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Yogeshwar Sharma, executive director and chief executive officer of Select Infrastructure, the organisation behind south Delhi’s Select Citywalk Mall, believes the beauty industry would be the least affected by the covid-19 crisis.

“The biggest challenge the retail industry is facing right now is the uncertainty of what will happen next. Will they have enough stock? Have they stored up enough? But it is too soon to tell," says Sharma.

As a mall owner, it is challenging to handle expectations from retailers and yet manage to stay afloat, especially during a lockdown. After all, the mall with around 180 brands used to get footfalls of close to 55,000 people on weekends. This has come down to about 100, with people coming only for the grocery stores and medical stores that have remained open.

Sharma believes that some retailers of apparel and fashion products have inventories for two to three months. Unless these are sold, they will not have money coming in. In the food business too, quick services restaurant chains can sustain a short-term blip for some time, he says. Standalone eateries do not have deep pockets and will find it very difficult to come out of this unless demand picks up again.

“The industry which I see as being least affected is the beauty industry. The ‘lipstick effect comes into play here, when during grim times like this people want to feel good. They might not buy new shoes and expensive ties, but a few lipsticks they can spend on," he explains.

Some retailers are obviously sceptical. They fear that even after the lockdown has been lifted, people would practise social distancing. Restaurants may have to redesign their seating, and shopping areas may not allow too many people together. But Sharma is quick to remind that a new retail outlet also takes a few months to find its place. “So we might need to wait a month or two to see how it pans out. But I believe we will be better off than many. One, we are in the wealthiest catchment of the country – south Delhi. Two, we are in the aspirational lifestyle segment, not a luxury mall. After the lockdown, people will want to go out, they will want to feel normal again. And they might not want to spend a lot of money, but if it is a nominally priced coffee or a quick meal, they will come to the mall," he points out.

Some retailers have also asked him to waive off rentals. “But there are two sides to each story. We haven’t got any concession from anybody. We still have to pay for the security of the mall, the basic periphery electricity, generator costs, fire safety, insurance, AMCs, etc. Manpower too is a worry. There are 800 people working with us, including the staff in housekeeping, parking, electricity and security. We have to still pay their salaries and will not fire them," explains Sharma.

Sharma understands the situation is tough, and people are worried because of the uncertainty. He believes, by the end of April, he would be in a better position to understand how to go ahead. Even then, he believes, instead of going the legal way, it would be about sitting down with retailers individually that will help him make informed decisions. “We will be transparent, and I am hoping so will the retailers through this long drawn battle. It is like a marriage. We might have daily arguments but in the long run, we need each other."

(On The Brink documents how the coronavirus crisis is affecting different sectors or industries. Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com.)

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