Just Johor - Putting the shine back into JB malls

YOU got to hand it to Johor Corp for a job well done with the fully refurbished Tun Abdul Razak Complex, or Komtar, which has been renamed Johor Baru City Centre (JBCC).

This is the crown jewel of JCorp's RM1.5 billion development plan to rejuvenate Johor Baru's central business district.

When fully done up, the comprehensive plan will showcase two office towers, a hotel and the Komtar JBCC mall.

To date, the mall has opened and what a superb shopping complex this has turned out to be with stylish and sleek retail space within a bright and cheerful environment.

There must be no less than 13 shopping malls in Johor Baru but JBCC takes the cake for its elegance, creative layout, aesthetics and ambience.

The retail mix is captivating with some glamorous and sophisticated brand names among the 150-odd outlets. Visitors would be pleasantly surprised to find Marks & Spencer, Victoria's Secret, Sephora, Pandora, Swarovski and other gorgeous brands having set up concept stores right here in JB.

Another vote of confidence comes from the fact that big-name international restaurants like Tony Roma's and Haagen-Dazs have also deemed fit to finally come to Johor with the opening of JBCC.

The presence of world class names in our city gives a wonderful sense of pride and achievement that we are indeed on our way to becoming a metropolis of the future.

But there is still much work to be done.

JCorp has done a great job in the makeover of Komtar and nearby Kotaraya malls which are now truly outstanding and so inviting with their chic facades, beautiful interior design and polished stores.

So have the owners of the City Square Mall, which also recently underwent a multi-million ringgit refurbishment, although the once leading shopping complex is shunned by many because of overcrowding and the horrendous parking woes.

The "floating" crowd that often fills City Square from JB Sentral where the CIQ to Singapore is located is unfortunately a put off to serious shoppers who want to soak in the exciting shopping experience this mall offers.

Elsewhere, despite concerted efforts to re-brand the old Best World Plaza, which is now known as Danga City Mall, it is still struggling to remain open despite its excellent visibility and location on Jalan Tun Abdul Razak.

At the recently opened KSL City, which is now the meeting point for the young and hip, tell-tale signs of wear and tear are all too familiar now because of the crowd overflow, poor maintenance, and the management's lackadaisical attitude to customer comfort and preferences.

Such apathy could result in the fate that has befallen once thriving complexes like Leisure Mall which has closed down, and Plaza Pelangi, which is struggling to survive.

Despite their location in the heart of a major residential catchment area known for its rich residents and high spenders, these malls are now in such a sorry state because of their owners' reluctance to reinvest in makeover jobs.

Several JB shopping malls are 10 to 15 years old, and incredibly, most are still the same today with no restoration, transformation, revamp, rebranding or even repositioning.

The excuse is that JB neither has the population numbers nor the purchasing power to warrant massive investments into refurbishment exercises, despite the pull factor from Singapore.

The owners often conveniently put the blame on the explosion of the online shopping craze which has brought on the death spiral of traditional big box stores.

A thriving mall has got to evolve according to changing market trends and that means owners have to put fresh capital once every five-odd years into the mall to remain relevant and sustain patronage from discerning shoppers. But not all owners can or want to do that.

Grade "A" malls like JBCC can be insulated from the threat of online shopping for the simple reason that most high-end retailers don't readily sell consumer goods online.

Their target shoppers – in the top-income brackets – are less affected by economic upheavals. And clicking a mouse is nothing like having a sales person at your beck and call.

The giant online retailer, Amazon, can't pamper you in a great store like JBCC where trained marketers can tell what looks good on you. That's the thrill of walking into a shopping mall.

If JB is to build its reputation as a shopping destination by luring visitors from not only Singapore but also the region, then our malls have got to get their act together and bring back the razzmatazz of real-time shopping.

The truth be told ... we are nowhere near that goal. In fact, there is just too much ado about branding JB as the "shopping paradise of Asia".

Roy, a long-time resident of JB, is a keen watcher of economic, political and social trends on both sides of the Johor Straits. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com