updated 8 May 2013, 01:55
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Tue, Feb 19, 2013
Melody Zaccheus
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Shoppers giving Scotts Square a miss

It was completely demolished and rebuilt at a cost of nearly $200 million - an ambitious commercial and residential project which took more than four years. But a year after its reopening, Scotts Square is struggling to draw shoppers in.

Despite its prime location in Scotts Road, sandwiched on a busy walkway between Far East Plaza and Tangs department store, the mall is facing what tenants have described as a "mini-crisis".

At least two tenants - jewellery shop Chantecler and Japanese restaurant Kazumi - have defaulted on their leases, and a unit at street level has been unoccupied since the mall reopened in November 2011.

Of the 17 tenants The Sunday Times spoke to, 13 said business at the high-end Wheelock Properties mall has been dismal and they are worried.

"It's a ghost town," said Mr Eric Tan, 36, manager of Sincere Watches on the first and second floor. "Sales are down by 20 per cent compared to our outlet at Ngee Ann City. We're cracking our heads trying ways and means to make things work."

Ms Shane Alcentara, 26, a retail executive at Italian furniture boutique Poltrona Frau on the third floor, agreed. "We only open the register 10 days a month on average. It's very worrying," she said.

Miss Brenda Pang, 36, from home accessories retailer Gilt and Folly, believes the mall is lacking food choices. "If you have food, Singaporeans will come. After they've settled their meal, they will look around and spend some time shopping."

There are now five restaurants and two cafes - one of which opened this month - but these are not immediately visible to patrons who step into the mall.

The mall has a net lettable area of 75,000 sq ft, about 10 per cent of the size of Ion Orchard. It has three storeys and a basement. The basement is home to supermarket chain FairPrice Finest. A 43-storey six-star residence sits above the mall.

Tenant Crystal Jade Kitchen has opted to rebrand itself. The restaurant reopened in December as Crystal Jade Pristine and now targets health-conscious diners. A spokesman said the group's strategy for its new speciality restaurant is to tap customers with higher spending power, rather than to aim for volume.

Other tenants said they have pumped in resources to promote their products and organise events at the mall, but with little success. "It's difficult to sustain. We can't always be organising events, as these things eat into profit margins," said store manager Nazrana Begum, 32, of Anne Fontaine, a street-front boutique.

Instead, they want the mall owner to improve signs at street level to draw in the crowds.

"The entrance is not at the centre of the mall and the mall's name is almost unnoticeable for those streaming by," said Mr Riq Shahab, 39, store manager at Kiton, an Italian clothing line.

Undergraduate Praveena Murlethran, 25, who visited the mall once, said nothing caught her eye. "I'm not familiar with most of the brands and there's nothing I would want to buy from any of the retailers."

But Wheelock Properties' group general manager for marketing, Ms Stephanie Tay, said signs and directories at the mall were designed by an award-winning American firm, Calori and Vanden-Eynden, which specialises in the planning and design of signs, way-finding and identity.

She said: "With the mall now in operation, we are mindful of the traffic and always receptive to feedback to improve our signage placement, while weighing considerations to balance aesthetics and function."

She also said attrition is to be expected from malls, especially one as new as Scotts Square. The management, she added, has plans for an advertising and promotions calendar for the rest of the year.

Nonetheless, Mr Nicholas Mak, head of research and consultancy at property firm SLP International, said more needs to be done to attract pedestrians and encourage return customers. "Scotts Square needs a few mid-range shops to secure a bigger slice of the Orchard Road crowd for long-time survival," he said.

Before the mall as it was then - Scotts Shopping Centre - was demolished in 2007, its foodcourt, Picnic, served as a main draw.

While a foodcourt seems unlikely for the new upmarket shopping destination, Mr Mak said the management could perhaps draw inspiration from the mall's heyday. "Achieving the right tenancy mix is partly art, partly science," he added.

As Scotts Square is a residential and commercial property, experts added that the mall's management may be struggling to strike a balance between attracting crowds and maintaining some quiet for residents.

Wheelock's Ms Tay said the mall was curating speciality retailers and with the exception of basement tenants, where an effort has been made to offer convenience for residents, the retail offerings do not cater to impulse shoppers. The clientele base leans towards "discerning and well-travelled customers".

But not all tenants are suffering. Some, like restaurant Wild Honey and retailers On Pedder and Michael Kors, have reported good business. At On Pedder, which sells designer footwear and accessories, month-on-month turnover has increased by approximately 15 per cent.

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