Not even a pandemic could stop the new Gordons Plaza from opening in Port Moresby. Brian Bell CEO Cameron Mackellar talks to Business Advantage PNG about the challenges of launching during COVID-19.
When Papua New Guinea’s retail group Brian Bell made plans to shift its Port Moresby warehouse from the suburb of Gordons to a new facility at Gerehu, the company invested K30 million to turn the dark, deserted warehouse space it left behind into a brand new 24-store mall.
‘Turning the ugly duckling into the swan,’ laughs Brian Bell’s CEO Cameron Mackellar.
It was a brave move to continue on with the project during the global COVID-19 pandemic and PNG’s state of emergency but, Mackellar says, the end result has outshone the group’s expectations.
Featuring an expanded group-owned Home Centre as its anchor tenant, the mall has been created as a one-stop shopping experience for those looking for a range of retail experiences, from homewares, musical equipment or postal services, and will provide a much-needed boost to the local job market.
‘Consumer trading is actually up for us, the number of transactions and what people have been spending in our stores has been quite strong.’
Drawing its inspiration from international malls but adapting to local Papua New Guinean needs, the new Gordons Plaza has been in the works for three years, yet COVID-19 restrictions did affect the opening.
‘There were considerations toward the back end of the project with meeting current expectations,’ Mackellar tells Business Advantage PNG. ‘It was more about how we manage traffic flow upon opening and the fact we had a very soft opening.’
Soft opening or not, word still got around and Mackellar says the latest addition to Port Moresby’s retail landscape has enjoyed an ‘overwhelming response’ from shoppers, with queues forming to get into the revamped space. And that is good news for its retailers.
‘When you open a shopping centre that has 21 new retail outlets, they have a view that they want to be trading pretty solidly from the get-go, because they are paying rent for that privilege and you had to temper that with the current challenges of social distancing and controlling crowds,’ Mackellar says.
Trading conditions on the up
Brian Bell’s CEO believes that business overall has seen an uptick since the end of PNG’s state of emergency in mid-June.
‘Trade has absolutely continued to pick up. It is not levelling out; it is continuing to grow for us,’ he says. ‘We have been in a more privileged position than some companies during the period of COVID-19. While it has been impactful on our business, we have still been able to maintain operations and, since May, we have seen a strong resurgence back to what we consider more regular trading.
‘The only real impact is in the corporate space, where building projects have been put on hold, or stopped altogether. That is the area that has most impacted our business. Consumer trading is actually up for us, the number of transactions and what people have been spending in our stores has been quite strong.’
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