Eye on improvement
To The Link Management (The Link), the concept of quality is a continuing process designed to deliver value to tenants, investors and local communities.
'We view quality as a reflection of everything we do through engagement with our various stakeholders, the rejuvenating and repositioning of our shopping centres and driving the long-term, sustainable model of our business,' says George Hongchoy, executive director and CEO. 'Quality is embedded in setting our priorities, guiding our practices and setting targets for sustainability topics.'
Hongchoy believes that participating in the Quality Award scheme has allowed The Link, which was established in 2005 as the first real estate investment trust in Hong Kong, to benchmark its quality performance against more established businesses.
'A lot of the awards we have received previously focused on specific aspects of the business, but the HKMA Quality Award examines all elements of the company,' Hongchoy says, adding that the robust evaluation process had been a valuable experience. 'The team responsible for putting together our submission was very enthusiastic.'
He says recognition of The Link's quality efforts, which include support for small business operators, goes some way to offset claims of favouring large chain stores, which have been levelled at the publicly listed enterprise. 'About 60 per cent of our tenants are small operators and retention rates remain steady,' Hongchoy says. According to Hongchoy, The Link's shopping centres are located on the doorstep of more than 40 per cent of Hong Kong's households and the company is vigilant to ensure the tenant mix can fulfil customers' daily needs.
The trade mix of these centres is inclined towards consumer staples and ranges from leading retail groups to small businesses referred to by The Link as Quality Independent Operators (QIO).
Hongchoy says underpinning The Link's quality objectives is a detailed policy and procedure manual, backed by a vision to become a world-class real estate investment management company that strives to improve the lives of stakeholders.
'We need to keep our quality objectives focused but simple. We can't expect our frontline people to refer to the quality manual to address every issue,' Hongchoy says.
The definition of being a world-class real estate investment management company involves taking the best practices and initiatives found globally and adapting them to local needs, he says. For example, The Link has invested more than HK$2 billion in 25 completed asset-enhancement projects.
'To encourage the second generation of QIOs to continue running family businesses, we want to provide them with a better working environment,' Hongchoy says, adding that the extensive redevelopment of Tai Yuen Market in Tai Po is a prime example that has generated positive feedback from tenants and shoppers.
In addition to a dynamic layout, shoppers are able to use Octopus Cards and seek advice from neighbouring housewives who have been trained as shopping ambassadors.
To help QIOs run their business more efficiently, The Link has set up a tenant academy that offers seminars and workshops. Since the launch of The Link Tenant Academy in 2008, nearly 7,000 tenants and staff have attended about 50 seminars and workshops.
'There is little point in having a well-managed shopping centre if businesses are not able to operate as well as they could,' Hongchoy says. Keeping tenants and relevant parties informed about future improvement plans through timely communication is another area that Hongchoy believes can lead to better understanding of The Link's operations.
Hongchoy says measures have been taken to improve retail ambience and improve the shopping experience for tenants and their customers. This includes easier access for the disabled, elderly and families with young children. Recreational and landscaping facilities have also been designed to attract more shoppers. The Link has also employed the services of independent mystery shoppers to benchmark facilities and services. 'In all areas we measure favourably with our competitors,' Hongchoy says.
Keen to point out the contribution made by employees, Hongchoy says the real estate management firm places emphasis on training, retaining and staff welfare. 'We have introduced paternity leave, an e-learning platform and well-being initiatives to show our staff we value them,' he says. With about 850 staff, Hongchoy says it is important to co-ordinate training programmes and staff events to develop and maintain a sustainable talent pool. 'Caring for staff is a priority,' he says.