The Ballito shopping boom
Less than 20 years ago the average monthly grocery spend for Ballito residents was approximately R200 000, which was shared between the two local grocery stores: Spar in the ‘village’ and the small Pick ‘n Pay store in the upper CBD of Ballito. Today, according to Ballito Lifestyle Centre owner Bruce Rencken, Ballito and Salt Rock residents spend in excess of R100 million on groceries (excluding liquor store purchases) every single month.
When he and his brother Paul opened The Lifestyle Centre 15 years ago, they had no idea of the journey that lay ahead of them. The surge of the greater Ballito region has been unprecedented, and the evolution of the centre is somewhat indicative of the area’s growth.
With now more than 17 years’ experience in the retail industry, Bruce says their decision to open the Lifestyle Centre was initially met with some scepticism – and rightfully so. “It was a massive risk for us at the time. To be honest, if Ballito had grown at a normal rate we would have no doubt failed.”
But there has been nothing ‘normal’ about the development and growth of the area and, Bruce suggests, one of the biggest catalysts for this was the development of Zimbali. “In my opinion Zimbali changed people’s perception of Ballito. I think it became an aspirational place to be and a place they wanted to live.”
Although initially scary, Bruce says the Lifestyle Centre enjoyed its time as the ‘big oke’ in Ballito. Their strategy was to dominate the retail arena with an enviable tenant mix. “We were able to bring big, national tenants like Mr Price, Woolworths and Truworths into the area for the first time. And the centre grew organically with the demand.”
The next big development, Simbithi Eco Estate, along with other smaller developments that were being pitched at the same high LSM target market, snowballed the growth even further. The Lifestyle Centre grew from 15 000m² to 28 000m² over 10 years. “We were comfortable for a while, but we knew we were always at risk.”
Although they were anticipating a big, regional mall to come into the area, Bruce says it happened much quicker than expected. The 80 000m² Ballito Junction Regional Mall opened in March 2017.
“I still think the mall opened three or four years too early and there a significant oversupply of retail space in an already tough market. However, regional centres often come in early and act as a catalyst for growth in the area.”
After much research into local and international trends, Bruce and Paul decided to go against the norm and change the look and feel of the Lifestyle Centre completely. “Normally, under these circumstances, centres like ours would’ve evolved into a ‘value centre’. But we didn’t want to do that. It didn’t represent who we are and we knew it wouldn’t be all that much fun!”
Because they were deeply rooted in the Ballito way of life, Bruce says they focussed on how Ballito people like spending their time and what is important to them.
“We didn’t want to go the traditional route, but we rather wanted to become the ‘hub’ or heart of Ballito. We have a huge focus on food, from our grocery stores to The Market and the Eat Street restaurant node – and the idea is that we offer our shoppers more of an experience, with live music and a great vibe. The Market has been a huge success and has become a meeting place for Ballito people.”
While Bruce says his centre still has a long way to go until it’s completely finished (he anticipates it being one hundred percent complete by 2020), he is focussing on managing his customer’s experiences and giving them a beautiful space in which to spend their time and money.
And while there may be a lot of retail space in Ballito at the moment, he believes the town will catch up. “I think that if the planning and infrastructure is done properly, the growth we have seen thus far will be insignificant compared to what is to come.”
Text: Leah Shone
Get It Magazine Ballito/Umhlanga – October 2018