Through connected retail spaces, Patrina Tan is not just narrowing the gap be tween the online and offline worlds – she’s also bringing people closer together.
<b>PHOTOGRAPHY</b> TAN WEI TE
<b>ART DIRECTION</b> FAZLIE HASHIM
<b>STYLING</b> DOLPHIN YEO
We’re sitting at a long wooden dining table in a creamy hue that is perfect for foodstagram flat lays. To our right, an army of shiny cooking appliances stands at attention in a sleek, marble-accented kitchen. It’s like a page out of Architectural Digest magically mor phed to life, but the truth is far more intriguing: We’re in the middle of one of Patrina Tan’s memories that she has, quite remarkably, reconstructed for consumers of today.
This is not some mind-altering hoodoo by the boho liberal arts graduate. A few years ago, Tan went on a caravan holiday in New Zealand. “What was most memorable about it was that in the mornings, we would bring all our barang barang, go to this central kitchen, and cook our breakfast together with other travellers,” she recalls. “Then we would have our meal, meet other people, talk to them about food and make new friends. It was the soul of the trip.” She decided it would be an interesting concept to re-create in Singapore, and Social Kitchen – a shared culinary space at Downtown Gallery – was born. But more about that later.
The communal cooking project isn’t the only novel note in Tan’s success story. There are many other surprises, and we should begin with the most unexpected of them all – that the retail whiz who has steered some of Singapore’s most well-known malls through boom times and bad, and became one of the industry’s youngest GMs at the age of 33, doesn’t actually do much shopping at brick-and-mortar stores. Now OUE’s senior vice-president of retail, marketing and leasing, she confesses: “Because of my busy schedule, I’m an online shopper. I even bought a car online once – the first time I saw it was when the sales guy delivered it to my office carpark!”
Today, the tanned, elfin 49-year-old with the Melissa Etheridge-like voice is wearing a snow white pair in a sock-boot style, matched with a tutu like lace skirt and a fitted white tee with “lalala” insouciantly scrawled across it. Her hair is pulled into a neat chignon, making her look more modern ballerina than business executive as she whirls us through Downtown Gallery, OUE’s latest work-live play project in Shenton Way.
NEW IDEAS FOR NEW GENERATIONS
It would be easy to assume that someone who doesn’t spend much time shopping in stores might have little to put into the bag when it comes to creating retail experiences. But a look at Downtown Gallery and OUE’s other key retail project, Mandarin Gallery, proves otherwise. In a landscape dotted with cookie-cutter shopping centres hawking many of the same brands, both projects stand out for their atypical tenant mixes, experiential concepts and cutting-edge use of technology – in essence, malls of the future that are distinctly targeting today’s audience, particularly millennials.
Take new kid on the block, Downtown Gallery. When fully occupied by the fourth quarter of this year, it will boast a Beauty Bar, where consumers will be able to try beauty products and buy them at digital shopping terminals. Meanwhile, a dining concept called Re:Store will allow people to order food via a Downtown Gallery mobile app and pick up their meals from heated food lockers.
Then there’s that Social Kitchen, where our interview is taking place. The light, bright culinary space is where people can meet and cook in a common area, a la Tan’s caravan experience. Of course, the tech-savvy executive has brought the concept up to speed for the 21st century. Social Kitchen is bookable via the Downtown Gallery app, as are any ingredients cooks may need.
Stresses Tan, who peppers her speech with millennial terms like “hashtag emo moment”: “New technology is changing the way we live, work and play. The shopper’s journey is completely different compared to 10 years ago. The most successful retailers are the ones who have managed to be in the right online and offline spaces where their target audiences spend their time.”
OPEN APPROACH, CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS
Unlike many in the industry, she doesn’t view e-stores as the enemy, but rather a model to study and draw lessons from. “The ‘digital versus traditional’ tug-of-war isn’t a war of two evils, it’s (about) a fundamental difference in inherent values. Online shopping is certainly gaining popularity, but it won’t replace physical stores – the role of the brick-and-mortar is to be the confluence of the physical and digital worlds,” she says. “There are experiences and personal touches that (people) still want – like services and entertainment – which e-commerce sites cannot articulate.
“The most successful retailers are the ones who have managed to be in the right online and offline spaces where their target audiences spend their time.”
TEXT AUDREY PHOON
01 PACKING A PUNCH
Downtown Gallery’s retail mix includes multiple fitness concepts such as Guavalabs, Singapore's first co-wellness space.
02 MEALS ON DEMAND
Re:Store, a dining concept at Downtown Gallery, allows diners to order meals via a mobile app, before picking them up from one of 120 food lockers.
03 CULINARY TIES
The Social Kitchen allows people to gather and cook in a shared, state-of-the-art, open kitchen.