Retail Destination – Asansol: Rising in the East

With 5,50,000 sq ft mall space slated to become fully operational by 2011, Asansol is positioned to be the next big city emerging on the retail map of the East zone after Kolkata.

Though considered a quiet city by nature, Asansol, also known as the mining metropolis of West Bengal, scores over many other tier II cities in terms of infrastructure, economic growth and development activities; and now it is preparing to unlock its untapped potential for modern retail as well

With its mineral rich resources, heavy industrial development and a growing population, Asansol has emerged as the obvious choice for retail and real estate activities, after Kolkata, as modern retail expands its reach beyond metro cities. Located in the heart of Raniganj coal field, this city is ranked 28th in India as per market potential value and quite surprisingly, in comparison to Asansol, the more talked about retail locations like Nasik and Bhubaneswar rank only 26th and 57th , respectively.

Merits – Location, economy and Population

Asansol is the second largest and the second most populated city in the state after Kolkata. The urban area of Asansol is apread across 360 sq km with a population of almost 11 lakh. According to 2001 census, the population of the main city was around 4,75,439 while the population size would be close to 10,67,369 inclusive of greater Asansol. Experts also opine that considering the hinterlands, the population size is expected to touch 12 to 13 lakh.

As per the government policies, the city is already in the process of being upgraded to a mega city very soon. Explaining the city’s claim to fame further, Mayank Saksena, associate director, Jones Lang LaSalle India says, “The entire corridor connecting Durgapur, Dhanbad, and Bokaro is coming up very fast. Durgapur is already set to enter its next phase of retail development while Dhanbad and Bokaro are also following the path. Therefore, it was only Asansol that was missing from the link for a long time. So today or tomorrow the developments had to happen here. Also, two major mineral rich states like Bihar and Jharkhand are situated in close proximity to Asansol. While with a steady government, Bihar is already on the growth path, Jharkhand is also getting a lot of new investments. All such activities are certainly having an impact on Asansol’s economy. Not just in retail, in fact Asansol is witnessing a massive growth across all sectors”.

Key Driver – Industries

Unlike emerging towns, Asansol’s industrial history is not new. Since the British era, it has been the industrial hub of West Bengal. The two largest industrial players which contribute towards the region’s economic livelihood are Eastern Coalfields, a subsidiary of Coal India Ltd, and IISCO steel plant from Steel Authority of India Ltd. Other major players which have industrial base in the city include Chittaranjan Locomotive Works, Hindustan

Cables, Damodar Valley Corporation, Burn Standard, Reckitt & Coleman, Burnpur Cement, Asansol Cement etc. Being the divisional headquarter of Eastern Railways, the city’sĀ economic growth has also been contributed by Eastern Railway to a great extent. The city’s development of steel and iron industries is actually led by the extensive growth of railways. The diesel locomotive cell in Andal, Chittaranjan Locomotive Works (CLW) and the ancillary units around the locomotive units offer huge employment opportunity to the local people and also help grow new urban settlements around the plants. Today, with IISCO planning major expansion in the region and corporates like Jindal and Videocon coming in to invest, Asansol is hogging the limelight like never before.

According to a research by International Institute for Environment and Development, a UK based policy research firm, Asansol ranks 42 among the 100 fastest growing cities in the world and one amongst top 11 among Indian cities.

Demographic profile

A major part of Asansol’s population includes salaried class who are employed in these industries, midsize and small local traders and students who are educated, aware and aspiring. “The demographic profile of Asansol consumers would be SEC B+ , B predominantly but there is also a limited population of two to three lakh belonging to SEC A. So there is a large base of consumers with deep pockets,” says Saksena. Kalyan Ghosh, head – retail services, NAI NK Realtors, adds, “The city’s population is well educated and economically sound but somehow the aspirational level is low, however, it is changing gradually. In fact, from business perspective, Asansol has all the ingredients of being a metropolis. Inspite of all the industrial and commercial activities happening in the city, it still has not experienced modern retail. Therefore, there is a huge untapped opportunity for modern retail which can be explored”.

The city’s well developed infrastructure also makes it a retail destination of tomorrow.

Sound Infrastructure

The city’s well developed infrastructure also makes it a retail destination of tomorrow. The national highway (NH2) G.T.Road runs across the city, keeping the traffic flow hassel free. The city’s well planned surface transport plan also has a bypass that allows to connect the highway avoiding the comparatively congested areas like kulti and Barakar. Being the subdivisional headquarter, the city enjoys hassel free railway connectivity. Almost all trains linking Kolkata with the rest of North Bengal and Northern parts of India pass through Asansol. The city already has an aerodrome in Burnpur and another proposed airport will come up in Andal as a part of Aerotropolis developed by the consortium of three companies and West Bengal Infrastructure Development Corporation. “The city’s infrastructure is at par with any other metropolis. Since infrastructure plays an important role in retail development, a city like Asansol where the existing infrastructure is well developed, retail revolution will definitely find its way,” adds Ghosh.

A market with promises

As the emerging retail hotseat of Eastern India, Asansol’s credit list includes its large salaried population, high per capita income, steady economic growth, well developed infrastructure, emerging residential and commercial developments, industry conducive environment, educational institutes and above all, changing mindset of consumers. “Asansol has a number of reasons for grabbing attention. The place has always been an active and pro-industry city where people have good purchasing power. Apart from the main city, the greater Asansol and its surrounding areas like Jamuria, Raniganj, and Burnpur are also industrial areas. The population that resides here is educated and financially solvent. In the last few years there has been a tremendous development in and around Asansol. Other than the already existing plants like IISCO and CLW, a lot of new industrial players have come in now. Corporates are coming in triggering the growth of ancillary units and such activities are being adequately supported by Asansol Durgapur Development Authority,” says Ghosh.

Talking about the market potential of the city, the same enthusiasm is reflected in the voice of Sahil Saharia, associate vice president, Shristi Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd. He says, “At least 10 to 15 per cent of Kolkata shoppers come from other cities of West Bengal. Presently a lot of shoppers come all the way from Asansol to Kolkata for shopping. We are targeting these customers in Asansol. There has been a phenomenal response to our residential projects which indicates that customers have purchasing power and they are looking for a new experience. The profile of the customers would be SEC A, B+, B and also few A+. Both salaried work force and trading community form a considerable part of the customers”. Shristi Infrastructure is building a new integrated township named Shristinagar covering almost 90 acres in greater Asansol.

“Inspite of all the infrastructural and economic development, modern retail formats are yet to reach the city. However, things started changing fast when a few developers decided to tap the city’s unexplored potential for modern retail. As new residential projects started coming up, new markets were being created prompting marketers to think of the city’s growing demand for modern shopping centres and entertainment destinations,” explains Ghosh.

“As Kolkata was fast filling up, developers started exploring markets like Asansol where the occupancy cost is less yet the opportunity for modern retail is huge. Asansol as a city matches all the parametres of being a metro, so developers started flocking in with projects,” observes Ghosh. As per market reports three to four shopping malls were proposed to come up in Asansol, however, in the aftermath of the economic slowdown, quite a few projects were scrapped except for two most ambitious projects of the city – Asansol Sentrum and Galaxy Mall.

Asansol Sentrum – a Mall for The New Asansol

Developed by Shristi Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd and ADDA, Asansol Sentrum is a 2.5 lakh sq ft retail destination proposed to come up in the Shristinagar township. Planned by Singapore-based architect firm Sembcorp, the 90 acre integrated township features six million sq ft of total built-up area, and has been conceived to accommodate apartments, group housing, bunglows, row houses, hotel, park, IT complexes, entertainment parks and Asansol Sentrum.

While the township itself serves as its primary catchment area, it will also get customers from the entire city of Asansol as its extended catchment. “Almost 500 units have been completed and by the end of 2010 approximately 600 families are expected to come in. Retail development is coming up in the second phase. Together the retail and commercial development would take up approximately 5.5 lakh sq ft,” explains Saharia.

Asansol Sentrum comes with the promise of quite a few ‘new experiences’, bringing a balanced mix of global brands, leading domestic players as well as local retailers covering almost 1,75,000 sq ft gross leasable area (GLA). The mall has three main zones dedicated for retail, food and entertainment. The mall is bringing Big Bazaar as its major anchor covering almost 45,000 sq ft spaceĀ spread over G+2 floors. Keeping in mind the demographic profile of the customers, the mall has introduced an innovative concept of ‘Mini Anchors’ instead of having a second major anchor. The mall has signed up Lifestyle Max and Westside Fashion Yatra as mini anchors. “We believe that Asansol as a market cannot sustain two major anchors of similar profile. So we thought of having brands that can sustain in the long run. The market is still at an early stage to accommodate a Pantaloon or a Shoppers Stop. On the other hand, brands nowadays want revenue sharing, so our idea is to bring names which will prove to be commercially viable in this kind of market,” justifies Saharia. The developers are planning to also bring in home grown retail brands like Sriniketan as a mini anchor. Explaining the concept Saharia adds, “Fashion Yatra is also going to be a new entrant in the eastern region. In fact, Trent has conceived Fashion Yatra as a value apparel store for tier II and tier III cities. We are also in talks with Sriniketan which is a well known retail brand in the region.” Apart from major anchor and three mini anchors, the mall plans to have atleast one lakh sq ft area for vanilla stores. The mall has already signed up brands like Nike, Reebok, Adidas, Bata, Nokia, Hoffmen, Moustache, Jockey, Prapti P.C. Chandra, Gini & Jony, Zodiac, Heritage, VIP, Samsonite, Kanpur Leather House, Planet M, The Mobile Store, Titan, Turtle, Success, Linc Pen, Thomas scott, The Loot, GKB, Giani’s and Pantaloon Factory Outlet, among others.

As the entertainment anchor, Inox Leisure Pvt Ltd will operate the multiplex at Asansol Sentrum. Spread over 40,000 sq ft including the chargeable area, the multiplex will have four screens and 1000 seats. The mall will also have a sprawling 30,000 sq ft area for food and catering services. It has signed Speciality Restaurants Pvt Ltd (SRPL) as the major anchor for the foodcourt. In fact, SRPL will launch its three formats – Haka, the quick service restaurant, Flame & Grill, the speciality restaurant and Shack, the lounge bar.While Haka and Flame & Grill will cover almost 10,000 sq ft retail space, Shack will be spread over 2000 sq ft. The food court also has a 10,000 sq ft space dedicated for local food retail brands. In quick service restaurants category, the mall has signed up Cafe Coffee Day, Subway, Devyani International and Gama Hospitality.

The mall, designed by OS2, comes with a number of designing and planning innovations to ensure long-term sustainability in a tier II city. The malls flaunts a contemporary and global look, which has been largely achieved by intelligent use of colours and straight lines instead of glass. In terms of navigation and convenience, the mall has a spacious central atrium ensuring almost 80 per cent visibility of shops. The mall features latest amenities including eight escalators and a open car parking space accommodating 1000 vehicles (including two-wheelers and four-wheelers). To encourage both customers and retailers, the mall has planned to have an amphitheatre which will be used as a family space as well as a venue for events, exhibitions and product launches. “The mall is not a towering one and we have incorporated a lot of greenery around the mall. We have tried to look into every single detailing starting from its open spaces to lighting,” claims Saharia.

Galaxy Mall – shopping at the heart of the city

While Sentrum is slated to open by September 2010, the city will get its first mall at G.T. Road, the heart of the city. Galaxy, a three lakh sq ft mall, developed jointly by Srijan Realty and Avani Group plans to open its doors by August 2010. Located at Burnpur Road and Pologround crossing opposite Chitra Cinema, Galaxy is one of the city’s most awaited retail destinations.

Explaining the merits of the mall, Ghosh of NAI NK Realtors says, “The basic advantage of the mall is its location, which is why the mall will attract footfalls from the entire city of Asansol. It is the nerve centre of the city and the mall will cash in on its prime location.”

Galaxy mall has been designed to drive in customers from 40 to 50 km radius of the city area which includes major residential and commercial complexes. With a gross leasable area of 2,50,000 sq ft, the mall has six levels excluding basement, lower ground and ground floor. Being the first mall of Asansol, the mall boasts of bringing in leading fashion brands and retailers in the city for the first time in a mall environment. The mall has 10,000 sq ft space for fashion retail and almost 13,000 sq ft retail space dedicated exclusively for the food court. Currently, almost 40 per cent of the total mall space has already been leased out to brands like Reebok, Turtle, Levi’s, Pepe, W, Zodiac, Himalaya Opticals, Passport, Moustache, Success, Chique, Hoffmen, Tourister, Spaces, John Players, Gini & Jony and Cantabil. For the remaining space, the mall is trying to rope in brands like Bata, Pepe Jeans, Titan, Woodland, Thomas Scott, Sriniketan, City Style, City Mart, Blackberry, Nokia etc. The mall has already roped in Big Bazaar as its anchor store and Eylex as its entertainment anchor. Spread over 35,000 sq ft the threescreen Eylex multiplex will have a seating capacity of 750 seats. Food court and fine dining account for a sprawling 13,000 sq ft area, but the food court operator is yet to be finalised. “We are still in discussion stage and yet to finalise a food court operator. We do not have any bias so it can be a national player or even a regional operator. In fact, we are considering doing it on our own as well,” says Shyam Agarwal, CMD, Srijan Realty.

Face off

With both the malls scheduled to become a part of the citylife by 2011, Asansol is poised to reach the highpoint of its retail development. Both Galaxy and Sentrum are striving to bring in a wide gamut of brands and entertainment options to the customers. While Asansol Sentrum banks on the emerging Shristinagar township, Galaxy mall opposite Chitra Cinema is eyeing the existing high street shoppers of G T Road, also known as Asansol’s traditional retail hub. Though the primary catchment areas are different but both centres are targeting every potential customer from every nook and corner of the city. Both malls will also focus on value retail for maximum profitability and faster break even in a tier II environment. While Big Bazaar is coming in both the projects as lifestyle anchor, to add a local flavour both malls are vying to have well known regional and local players like Mohan’s and Sriniketan.

As a mall, Galaxy’s major advantage is its location which has a ready base of valued customers. “Galaxy is expected to score for its huge, ready catchment with deep pockets which also promises to churn out better and faster profitability for tenants,” adds R N Agarwal, director, Srijan Group. Apart from its location and size the mall also enjoys early mover advantage which is one of the major selling points of the mall. “The city does not have any shopping and entertainment destination at the moment. Practically the city has no exposure of modern retail so far. So, Galaxy is definitely going to fill up the vacuum by being the first destination which will have modern retailers, eateries, multiplex etc,” adds Agarwal.

On the other hand, Asansol Sentrum has its targets beyond the existing catchment and high street environment, with a huge emerging catchment being called the New Asansol. “As the mall is situated inside Shristinagar township, the mall will be catering to the entire township population as well as the main Asanol city as its extended catchment. In fact, a major percentage of emerging settlement in New Asansol will be traders with high disposable income,” says Subesh Ray, joint MD, Lemongrass Advisors Pvt Ltd. With a well designed entertainment zone being developed inside the township surrounding the retail development, Asansol Sentrum also scores for having a well spread out hangout area. The mall will also experiment with new concepts like ‘Mini Anchors where Fashion Yatra and Lifestyle Max is coming for the first time in the region. The mall also has an innovative local ‘bazaar’ concept featuring local retailers on one floor.

Nevertheless, despite the hype about Asansol’s changing retail real estate scene, Sentrum and Galaxy both seem to have challenges to cope with as well. “Initial six months will be ecstatic for both the malls as people will just come in to feel the experience but the real challenge is to maintain the hype even after that. Footfall will ultimately depend on comfort and convenience. The initial hype has to be backed up by well planned and effective promotional activities involving the society so that the mall becomes a destination for daily needs, lifestyle needs, eating and entertainment needs of Asansol’s people,” says Ray.

Also both malls will have the challenge of breaking the ground in a tier II city where customers are still conservative. Both the malls will be facing the challenge of reducing operational cost and increasing conversion rate. “A lot of people will come to see and buy initially but having a steady conversion rate will be a real challenge. So both the malls need to get ready for a longer game,” adds Ray. According to Ray while Galaxy will face the problems of city’s overburdened infrastructure, Asansol Sentrum will have to wait for at least six to seven years for people to move into Shristinagar. Though both developers seem to be hopeful but market insiders opine that Asansol’s catchment is yet to develop an appetite for two malls covering five lakh sq ft. “Though Asansol is developing fast but a major percentage of its population belongs to SEC B, B+. So anybody who wants to survive will have to think of efficient mall management to reduce operational cost. Developers also need to plan very carefully and intelligently otherwise the overall market will suffer. Honestly the size and profile of the customer base does not really demand a five lakh sq ft mall space at the moment. Therefore, it is going to take long to actually make profit in this segment,” explains Saksena.

However, the good news is that both Asansol Sentrum as well as Galaxy seem to be experimenting with fresh ideas to add value to the existing retail scene. It’s important to remember along the way that the ability to create a fine balance of cost effective design, innovative product mix, efficient mall management, and planned promotional activities is crucial to achieve sustainability and long-term success.

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