To get to his gym, Shamsuddin Mithani has to walk past a McDonalds restaurant, a gelato stall, a grill, an Indian restaurant, a samosa stall, and a food court. Yet, as if proving that the gym is not as badly located as its proximity to these temptations would suggest, Mithani, who runs a sports good manufacturing business in central Mumbai, has lost 18kg in four months at the gym in Mumbai’s Orchid City Center Mall.
Mithani isn’t resistant to all the mall’s lures. He usually comes an hour early to the gym on Wednesday so that he can avail discounts at the neighbouring Big Bazaar supermarket.
Shamsuddin Mithani and Shakeela Sayed at the newly opened Talwarkar Gym in City Center Mall at Mumbai Central
But where he used to buy chips, he now looks for low-fat chips and diet biscuits. Mithani’s gym is the result of an alliance between the Future Group, which runs the Orchid City Center Mall and owns Pantaloon Retail India Ltd, India’s largest listed retailer, and Talwalkars Better Value Pvt. Ltd, a 33-branch strong gym chain.
More than 1,000 members have signed up since the gym started four months ago, and burkha-clad women stroll in along with iPod and walkman-wielding yuppies.
Future Group malls including those located in Siliguri, Nagpur and Bangalore will house six gyms by March 2008, and 50 gyms in three years, at an investment of Rs2 crore.
But that’s not where it ends. The group will shortly launch playschools and day-care facilities in association with a school chain. And it could also look to house computer education and tutorial class chains in its malls.
“Usually people come only if they want to shop or spend and having services people here regularly softens the mall as a marketplace,” says Damodar Mall, chief executive officer, innovation and incubation for the Future Group.
The Future Group plans could start offering an hour free at the gym to anyone who buys a track suit at Big Bazaar.
Such services will take up 10-15% space in malls developed the Future Group’s mall development arm, Kshitij Investment Advisory Ltd, Mall says. Some malls could have hotels, even medical centres.
At the Orchid City Center mall, several burkha-clad women, some with toddlers in tow, come in to check out or join the gym. Nearly half the members here are first timers, managers say. Many came to the mall to shop and were faced with decisions they had been avoiding.
That is how Shakeela Sayed first came to the gym, two months ago. Now 12kg lighter, she says her family is comfortable with her coming alone to the gym, in one of the city’s busiest and most crowded areas, because the mall offers security and is filled with families till late. In fact, the gym will be open and probably busy till 11:30 pm during the Muslim holy month of Ramzan, which started Friday, to cater to its Muslim clients.
However, analysts say that while some services fit well in malls, others may not and that mall developers could be housing them there purely in the quest of higher rentals.
While salons, health clubs, massage shops have done well at malls abroad, services such as hotels and medical centres “may not have synergies with the mall,” according to Raman Mangalorkar, the head of the retail practice at AT Kearney, a management consulting company said.
“Retailers do not like to have stores on higher floors of buildings, but building laws here encourage high rises. So retailers end up building and then giving higher floors to hotels and other such developments,” he said.
“Developers sometimes create space and then think about how to use it,” Harminder Sahni, managing director of Technopak, a retail consulting company said.
“So, some things that have no connection with retail but could fetch good rentals such as schools may come up. Not all locations will work because parents will not send their children to a school unless the location and the school are right,” he said.
But for Shakeela, the gym being in a mall has had unexpected benefits. Her large joint family loves to come here for meals at the McDonalds outlet; however, she is haunted by visions of the weighing scale in the third floor gym and abstains from eating anything.