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Market forces steer magic malls
- Govt ready to reach out to retail sector at two-day CII mega summit

A 200,000-sq-ft lifestyle lair on Elgin Road; a 500,000-sq-ft shopping plaza on Prince Anwar Shah Road; a 500,000-sq-ft plus mixed-use mall in Salt Lake…

Shop space is shooting through the roof, the retail pie is growing bigger and bigger, market players are choosing Calcutta as their playground and the Left Front government is keen to cash in.

Within weeks of consulting major McKinsey identifying retail as a thrust area for the government, the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) has decided to make a strong retail pitch where it matters — at next week’s Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) summit.

Retail 2002, a two-day summit (November 27-28), organised by the CII Eastern Region, will provide an opportunity for serious investors, franchisers and retailers to network and explore the prospects of long-term business relationships in these parts. ‘Unlimited opportunities’ is the theme of the meet, which has the WBIDC as an associate sponsor, with state industry minister Nirupam Sen as chief guest for the inaugural session. WBIDC executive director Atri Bhattacharya will make a presentation on ‘Opportunities in the retail sector in West Bengal’ — a reiteration of the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government’s resolve to recognise market forces and reach out to retailers.

“This is the first time that Calcutta will play host to a retail seminar of this scale, with 20 key players participating. The diverse profile of the speakers is a reflection of the changing scenario in the city,” says CII regional director Amitabh Khosla. The success stories of the likes of MusicWorld, Pantaloons, Raymond and Sony World have clearly enthused other big brands to explore Calcutta as a strong prospective destination. So, if B.S. Nagesh, managing director of Shoppers ‘ready-to-enter-Elgin Road’ Stop will speak on ‘the future of small-format stores and growth of department stores as a business’, Pankaj Mohindroo, CEO, Agrani Convergence, will focus on the ‘first technology retail superstore’, which incorporates the convergence of telecom, IT, media and entertainment (Time).

Top bosses of big brands like Pantaloons, FoodWorld, The Home Stores, Ebony Retail Holdings Ltd, Imax Adlabs Multiplex, KSA Technopak, Apollo Health & Lifestyle, VLCC, Dr Morepen, TCS, Genesis Colors, K. Raheja Corp, will all make their presence felt. New retail businesses, franchising, operational issues and re-engineering of strategies for existing business are the thrust areas identified this year.

“Calcutta has come a long way in terms of retail maturity, as is evident from the surge of consumer spending on branded goods in recent times. The experience-sharing by the top players in other metros will provide further impetus to this growth,” observes the CII regional director.

Rahul Saraf, whose 200,000-sq-ft lifestyle mall Forum opens its doors to Calcuttans in January, feels this year’s summit is crucial as “we are on the threshold of a revolution in organised retail”. After all, the next couple of years should see Charles Correa’s signature City Centre in Salt Lake, Metropolis inside Hiland Park on the Bypass and another 500,000-sq-ft facility in south Calcutta coming up.

Retail 2002 is sponsored by Bengal Ambuja, with City Developers’ Forum (CDF), Hiland Park and Forum as co-sponsors. CII’s national committee on retailing will also meet on the sidelines to “enable the core group in the east integrate better with work done at the national level”. Sushil Mohta, secretary of CDF, scheduled to make a presentation during the meet, says: “Calcutta is the second city of the Raj after London and the first in Asia where organised retail started. With so many shopping windows from Poila Boisakh to the Pujas to Diwali and Christmas, the opportunities for retail here are endless.”

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