By ALPHONSE BARIASI
THINK of somewhere in Port Moresby where one can get baskets made in Bougainville or Imbonggu, mats from Gulf, exquisite mahogany carvings from Milne Bay plus a serving of Morobe taro in coconut cream all under one roof. Or think of where the ubiquitous PNG meri blouse comes in a dazzling array of styles and shades.
The answer: Unity Mall in the Steamships Compound, Waigani.
This is another, quite audacious move (there had been similar attempts earlier) aimed at bringing PNG local products under the single roof and encouraging retailers to grow their businesses and hopefully graduate into bigger locations both in Port Moresby and in other places around PNG.
In the past decade or so, this sprawling warehouse building has hosted a hardware shop at some stage, then later two business incubation hubs.
So if a third such attempt to bring retailers under one roof is made, of course one wonders if or how this would be any different.
What has been the cause of past closures? Is it the individual retailer’s inability to make money; is it the lessee’s inability to pay or manage the operation well? Was it all of the above – exacerbated by Covid-19? But more on that later.
Last weekend, United Mall started something it hopes will go on for some time. It was the Unity Mall Family Weekend; three days of shopping and fun for several hundred families. Children enjoyed the Laga Industries ice cream and bouncing castle.
According to Unity Mall Managing Director Clarke Piokole the first family weekend was a success considering it was done on short notice.
“We only used social media and our network for the toksave. We expect this event, which will be happening religiously every last weekend of each month, will only get better and bigger as we improve our awareness strategy and add on a few special events as we go along.
“The turnout would have been well over 3,000 people including kids. With an average of K1,000 made by each shop, we would have easily brought in over K100,000 worth of sales.
Laga Industries National Sales Manager Justin Watson says, as a nationally-owned company, they are delighted to help grow PNG SMEs.
The aim of the family weekend is to create an awareness of Unity Mall and its SME hub by inviting city residents to participate in a weekend of free ice cream and fun, and encourage local SMEs by drawing customers.
The next family weekend is on July 30 and 31.
True to its name and spirit, Unity Mall is bringing friends, family and acquaintances together as was evident last weekend.
“We want to give city residents a family programme to look forward to especially with this free ice cream idea during the last weekend of every month, year in year out. This will become a tradition for all Unity Malls throughout PNG,” Piokole says.
“If we are going to take back anything, we need to start by taking back the retail industry initially,” he says.
Beside the 90-plus retail shops within the mall including a food court and spacious dining spaces, a supermarket will be opened soon within the same premises.
There are also services including a medical clinic and a pharmacy within.
The management plans to open up another SME hub within NCD and in other centers.
This, says Piokole, is an eco-system where Papua New Guineans can buy and trade within it.
“We want to create an environment for SMEs to strive and become successful and ultimately progress onto becoming big business and compete against other big businesses out there.”
Half of the outlets at the Unity Mall will eventually serve as incubators for ‘baby businesses.’ Small businesses owners will be mentored, trained and guided over a period of three years to become properly established with proper business practices, culture and discipline to expand into big corporations. A back office will use cloud-based accounting to serve the small businesses.
“After three years these graduates will depart the incubation centre and launch into the big league and fly amongst other big businesses and do PNG proud.
“We will also be embarking into setting up a chain of Unity Supermarkets. The whole idea about setting up food courts and supermarkets is so we can focus on selling more local food. This will empower our rural farmers to grow more and get into large scale farming as demand grows with more people changing their diet back to local organically grown food.”
Why this will work
The Christian Professionals Network (CPN) which connects well with all the Christian churches network that in turn forms the Unity Mall and Unity Supermarket customer base.
The parent company Unity Supermarket Ltd is setup through crowd funding. Currently there are 48 shareholders which includes churches and individuals and the share offering is still open.
“Our vision is to unite people to create customer-owned malls and supermarkets throughout the country. This is our unique selling proposition that will cause shareholders to shop at their own shop.
“The SME hub strategy is good for the SME ecosystem just like a mall concept where we aim to have all-in-one retail shopping centres owned and run by Papua New Guineans. At Unity Mall, we have a minimum of 200 people spending every day doing business so the operators there are already a customer base where they buy and trade every day besides the ever increasing customer traffic.
“The completion of the supermarket by December will complement the whole setup where stakeholders will do all their shopping at Unity Mall without having to go elsewhere.
“There are three ways of earning shares: direct purchase of shares at K1 each; through sweat equity by offering expertise and services, and by offering assets such as real estate that can be used for the business.
“We are basically creating a conducive environment for SMEs to grow inside this ecosystem and once they get to a comfortable stage we will encourage them to move out and allow space for new baby businesses to go through our three-year incubation.
A national move
“What we’re setting up is a national move to help transform the nation by taking over the retail industry.
“How? By mobilising all our SMEs and housing them in hubs called Unity Mall throughout PNG,” Piokole says.
It’s a national move to take over the retail industry. We PNG people are consumers of foreign products. By setting up these hubs we want to encourage all Papua New Guineans to consume local products to cause a drastic reduction of prices of these products.
Piokole is encouraging Papua New Guineans to support this move by: buying shares in the venture; renting spaces with the mall/s; shopping; or by simply spreading the word about Unity Mall and Unity Supermarket.
If nothing else, we’re helping to spread the word!