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Mandurah Forum ‘Heart of the South’

Mandurah Forum is a first for WA. Previously, if you wanted to retail to the state, your outlets were confined to the Perth metropolitan area. Quite simply, in Western Australia, there were no population conglomerations over 100,000 people (or even approaching that number) outside Perth.In a short space of time – less than a decade – all that has changed.Mandurah, south of Perth, has emerged as WA’s second-largest city.
Vicinity Centres is now redeveloping Mandurah Forum, positioning it as the prime regional centre for the city and its surrounds.

The Perth metropolitan area basically consists of a narrow strip running north/south along the West Australian coast bordering the Indian Ocean. Just beyond its southern boundary lies the City of Mandurah some 72 kilometres from the Perth CBD.

It’s a town known for its blue manna crabs and, 50 years ago, people from Perth began driving there to collect them. Over the years the appeal of the crabs, the natural beauty of the region and the pristine quality of the environment, all contrived to seduce the Perth people to the extent that, from a population of less than 2,000 in 1960, Mandurah surpassed the 26,000 mark by 1990.

Today Mandurah’s population exceeds 85,000 and it’s still growing rapidly, but these days, the popularity of the region and its growth are due to far more than just the crabs!

Mandurah living is now a lifestyle. It’s no longer merely a ‘holiday’ or a ‘weekend’ destination. Mandurah and its surrounds have become a place of residence of choice and provide a distinctly different style of living to that of Perth and its suburbs. It’s a beachside atmosphere; smart homes line the coastline, and man-made canals and waterways, reminiscent of the Gold Coast developments, are packed with motor and sailboats on moorings at the bottom of the gardens.

However you don’t have to be wealthy to enjoy the surrounds and it’s not just beaches and ocean. Go inland and rolling pastures flanked by the hills, the state forests and national parks are all on your doorstep. Go south and the pristine beaches abound and, if you want some spectacular wines, you’re less than two and a half hours drive to the famed Margaret River region.

Opened in 2007, the railway link from Mandurah to Perth now carries in excess of 21 million passengers a year. The trains are modern, reliable and efficient; the journey is easy, comfortable and pleasant and, from Mandurah to central Perth, takes 50 minutes. By car, via the Kwinana Freeway, it takes about the same time.

Vicinity Centres’ Mandurah Forum dominates the retail scene. At the heart of WA’s fastest growing region, with a trade-area population knocking on the door of 120,000 sits Mandurah Forum, presently undergoing a redevelopment and expansion to position it as the prime regional, catering to a trade-area population of over 170,000 by 2028.

It’s a classic case of recognising the potential and protecting the asset. And what an asset!

SCN began its Big Guns rankings in 1992; at the time, these were centres over 40,000m2. Ten years later, in 2002, we expanded the feature to include Little Guns – those centres with a GLA under 40,000m2.

Our first Number 1 Little Gun, back in 2002, was Mandurah Forum with an MAT of $235 million. Mandurah Forum has retained that title every year since, without exception, so for 13 years solid, in terms of MAT, the centre has dominated the Little Gun rankings in Australia. It’s an achievement not equalled in any category, on any table, since our rankings began back in 1992!

In 2015, Mandurah Forum was Number 1 with an MAT of $390 million. In terms of MAT/m2 it held the Number 6 spot in the country with a massive $10,205; it’s Specialty MAT/m2 was $10,758 so Mandurah Forum has traded consistently as one of Australia’s best-performing centres on any level.

When you see figures like that it’s obvious you’re looking at one of Australia’s top-performing centres. The natural question to pose is why? What is it that makes Mandurah Forum such a stand-out centre? It’s a combination of many factors.

The obvious one is pure growth. Mandurah has grown from isolated holiday communities along the Peel-Harvey Estuary into the second-largest city in Western Australia in just over a decade, in a scene similar to that experienced in the Gold Coast during the ’70s and ’80s.

The city attracts large numbers of tourists, 1.9 million daytrippers and 1.4 million overnight visitors, both national and international, who generate an annual retail spend in excess of $205 million. But to get the real picture of Mandurah Forum’s strength, you need to look south!

Bunbury lies some 85 kilometres south of Mandurah and the drive takes around an hour and 10 minutes; along the way are dozens of small communities and they all use Mandurah Forum as their regional shopping centre.The centre has a dominant market positioning, having a captive market with a distinct lack of competition; as a result, it receives a 19.1% share of its trade-area retail spend (Urbis average is 13%).

Mandurah Forum is your typical DDS/supermarket-based centre. It boasts both Woolworths and Coles in the supermarket stakes plus both Big W and Kmart. The specialty shop contingent looks like a register of Australia’s most successful retailers targeting the middle to lower end of the market. They’re all there, from Bras N Things to Connor, Cotton On, Jay Jays, Millers, Rockmans, Sussan, Suzanne Grae and Lowes, to name but a few. In the shoe line, Betts are there as are Spend-Less along with Athletes Foot. The whole range of services are represented from Foxtel to Vodafone, the rest of the telecoms and banks.

As you would expect, the major players in the fast food game – McDonald’s, KFC, Hungry Jacks and Subway – are present and, walking through the centre (SCN was there on a Monday afternoon and it was packed), you see the usual suspects such as Angus & Coote, Prouds, Smiggle, Terry White and the list goes on!

But as James Fudge, Vicinity Centres Project Director for Mandurah says, “You can’t just sit on your laurels with a centre like this. To maintain and increase your market share, you’ve got to redevelop and reposition your centre to satisfy the demands of a different and changing market.”

And what a change there has been in the market, the trade area and the demographic!

Mandurah Forum, like several other centres in Australia, has benefited in a somewhat serendipitous way from a ‘long overdue’ redevelopment. The Centro crisis and the GFC rendered Mandurah Forum, development-wise, inactive during a period when it should have been expanded and redeveloped. But if it (the redevelopment) had happened then, much of it would have been outdated by today. The retail scene has changed dramatically in the last three to five years; new majors and mini majors have entered the arena and several others have left. Market demand has changed too and in the food business – both fresh and dining options – it’s a whole new ballgame. Today, the demographic is different which translates to the customer; and that’s where this redevelopment all starts.

Vicinity Centres have gone further in their market studies than usual; they dug deeper when defining the customer profile and produced some interesting statistics. For example 24.6% of their target market consists of suburban families with 16.4% being ‘fresh-start families’. They are homeowners, have larger houses in the outer suburbs; they spend on their children; they are tech savvy and fashion conscious.

13.9% are empty-nest executives; older professional couples moving into retirement. They have sophisticated tastes, are health conscious whilst appreciating good food and wine. 12.3% are blue-collar families (8.1% are sun-seeking imports) including lots of first generation Australians and recent migrants. These are responsibly well off with mid to high household incomes and high home ownership.

There is an urgent need to provide this diverse community with a 21st-century retail facility, a dominant prime regional shopping centre for the second-largest city in WA. Vicinity Centres has begun the process and, in so doing, has branded the new centre ‘Mandurah Forum, Heart of the South’!

The redevelopment almost doubles the size of Mandurah Forum, taking it from its present 38,000m2 to just over 64,500m2. The actual build is over 40,000m2 because much of the present centre is to be demolished. As it stands it’s an elongated centre with a single, ‘stepped’ mall running east/west. The four majors, Big W, Woolworths, Kmart and Coles, are all in a line with entrances off the northern side of the specialty mall.

The redevelopment demolishes much of the existing mall getting rid of its ‘stepped’ configuration, creating a new straight mall linking Big W at the western end with Coles at the eastern. A new parallel mall is created to the south linking the two new majors, David Jones and Target, and there are three ‘cross malls’ running north/south.

The addition of David Jones speaks volumes for the new tenancy mix of the centre. The DJs inclusion brings to the region many of the premium and fashion-forward brands that have been lacking up to now.

In our business, the pattern of redevelopments or the evolution of centres follow similar lines. A centre is developed in a growth area, housing is less expensive; the population is young with young families; the tenancy mix targets the lower to middle ends of the market. Gradually the area matures, the demographics change, and the average age rises, as do household incomes. There is a need for the tenant mix to cater to a more affluent market. Go anywhere in Australia and the ‘regional shopping centre’ story follows that path. Whether it be Penrith, Macarthur, Doncaster, Parramatta or even Chadstone, the similarities are there. Mandurah Forum however is different.

It’s not just a case of a ‘maturing’ market; it’s a case of a ‘different’ market, a ‘different’ demographic that has resulted from a rapid growth.

Today, Mandurah’s population is 84,537 and its trade area numbers some 120,000. What’s striking about this is that, not long ago, in 1983 when the centre first opened, the population of Mandurah was less than 15,000! So rather than a ‘maturing’ region Mandurah has seen an influx of people and a population that has doubled since 2000.

The nearest full-line regional for these people is Garden City in Perth’s southern suburb of Booragoon, or the alternative of downtown Perth itself; that’s 75 kilometres away – a long trip for shopping!

But of course, these days it’s not just shopping; it’s eating and drinking, relaxing and spending leisure time. That’s what people do in the 21st-century prime regional shopping centres.

With the present socio-economic composition of the trade area, and of Mandurah itself, being very different to that of yesteryear, there’s a need for a ‘notch upward’ move in the tenancy mix. All the basic traders are already there, and the David Jones inclusion will spearhead the leasing exercise to reach the complimentary specialties; it shouldn’t be a difficult task. In terms of major city proximities,

Perth is the most isolated city in the world. To the north, Jakarta or Singapore is your nearest major city: to the south there’s nothing. To the west it’s one of several on the east coast of Africa; to the east it’s Melbourne or Sydney – a five-hour flight away!Specialty chains are entering the Western Australian market – and if you’re in Australia you can’t afford to ignore it – are therefore limited in terms of locations. After the Perth CBD there are nine Big Gun centres: Joondalup, Whitford City, Carousel, Karrinyup, Garden City, Rockingham, Galleria, Cockburn and Midland Gate. If you’re in the whole nine of them, you’ve covered the state in regards to population conglomerations. It makes logistics difficult. It’s a long way to transport stock for just nine shops, and a long way for a regional manager to travel for just nine shops, too.

That used to be the case but it’s no longer true!

There’s another population conglomerate outside the city of Perth to its south, and that is Mandurah. Even more to the point, it’s growing. If you trade in Western Australia you used to be confined to Perth and its suburbs, or just over 2 million people.

Mandurah Forum has a trade-area population approaching 120,000 and they’re all outside the Perth metropolitan area. As Mandurah Forum advertises, it’s the ‘Heart of the South’; if you retail in WA, you quite simply can’t afford to ignore it.

Previously, there might have been a case for saying “we’ll get them anyway – there’s nothing south, they have to come north”, but not anymore. Mandurah Forum will change all that!

The redevelopment is huge. Billed as ‘a massive $350-million transformation’, Mandurah Forum will be reborn to become the contemporary retail, dining and entertainment destination for the region.

Anchored by David Jones, Target, Big W, Kmart, Coles and Woolworths, it will feature five new mini-majors and have around 220 specialty retailers. The car park count will exceed 3,000.

But it’s not just majors, mini-majors, specialties and car parks that will change Mandurah Forum; it’s the style of the new centre – its positioning, its image, its architecture, its drama and its sense of place.
It’s been designed to reflect the coastal character of the region and surrounding landscape, and it’s here that you see the degree of importance Vicinity place on the project. They brought in Benoy, arguably the best retail architects in the world to be a key partner with Hames Sharley on the design.

Hames Sharley set the design narrative but Vicinity felt that bringing in an international architect with such a retail experience would help elevate the design and further provide Mandurah Forum with an aesthetic point of difference. (See the design narrative to this article by Hames Sharley – left).

The new alfresco casual dining precinct will feature a water oasis with both indoor and outdoor cafés and restaurants. The new food court will feature a full range of foods for a truly international market with a new approach to food court eating; adjoining is a large indoor/outdoor children’s play area.

Leading to and surrounding the Coles supermarket will be a large fresh food market hall. It’s a rustic feel with extensive use of timber reflecting the various boardwalks dotted around the Mandurah Estuary.

The level of commitment to the new redevelopment is clearly illustrated by the way Vicinity Centres has approached this project. To view it as an extension would be to miss the point entirely. In reality, it’s a knock-down and rebuild. In terms of specialties they are only adding 80 shops to the present 140, but in order to achieve what they wanted design-wise, they closed 96 tenancies. A substantial 67 of them ceased trading for Stage 1; one can imagine the complexity of those negotiations.

The whole approach to this project has been to create a dominant centre for the region – one that reflects its natural beauty, the environment in which it sits and, more to the point, the character of the people who inhabit it, their lifestyle, their values and their aspirations.

In so doing, Vicinity Centres has wiped the slate clean and instead of ‘adding to and refurbishing’, or even ‘extending and remodelling’, they’ve bitten the bullet and will present a brand new centre with a totally fresh image and distinctly new market positioning. Their ‘Heart of the South’ branding says it all. It will indeed be so, and there’s no doubt it will be ‘owned’ by its customers.

Mandurah Forum is a first for WA. It’s the first prime regional to be developed outside of the Perth metropolitan area.

Hitherto before, there was never a trade-area population that warranted one. This is the first, but others will follow. And that’s exactly what they’ll do; they’ll follow!

Mandurah Forum
Mandurah Forum


Design narrative by Hames Sharley

Mention Mandurah and most Western Australians think of blue manna crabs, the estuary and canals, summer holidays, fishing and outdoor experiences spent with loved ones. Try saying ‘Mandjoogoordap’ and things become a whole lot more interesting, with the possibility of being tongue-tied at first! Mandurah Forum is located in the Peel Region, traditionally known in the Noongar language as Manjoogoordap which means ‘meeting place of the heart’. A more appropriate name for a place couldn’t be more closely aligned with the theatre of a unique retail experience. This is where design architects Hames Sharley’s design narrative begins.

The Retail and Town Centres portfolio director and design team set out to create a place that not only meets the demands and desires of retailers and customers, but also undertakes a narrative that would arouse memories and emotions of the Mandurah/Peel region as an engaging sensory experience. The deeper Hames Sharley’s design research went, the greater their appreciation of the natural features and beauty of the surrounding region grew. This appreciation has been central to the design process and execution, and it has afforded the ability to generate ideas that could be measured against the surrounding landscape. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the architectural approach is that it has driven the overall design to be relevant to its context and this has ensured that the new Mandurah Forum is not alien within its setting.

The site itself is orientated east to west and the retail plan lends itself to telling the story of the landscape of Mandurah from the hills in the east to the majestic sunsets over the ocean to the west. The design abstractly showcases these aspects and other natural features throughout the centre in a sophisticated threading of intersecting spaces that are cohesive in volume, light and materiality.

Norfolk Pines are quite a familiar feature in and around Mandurah and provide a warmth that welcomes customers to the centre. All entries are inspired by the green structured profile of the pine, in a statement that ensures visitors know they have arrived at Mandurah Forum. As people move between various malls and internal areas, they experience spaces that subtly suggest features of the landscape such as the dappled setting sunlight over the Indian Ocean. They catch glimpses of timber boardwalks dotted around the Mandurah Estuary, or might notice the rock crevices found along the Serpentine River that flows from the Darling Scarp. They become immersed in the dappled sunlight filtering through the forest canopy to the east. There are spaces that blur the lines between inside and out and lead to the oases where people can choose to sit and have something to eat in sun or shade, or quite simply enjoy the sound of water lapping at the edge of the boardwalk.

Ultimately, Hames Sharley’s design features work together cohesively to create a sensory experience at a level that complements the retail offer. The design aims to quietly showcase the place known as Mandjoogoordap to customers, some of whom are only fleeting visitors to the region, and entice a willingness to explore its unique natural beauty by offering a meeting place that touches the heart.

About the author

Shopping Centre News

Shopping Centre News (SCN) is in the ‘information business’, and is perceived as such by its readers. Daily industry news makes a must-visit as part of the morning routine for those who want to keep right across the latest retail developments and events, while SCN's premium magazine is the leading publication for the shopping centre industry in Australia and New Zealand.

Known as the ‘industry bible’ SCN is printed five times a year with fascinating, in-depth features and important critical analysis written by known industry insiders as well as the popular ‘Guns’ reports, which ranks Australian shopping centre performances. Shopping Centre News is the only publication in the world that features centre statistics on Turnover, Turnover per square metre and Specialty Shop turnover per square metre for every major centre in Australia.

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