José Falcão Mena, Director Sonae Sierra, Responsible for EMEA Services

José Falcão Mena joined Sonae Sierra in 1989. He has overseen the company’s expansion in Iberia since 1998 and has been responsible for shopping center development in the same region since 2004. In 2010, he became responsible for the expansion of services to third parties in the EMEA region. In an exclusive interview with Europe Real Estate, Jose Falcao Mena, Director of Sonae Sierra describes the retail real estate market in Europe and talks about the company’s plans for the near future.

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What is Sonae Sierra involved in at the moment and what are the company’s plans for the near future? Currently, Sonae Sierra has six projects under development, including three for third parties and four new projects in the pipeline. We look to continue our growth path in the regions where we are present but also in new geographies, where we are successfully implementing our professional services business. It is increasingly challenging to develop new projects in mature markets where we have been present for years, so we look to expand new paths to grow our business in markets with higher potential, while we constantly improve our shopping centers in the mature markets to continue to be the most relevant commercial and leisure providers in their locations. Nevertheless, we still see growth opportunities in Europe in countries such as Germany, Italy, and Romania, where there is space for further development as well as stable and positive economic indicators.
Regarding high-potential markets, we have a strong portfolio in Brazil as well asa good services business already implemented in Morocco, where we just announced our first investment for the development of Zenata, a new shopping center located in Casablanca. We are also active in Colombia and we have alsostarted operations in North Africa, Morocco, andAlgeria.
We have also opened important operations in Turkey, China, and Russia where we entered in joint ventures with local partners, with a focus on providing third party services. With this strategy we learn about the market,develop our business network, and once we find the right conditions to invest in, we do so, like we did in Morocco.
Zenata@Sonea Sierra Zenata@Sonae Sierra
With activities in 14 countries, are you planning to expand into new markets? If proper conditions and partners present the right opportunity, we do plan to expand. However, consolidatingour presence in the recent new markets we have entered into remains a priority. We see a considerable amount of potential to grow our professional services business in emerging markets as local companies are looking for knowledge and experience to develop, lease and manage shopping centers, in accordance with the highest sector standards.
How would you describe the retail real estate market in Europe? What are the main differences between the countries you operate in? Each country has its own particularities, and even within the same country we see many differences; we need to consider different locations and visitor profiles in order to develop the best shopping center for that specific market.
For example, the visitors’ profile from southern Europe and northern Europe have some differences; however, retail is more and more a global business and it is important to find the right mix between entertainment, retail, and services. Being a specialist in the sector, with operations in four continents and 14 countries, allows us to have a consistent approach to the business and adapt to the local particularities while keeping the international standards of the projects we are involved. As a result, we can provide high-quality shopping center solutions covering all aspects of market analysis, architecture and engineering project, development, leasing, marketing, property management, and asset management, which iswell adapted to local needs. Alexa@Sonea Sierra Alexa@Sonae Sierra
How would you describe the next generation of shopping centers? Do you think entertainment will be a major trend? Entertainment is definitely a crucial component, but it is already a settled trend. The important aspect is to approach entertainment in the correct balance among the center’s offer of retail and services, always taking into consideration the visitors' preferences and profiles.
Still, more than entertainment, it is the complete shopping experience that is setting the trend. The shopping center is now a 'social venue', where visitors purchase goods, services, leisure, but most of all - a priceless Social Experience.
This takes us to another level where customers are looking to discover, evaluate, experience, share, purchase, receive, use, and return products with more ease. So we see the trend to be an integration of modern digital tools into the physical retail that can make a unique shopping experience which generates fans, not just simple consumers.
Therefore, we must have an integrated view of both online and offline solutions that link the shopping center, the tenants and the visitors, making them interact with online sales activation programs, loyalty clubs, eco-brands, while reinforcing services such as gyms, sports facilities, health services, and other leisure components.
The trend is to leverage the omni-channel solution to constantly evolve the shopping experience that clients demand.

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