Bay Street six months down the line
Bay Street tourist complex is a dream come true for Chris Grech. He talks
to KURT SANSONE about the successes and failures of Bay Street, competition,
the cash flow crisis and Sunday shopping.
Six months after opening Bay Street, the much-flaunted Discovery
Centre is closing down. What happened?
The Discovery Centre is close to my heart because I carried out a lot
of research on the concept. The initial investment cost Lm650,000 but
I have to admit that it did not take off.
Bay Street offers a wide variety of entertainment options and things
to do and it is evident that people preferred to invest their time in
Furthermore, people could have found the Centre boring. We emphasised
the educational aspect too much, at the expense of the fun element.
The Centre was never intended to make money but the least we expected
was to reach a breakeven point. I considered the centre being my contribution
to the community.
Does the concept work in Malta?
Definitely. I still believe a Discovery Centre could work if operated
on its own and by offering more fun. The problem with the Discovery
Centre at Bay Street is that there are too many distractions. With the
right funding and help from the educational authorities it can happen.
And if it happens I will surely be a part of it.
How wise was the decision to invest in a retail complex in St Georges
When Maltese travel abroad they realise that shopping is an experience.
Shopping is the most popular leisure activity in the world and Bay Street
managed to make shopping an experience. We created a mix of retail and
entertainment and in the process created a new destination. The St Georges
area was synonymous with the leisure industry - all that Bay Street
did was to add another leisure activity, called shopping, to the area.
How are the retail outlets doing?
Most of them are doing really well. Obviously there are some outlets
that are not doing well but it all boils down to the human resources
operating those outlets. Bay Street offers consumers value for money
and good service and before selling retail space we make sure that the
operator is up to the required standard. I can replace any outlet that
closes immediately because there are numerous businessmen wanting to
open shop in Bay Street.
We have outlets here that shut down in other centres and moved to Bay
Street because of the balanced mix of retail and entertainment that
the complex offers. Nonetheless, I am a strong believer in competition
and I want other retail centres to work well.
Was Bay Street modelled on Maltese consumer tastes, or did it aim
to change consumer patterns?
The Bay Street concept worked successfully abroad and we thought of
emulating such an idea, but we did not leave it at that. We acculturated
the concept to the local scene. Bay Street is the result of a lot of
The theatre under the able hands of Albert Marshall just manages to
break even. However, it contributes to the delicate balance of the whole
complex. The Artisan Market is also part of the atmosphere, although
I believe that we can do much more over there.
Even if people come here to simply walk around, we are happy with that.
People create the Bay Street atmosphere.
There are two particular elderly people that come here every other
day just to sit down on the terrace and read the newspaper. They do
not spend a cent in Bay Street but I consider them to be my most important
customers. When I meet them they start pointing out defects and lack
of cleanliness. I would hate to lose them.
What is your reaction to the two-star environment that surrounds
The Paceville-St Georges area is the richest square mile on the
island. The environment definitely needs to be improved but I believe
that there is a strong commitment from the authorities to improve the
conditions of the area. Works should commence in the next six to nine
How does Malta fare when compared to other Mediterranean tourist
Malta cannot afford to continue progressing with a philosophy of protectionism
if it is to compete with countries like Spain, Tunisia, Greece and Italy.
We are capable to compete if we allow the market to work as it should.
Has the cash-flow crisis hit Bay Street?
I think that the problem has been exaggerated even though the whole
world is experiencing a slow down. In Malta I believe we have an over
supply in certain areas. However, there are a number of businessmen
that have entered the commercial world without the adequate research
on consumer tastes and patterns.
Banks have learnt their lesson on how to lend money. Borrowing against
collateral is simply not a valid option anymore. Businessmen should
provide feasibility studies and projections so that the success or failure
of a commercial venture can be assessed properly.
What about the phenomenon whereby a businessman develops a new concept,
becomes successful and soon after more ventures mushroom to tap the
It does not bother me at all. It really does not matter if people follow
suite, after all it is the market that will decide who will survive
or falter. When I started Dhalia years ago there were only two or three
other agents set up today, newspapers are full of adverts by numerous
estate agents. The increased competition did not hamper Dhalia; on the
contrary it helped to keep us on edge. Competition is healthy.
How important are the employees for Bay Street?
Customer service is the key word. Our business is all about personal
relations, with customers and between employees. I personally handle
customer service courses at Bay Street. I discuss relationships, teamwork
and personal growth with my employees. Until I see all operations working
perfectly in this regard I will continue working seven days a week.
Where is Bay Street heading?
Our next step is to build the brand. We also plan to grow inside and
outside Bay Street, however it will take a year or two to establish
a solid brand name.
You got your licence to trade on Sunday. Will you abandon the campaign
in favour of Sunday shopping?
The campaign will continue in the interest of economic growth, our customers
and tourists. I intend to continue the fight because I believe in the
principle. It would be unfair on my colleagues if I were to pull out
of the campaign simply because I got the licence to trade on Sunday.
Will the referendum take place?
The public is currently concerned with other important issues and a
referendum to solve the Sunday shopping issue might not be the best
option for now. However, if it has to happen it will.
Do you know how to fail?
Failing means that I am doing something. I have learnt a lot from my
failures, and I have grown. Those who never fail are those who do nothing.
However, I must point out that I am not a gambler. My failure is based
on a calculated risk. I make sure that I can recover from any setbacks
and my endless energy helps me to bounce back immediately.