the 20th century were based on economic drivers. "It is time to create a more balanced relationship between economic factors and social and environmental ones. Our developments have a positive influence on the day to day lives of thousands of people. Through expertise, community engagement and customer service we are creating environments where people and businesses can thrive." Shurooq is an independent government body based in Al Qasba that is responsible for establishing and developing investment-related infrastructure projects, modernising existing projects, and setting up special investment zones, as well as suggesting and drawing up investment-related legislation, investing in investment projects, and signing and concluding partnership agreements with similar bodies domestically and abroad. The Authority is currently developing several landmark projects in Sharjah, and has already finalised the necessary plans to implement these projects in the near future. The Retail City conference covers the most business-crucial issues for retail professionals world-wide, providing delegates with insight into keeping retail developments relevant in a changing market; seizing the opportunities presented by a new playing field; successful leasing strategies; reviving underperforming retail centers to compete with newer developments; building collaborative partnerships between industry stakeholders to survive and revive the market; and major new retail markets in 2010-2011 (China, Brazil, Middle East, USA).