Wallaya Chirathivat of Central Pattana Plc (CPN) is not your run-of-the-mill shopper. She spends almost 100 days a year browsing the world’s leading malls in high-volume commercial areas but not for personal pleasure.
She looks everywhere _ up, down, left, right, taking notes and pictures of impressive shelf designs, chic lobbies and exotic chandeliers and even having a peek at the toilets and cloak rooms.
The 49-year-old senior executive vice-president for business development and construction management has been doing this for decades in her quest for inspiration, best practices and architectural and functional excellence in the design and construction of the ideal shopping centre or supermarket.
She spends almost 100 days a year browsing the world’s leading malls in high-volume commercial areas but not for personal pleasure
And this is the secret behind the success of CPN’s 16 shopping complexes nationwide, many of them award winners in several categories including architecture, practicality and energy-saving.
Ms Wallaya may have studied economics at the University of California at Los Angeles, but she has a natural flair for the aesthetic, something that surprises many people.
Her achievement is reflected in the numerous awards she can directly take credit for. In the first half of this year alone, CPN received no less than a dozen involving both national and international recognition.
She believes a truly successful mall is one that makes visitors want to return _ with a spacious interior, highly visible directional signage, convenient parking and offerings that match consumer lifestyles and global trends.
“The layout must make locating stores convenient. Grouping shops by merchandise category is essential to fostering the atmosphere of a shopping street with a pleasant environment,” said Ms Wallaya.
She said CPN strives to weave local culture highlights into its shopping centre designs.
“For all our new centre’s, function is foremost, but each one stands out with different art and designs that are intended to blend in with the environment,” she said.
Input from target customers is constantly gathered via surveys in order to fine-tune marketing, products and services.
“To be successful, a shopping centre must be not only a shopping venue that imparts a new experience, but also a place that makes their visit pleasant and relaxing, someplace where families can spend quality time together, “she said.
CPN also understands the importance of the environment and reducing energy consumption. Its development plan is aimed at building retail complexes that meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design requirements, a global constructions standard for energy preservation.
CentralPlaza Chiangrai is the group’s first completely eco-friendly complex in Thailand.
“We take the environment and power consumption reduction seriously at this branch. Each step of the development process was eco-friendly,” said Ms Wallaya.
For example, in the cooler seasons air is allowed to circulate from outside as a refreshing breeze, which eliminates the need for air-conditioners. The building has been designed to reduce the amount of direct sunlight and heat hitting the building. In addition, water features _ pools, waterfalls, fountains _ have been built in front to facilitate cool breezes.
High-performance, energy-efficient innovations enable the building to save up to 1.4 million units of electricity per year, equal to the amount used by 200 households.
CentralWorld in Bangkok, apart from national and international recognition for energy-saving, recently received a Gold Award in marketing, expansion and renovation marketing from the International Council of Shopping Centers.
“We’re very proud of this. This will highlight the success of Thai retail business operators and the industry itself at the regional level. But we consider all the awards that CentralWorld has received over the past two years to be meaningful ‘Oscars’ for our retail business,” said Ms Wallaya.
Regional competitors are SM Prime Holdings in the Philippines and CapitalLand of Singapore.
She travels extensively each year to visit new malls or some of the bigger upscale luxury complexes like Westfield in London and South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, California, to learn new trends, formats and combinations.
During her journeys, Ms Wallaya also visits small museums and state-of-the-art buildings or restaurants and reviews local TV programming and commercials that may reflect people’s thoughts in a country.
But the last thing she does before boarding her flight home is load up on fashion and home-decor magazines.
“I buy all the ones I like even if they’re in a language I don’t know. Everywhere I go, I’m looking at not only the designs but also lifestyles and tastes,” she said.
The executive finds developing beautiful shopping complexes, winning awards and meeting global energy standards to be very challenging. It requires a huge budget but creates a good return on investment.
“CPN has consistently taken a chance even if it was not clear at the time that it was a worthwhile investment. We dare to try,” she said.