A northern Johannesburg suburbanite might be forgiven for not
thinking much of the new Signet Terrace shopping mall, which opened
in Lenasia last October. It looks pretty much like any one of
the strip malls youd find in Douglasdale or Fourways.
A light face brick, crescent-shaped structure designed by Mentrax
Associate Architects, it faces out towards the Lenasia CBD and
features anchor tenants like Shoprite, Ackermans, Jet, Morkels,
Ellerines and food outlets such as Milky Lane and Fishaways.
However, what to jaded outside eyes may seem perfectly normal
is in fact the result of five years of intensive planning, extensive
market research and a partnership between developers Silverbird
Property Development and retail consultants Retail Network Services
(RNS). Its also the single biggest investment in Lenasia
Says Gavin Tagg of RNS: Were retail consultants,
so we look at the big picture from the start. First, its
about market research: what market potential is there, what do
consumers want? Its then a matter of us briefing the architects,
giving the right retail layout and the design for the shopping
centres. Then we market the space, get the right tenants in and
anchor them in the right places, along with all the admin and
the feasibility studies.
In the case of Lenasia and the Signet Terrace development, Tagg
says: Initial research showed that about 22 per cent of
business was being retained in Lenasia; the rest was going out
and people were spending their money elsewhere because the suburb
didnt have the facilities. None of the national chains could
get in because nobody would sell properties to them and the properties
werent big enough to accommodate the numbers.
To compound the problem, financiers were unwilling to come to
the table until Absa stepped forward, allowing for things to proceed
While no major changes were made to the surrounding infrastructure
in Lenasia, the provision of electricity was costly due to the
lack of existing facilities in the area. Architect Daniel Bieldt
says: There were quite a lot of town planning and Johannesburg
Roads Agency constraints, such as the incorporation of existing
traffic flow and access to the site by pedestrians. We had to
contend with a predetermined traffic flow which effectively denied
us access from the main thoroughfare.
Tagg is careful to emphasise the large market research aspect
of the project. Situated in the Lenasia CBD, a stones throw
from the train station, the 12 000m2 development has been built
to service both the local community within 3km of the site
and the large number of people who commute to work in the
Says Bieldt: To strengthen the visual link between the
centre and the CBD, we decided that an open crescent plan would
be the most welcoming while simultaneously creating a separation
of commercial activities from the domestic environment. We have
tried to keep the building as close to a domestic scale as possible.
The building utilises classical forms and elements such as colonnades,
gables and pavilions, which, according to Bieldt, lend a
simple elegance to the façade.
Developer Daya Naidoo of Silverbird Property Development, who
was born in Lenasia and whose school was sited opposite the spot
where his mall now stands, is happy with the result. Weve
had a great response from the community. People like something
new and were in the CBD its simple and convenient.
The development has also provided national retailers with the
opportunity to make inroads into previously disadvantaged areas
in a secure and well-serviced environment.
Says Tagg: Its a strip mall but you could take the
actual building and quite easily place it in Sandton. Obviously
your tenant mix would change but the quality and services provided
here are on a par with anything in the Northern Suburbs. Peoples
aspirations are more the same now. Every one wants decent shopping
facilities and wants to be in a nice environment. I think developers
who are going in and developing cheap and cheap-looking places,
often in rural areas, are going to have a very short lifespan.
The centres turnover is estimated at R300-million per annum
and rentals are negotiated in relation to turnover of individual
stores. After three months in operation it looks as if Signet
Terrace will not suffer a truncated life span with its projected
turnovers for national franchises and the generation of new business
for local traders. The fact that the centre is anchored by Shoprite
has also helped to make it attractive to consumers in the area.
Attracting local money back to Lenasia is an important part of
the Signet Terrace development. Tagg also estimates that the mall
has created somewhere in the region of 400-500 permanent
Furthermore, he says, the quality of service and design of the
centre means upliftment of the surrounding areas: the streets
will be clean, therell be more businesses coming through,
and therell be new opportunities created in the vicinity.
To achieve the kind of success that RNS and Silverbird are hoping
for, they have placed great importance on securing the right tenant
mix for the centre. Says Tagg: Its not just a matter
of selecting a shoe shop. Youve got to get a shoe shop with
the right styles, the right prices and the right look for the
market its going to serve. We go through all that detail
with the tenants to make sure weve got merchandise that
matches the consumers needs.
Plans are afoot to expand the centre to meet professional and
commercial demand through the development of office suites. This
could bring the size of the centre up to around the 19 000m2 mark
by the end of next year. Naidoo hints that phase two of the development
could also include a banking mall and a motor showroom.
Says Tagg: It will act as a node for future development,
future enhancement and growth of the area. The benefits are going
to carry on for quite some time.
Soweto goes suburban
Protea Gardens is another Retail Network Services development
being built at the bottom of Old Potch Road in Soweto.
This large 17 000m2 mall will service a primary trading population
of 95 000 and a secondary market of 230 000 consumers. Protea
Gardens will include an indoor section. The development is financed
by Absa and the developers are Greenwold Property Developments
and black empowerment partner Roux Property Development
Greenwolds Chief Executive Officer Jean Groenewald also
stresses his companys commitment to market research. We
are a market-driven development company so before we go in we
check sustainability, growth and capacity to ensure that the market
will sustain such a development. Soweto is an area thats
in dire need of shopping facilities. I think its probably
the biggest city in the world that has no real access to retail
facilities. Hopefully, the malls success will see the upgrading
of surrounding infrastructure by the City of Johannesburg, a clean
up of the surrounding area and neighbouring sites and positive
spin-offs for property prices.
The mall needs to make a turnover of R17m a day so thats
a lot of feet needed through its doors. I think there is a danger
that some developers are going to rush into these areas without
doing their research, which inevitably means some casualties.
The centre is scheduled to be officially open on Freedom Day
(27 April) and has a market potential of R700m a year.
A further RNS, Greenwold and Roux development, Jabulani Mall,
is planned for Jabulani, an area targeted as part of Sowetos
tourism triangle. Says Tagg, This area has always been seen
as the CBD of Soweto. Youve got your police station there,
your public works, your fire station. I think bringing the shopping
centre in is going to create a lot of economic development in
the vicinity. The development will have a large cultural
component to attract some of the vast numbers of tourists visiting
the area and, if everything goes according to plan, is expected
to open in October next year.
These new developments have also had an effect on existing malls
in the area. Southgate Mall in Mondeor, one of SAs top-10
malls in terms of size and a major shopping destination for most
Sowetans, was recently refurbished and extended.Sanlams
Dobsonville Shopping Centre, the first major shopping complex
in Soweto, is about to have a facelift too. In Lenasia, Trade
Routes shopping mall is due to be finished sometime next year.
While the flurry of development in many previously disadvantaged
areas of Johannesburg and its environs may have spin-off benefits,
theres also the danger that the amount of available retail
space will be used up soon. Most of the available space has already
been snapped up by developers.
The altruistic angle of retail developments in such areas is
based on a win-win situation. Local consumers get the benefit
of choice and convenience; national brands increase their market
share through access to areas previously unavailable to them and
opportunities are created for local businesses. Tagg believes
that retailers and developers must be responsible and work
cautiously because its the little guys opening the smaller
shops that are going to suffer more than the national brands
if things fall apart.
Despite containing an estimated 43 per cent of Johannesburgs
population, Soweto only has approximately 3 per cent of the citys
retail floor space. An estimated 2.5-million square metres of
formal retail space is available in metropolitan Johannesburg.
Not all of this is easily accessible to Soweto residents.
Data from various sources estimates the total demand for retail
goods by Soweto residents to be more than R4-billion a year, of
which only R1.5m is spent within Soweto.
It is proposed that the proportion of retail spending within
Soweto could reasonably increase by 50 per cent in five years
The strategic framework for Soweto includes a number of elements
between formal and informal retail development and activity:
- The City of Johannesburg supports the development of an additional
70 000m2 retail space in Soweto over the five years (2004-2009)
- Approximately 30 000 m2 is under construction
- Of the remaining 40 000m2, the City wishes to see 5 000m2
taking the form of street-front shop developments and niche
stores associated with tourism and entertainment centres
- The City wants to develop centres that accommodate local retailers,
with value centres designed for smaller scale enterprises being
Source: Soweto Retail Strategy, prepared for the Economic Development
Unit, Department of Finance and Economic Development, City of
Johannesburg, by Palmer Development Group, in association with
Market Decisions, Viruly Consulting and Richard Tomlinson, November