Central Plaza – A work in progress By Steve Graham
If you are like me and have spent a considerable amount of time in Udon Thani, you will remember the swimming pools and water slides that used to be on the roof of Robinsons about 10 years ago. This facility was great at the time as my kids were really young and I could let them cause havoc all day while I drank the odd Singha and slept the day away. For some reason it closed at the same time as my kids grew up, inevitable change I suppose.
Now that Robinsons has been reborn as Central Plaza, major building work is underway to make this shopping mall the biggest in the Isaan region. An estimated investment of 5 billion baht is being spent in time for the influx of foreign tourists and shoppers expected as the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) opens its borders to free trade in 2015. In fact the complex is due to be finished in March 2012 which is pretty quick considering work started on the expansion back in September 2010.
To get the latest information and the up to date new design of the building, I thought I would speak to Khun Tanin Pakdeepinyo, who is the Shopping Center General Manager of our soon to be finished Central Plaza in Udon Thani.
He started by explaining that there are approximately 1000 labourers working on the site at the moment, which obviously helps the local employment situation and that the area when finished will be 30,000 square meters, making it bigger than the Central Plaza at Khon Kaen (my students please take note). The Khon Kaen Central Plaza caters for middle Isaan customers, so Khun Tanin explained the four factors which contribute to the Udon Thani customer base.
First, the Thai people living in Udon Thani, the staple customers that will always be there rain or shine. Then, there are the customers from Laos who believe in the Central Plaza brand name and travel across the friendship bridge to fill up their cars before returning home. Next, there is the expatriate community that live in Udon Thani. Khun Tanin believes that there are about 10,000 foreigners living in Udon Thani and that their individual disposable income is considerably more than the local population if you believe the research that states that the average wage in Udon Thani is about 48,000 baht a year. Finally, there are the Thai labourers who work overseas and send back approximately 2 billion baht a month to families in Udon Thani (figures verified by the banking community I am informed).
In addition to these four factors, Khun Tanin explained that there are nearly 100,000 Chinese living in Laos and they are also a recognised customer base. Add to this the visitors from Vietnam and you have a large consumer platform to base future strategy.
I asked how the shopkeepers feel about all the turmoil that is taking place during the expansion and renovation that is taking place and it was explained to me that the retailers as well as the customers are happy because they know what to expect in March 2012, once the grand opening has taken place and everything gets back to normal.
For example, parking during the building work is a bit of a nightmare and I am certainly looking forward to being able to park at Central Plaza on a Saturday afternoon without the cross country obstacle course I have to sometimes endure. What looks like a new car park is well underway and looks to make life a lot easier on that front.
I was interested in what Khun Tanin had planned for the foreigners living in Udon Thani and how he saw Central Plaza catering for their needs. I was informed that the majority of foreigners are with their families, so the strategy is to make the experience a family one. I happen to agree with this idea as there is nothing worse that having the wife and kids moaning at you as you spend your Saturday afternoon doing the shopping.
Most companies have a system in place for corporate responsibility and Central Plaza is no different. Donations to various projects are reviewed on an individual basis and include contributions to local temples, assistance to those affected by flooding in Udon Thani, learning and teaching materials for local schools and also support for the aged. I believe that the old age pension in Thailand, if you qualify, is only 500 baht a month, so some kind of assistance to old peoples’ homes is a very worthy cause.
One question I had to ask was about the road that used to run in front of the main entrance of Central Plaza before the building work began. Where did it go? It now seems part of the main building. Khun Tanin was able to answer this by explaining that the road was a private road and so could be built on as part of the project. I had done some research on this matter and was advised by a secret source that if you look at the older maps of Udon Thani, you will not see that road marked on the map. The road was added later on private land.
Competition from other countries and companies is welcomed by Khun Tanin as the 2015 deadline for the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement approaches. Central Plaza has conducted research and believes that they can trust their staff, that they have belief in their brand name and that the systems that they have in place will progress according to plan. Khun Tanin told me that he welcomes the opportunity and was ready for it.
Future plans for other projects were also discussed, albeit some areas were not, as they are still classified as secret. However, with stores destined for Italy and China, it doesn’t take the brains of an Archbishop to work out that there is plenty of scope within the boundaries of the ASEAN context for further expansion.
So, there you have it. A work in progress and not yet like the finished product; however, work has been completed very quickly and it looks as if the inhabitants of Udon Thani will be once again spoilt for choice when it comes to shopping at Central Plaza. Now where did I leave my car?