Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 July 2019

Malls of the UAE: Modern retail through a prism to the past in Al Ain

We head to the southern part of Al Ain for a visit to Bawadi Mall.
Bawadi Mall's facade hearkens back to a previous age of forts and clay-baked cladding. Delores Johnson / The National
Bawadi Mall's facade hearkens back to a previous age of forts and clay-baked cladding. Delores Johnson / The National

Last month in our mall-ology series we dropped into Al Ain Mall. This time around we head to the southern part of the Garden City for a visit to Bawadi Mall.

A shopkeeper speaks:

“The days are slow apart from weekends and Mondays”, those being the days when the rides at Fun City, the children’s entertainment area, cost Dh1 each.

What are the selling points?

The mall is on the far edge of Al Ain towards Oman. The mall’s facade harkens back to a previous age of forts and clay-baked cladding. You basically have to leave Al Ain to get to the mall but that distance has afforded it space, with the car park surrounding the shopping centre. The mall began operation in 2009 and you won’t get many larger single- level malls in the UAE. It offers 110,000 square metres of gross leasable area with over 260 outlets in it. There is also a Souq Al Quoz attached to the mall, which sells traditional carpets, rugs and items one may find in the ancient bazaars of Marrakesh – with the outlets in the souq added to the mall there are more than 400 stores and F&B outlets.

The mall is anchored with a Carrefour hypermarket and offers stores and concepts that are needed on a day-to-day basis, so there is a huge Daiso, the Japanese value chain, an Ace hardware, a Danube and an H&M alongside many other mid-level names. It is a realistic mall offering modern, wide concourses with natural light dominating thanks to its single-level appointment and the glass- domed ceiling criss-crossed with frames evoking a Victorian railway station.

Tracking footfall

I was there on a Monday afternoon and the mall was sparsely populated, however I was assured that once school was out the Dh1 for every ride in the children’s entertainment centre would fill the mall with families until late evening. There are many food and beverage options, although not as many as other malls, and many were doing a brisk trade. Last year 10.4 million people visited Bawadi Mall and its management expects that figure to remain stable this year. The mall also offers a 13-screen Grand Cinema with state-of-the-art screens and entertainment centre. It realises its immediate catchment area is not on its doorstep, so people need a reason to drive to it.

As the mall is close to Oman it gets many tourists and visitors from the neighbouring country looking to connect with brands not available at home. The surrounding area may be sporadically populated today, but there are new developments and Al Ain’s rising population suggests retail is still a healthy sector.

The outlook

Bawadi is now seven years old and with retail being both a fashionable and faddish sector, the developers NBHI are looking to extend and develop the mall further.

“We are looking at adding another 20,000 sq metres,” said Bassam Saleh, marketing manager for Bawadi Mall. He said Al Ain is a consistent, stable business that does not see exponential growth but will generate 4 to 5 per cent returns.

“Depending on approval, we will be adding a department store as another anchor and we will be adding furniture and more fashion. We will also connect our mall with Ikea, which is situ­ated in the same area. We will see the development in the next 18 months to 2 years.”

Al Ain is not so heavily dependent on expatriates, and the mall has recognised this with a strip or arm of the mall dedicated to regional culture with many perfumes, oud and Saudi fashions on sale for both men and women.

David Macadam, chief executive of the Middle East Council of Shopping Centres, says: “Bawadi is a great modern mall that took business from some of the older concepts in Al Ain.

“Every mall needs a refresh after seven years and I doubt they will have looked for such an increase in size if they didn’t have the retailers to fill it. One can never underestimate the growth potential in this country, especially with the niche it has forged for itself.”

Any hidden gems?

As this mall is so easy to navigate, nothing is really hidden however it has created an “open” area called The Village. This is an incredibly pleasant environment to enjoy something to eat and drink. It has an open area, a square between three restaurants, covered with a huge sun shade with a controlled temperature of 24°, creating an outside/inside vibe that allows dappled light and humidity-free warmth to luxuriate in. The idea and execution of the simple concept really impressed me.

In conclusion

As a mall it is very easy to navigate and park, two things which, when not handled well, can turn many people away from a visit. Its out-of-town placement does not seem to deter footfall because it has brands which sit well together, therefore one can have a one-stop shop.

There is increasing competition from established malls and newer malls, so its expansion will be key to ensuring its steady growth.

Its management is sanguine about the need for growth believing in the business case of Al Ain and its ability to add retail ideas that keep the customers coming back.


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Updated: November 12, 2016 04:00 AM