The Columnist (TC):  How has the retail landscape in the Philippines changed in the last three years? How is it different from neighbouring countries such as Singapore?

Joseph Reyes (JR): The retail industry has been very dynamic in the past three years.  Inspired by the country’s recent economic gains, we’ve seen several start-up companies enter the market, putting up their own retail business, either in the food, apparel or service industries.  These are mostly young entrepreneurs who want to make their own mark.  We have also witnessed the entry of several international or foreign brands, both in the fashion and F&B industries.  For fashion we have the likes of Ermenegildo Zegna, American Eagle, Cotton On, Ever New (Forever New in Australia), G-Star, Superdry, Berschka, and Stradivarius, among others.  Today Filipinos also get to enjoy dishes from Sariwon (Korea), Mango Tree (Thailand), Crystal Jade (Singapore), Village Tavern (USA), and Nanbantei (Japan), to mention a few.  All these developments make the retail industry much more vibrant.  Of course, it is the Filipino consumers who benefit as we now have more options and we no longer have to go abroad to enjoy these brands.

Inspired by the country's recent economic gains, several start-up companies have entered the market in the food, apparel or service industries. PHOTO CREDIT: Benson Kua

Inspired by the country’s recent economic gains, several start-up companies have entered the market in the food, apparel or service industries. PHOTO CREDIT: Benson Kua

With the proliferation of all these brands, we also see several malls being developed.  We at Ayala Malls are set to launch three to four malls every year.  In 2012 alone Ayala Malls opened new and exciting malls in several locations in the country—Harbor Point Mall in Subic; Centrio Mall n Cagayan de Oro; The District Cavite in Imus, Cavite; Bonifacio High Street Central, Parkade 1 & 2 in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig; and the re-developed Glorietta and San Antonio Plaza Arcade in Makati.

In 2012 Ayala Malls opened Bonifacio High Street, where shops are situated in an open development. With the open development, people were given the opportunity to bring their pets as they enjoy their malling experience. PHOTO CREDIT: Roberto Verzo

In 2012 Ayala Malls opened Bonifacio High Street, where shops are situated in an open development. With the open development, people were given the opportunity to bring their pets as they enjoy their malling experience. PHOTO CREDIT: Roberto Verzo

TC:  Do Filipinos have a complex taste for the retail experience?

JR: I wouldn’t call it complex; I think comprehensive is the more appropriate term.  Filipinos don’t look at malls as just a place to buy their basic needs and to satisfy their fashion and food cravings.  Malls nowadays offer almost everything to the Filipino consumer.  At the mall we can also pay our bills, spend time at the gym,  visit our doctor, pamper ourselves, and enjoy family bonding, to name a few.

But of course, at Ayala Malls, we always want to provide a rewarding experience to our mall-goers.  That’s why we don’t just create boxes.  We see to it that we offer a new mall format to our customers.  We make it a point to incorporate lush gardens and parks in our developments, hold interesting events and promotions, and offer unique services and amenities.

TC:  Shoppers enjoy quality retail experience when they visit Ayala malls. What is the principle behind Ayala’s success in creating these experiences in terms of retail space, customer service and facilities?

JR: As I mentioned, we don’t just offer a box with rows and rows of stores.  We offer a rewarding experience by: 1) giving the brands that our market is looking for; 2) ensuring that the character of our malls are different to suit the preferences of the specific market that we are serving; 3) providing additional services such as the concierge where our mall-goers can make reservations at restaurants, hotels or the cinemas, ask for general information, and get dependable assistance in confirming flights and travel plans; and 4) adding points of interest such as our landscape and water features.

As exemplified by their successful mall, Glorietta, Ayala does not just offer a box with rows and rows of stores. They are able to deliver new and thrilling concepts thanks to their investment in the development of their executives. PHOTO CREDIT: Roberto Verzo

As exemplified by their successful mall, Glorietta, Ayala does not just offer a box with rows and rows of stores. They are able to deliver new and thrilling concepts thanks to their investment in the development of their executives. PHOTO CREDIT: Roberto Verzo

TC:  Visiting malls has been a regular part of an urban Filipino’s daily life. How do you think Ayala malls influenced the present urban Filipino in his personal habits? How has the mall environment of Ayala influenced family/social interaction?

JR: “Malling” has become a national obsession for the simple reason that people can do several activities in the malls, and there is something for everyone.  Mom can do her grocery shopping while dad goes to the hardware store, and brother can visit the arcade while sister looks for the perfect dress.  This is possible because we offer what our customers are looking for.

TC:  What are the areas of improvement Ayala is currently undergoing in total mall experience? Do these improvements differ in application per mall?

JR: Because of the importance of the mall to Filipinos, we have made it our mission at Ayala Malls to ensure that we continuously offer a new retail format to the market.  When we opened Greenbelt in the mid-90s, there were skeptics who didn’t think an outdoor mall would work in the Philippine climate.  But we knew that Filipinos don’t want to be cooped up in an artificial environment anymore and want to be closer to nature.  Thus more than three hectares of prime real estate in Makati were dedicated to a park where people can enjoy alfresco dining and commune with nature.

In the late 2000s we again offered a new mall concept in the form of Bonifacio High Street.  This is the first high street concept in the Philippines where shops are situated in an open development.  With the open development, people were given the opportunity to bring their pets as they enjoy their malling experience.

Now we once again bring something new to the market through UP Town Center.  In the tradition of great university town centers around the world, the Univerity of the Philippines Diliman campus along Katipunan Ave. will be transformed into a mixed-use retail and office development.  Emphasis will be given on spaces that promote a clear collaboration between industry and the academe, as well as retail possibilities that inspire start-up business.

Though we always strive to offer something new to our patrons, we also make it a point that services and amenities across our malls are consistent to ensure that the guests in our malls always enjoy a rewarding experience.  We offer concierge services in all our malls. Aside from the regular restrooms, we have customer lounges which offer additional perks.  We also take security seriously to ensure the safety of the guests in our malls.

We also have strong partnership with our merchants as evidenced by the collaboration that we do.  We encourage merchants to come up with new concepts so that we always have something new to offer to the market.  We work with them to bring in new brands and collaborate with them on the brands that the market is looking for.  Our merchants trust us because we don’t compete with them.  In addition, we give importance to our merchants and show our appreciation though our Merchant Rewards programme.

TC:  Ayala has been the trendsetter when it comes to the Philippine mall experience and other developers’ malls are patterned after Ayala’s success. What is your forecast on the retail landscape in the next five years? How will Ayala be a key player in your forecast?

JR: With the expected continued growth of the Philippine economy, Ayala Malls is expanding further our footprint in other growth centres in the country.  We also expect the entry of more international brands and the expansion of more local brands across all Ayala Malls.

But more than malls, we build communities, being the only full line real estate developer in the country.  We started this in Makati which is now the premiere business district in the country, and continued this in Alabang, Ayala Center Cebu, Bonifacio Global City, now in Nuvali, and soon in our FTI property.  We don’t just construct a mall; we develop towns where we have residential buildings, condominiums or subdivisions, office buildings, hotels and leisure destinations, and of course, the malls.

TC: Thank you for sharing your expertise on retail-scape development.

This interview was conducted for The Columnist, a newsletter by Consulus that offers ideas on business, design and world affairs. The views expressed in this article are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of Consulus. The responses express his own personal opinion and is not the official position of Ayala.