When Maureen Fung Sau-yim goes shopping, the discount handbag or the latest Parisian fashions can be the last thing on her mind. More often than not, her well-tuned retail antenna is trying to figure out whether the store she is browsing in will still be open in six months' time. As the general manager for leasing at Sun Hung Kai Real Estate Agency, a wholly owned subsidiary of Sun Hung Kai Properties, she lives and breathes shopping. At last count, she managed more than five million square feet on half of the group's retail portfolio. 'I can smell right away the rights and wrongs of any shop,' Ms Fung said. 'Whenever I go shopping, it is not only for leisure but also for work. The more I see, the more I learn.' Ms Fung's retail sensibility is reflected in the gamble her company took with the apm shopping centre at Kwun Tong's Millennium City. Until four years ago, no one imagined that building a trendy and large-scale shopping centre in Hong Kong's oldest industrial district would work. SHKP, the city's largest private shopping centre operator, pulled a surprise by adding 630,000 square feet of retail space, adjacent to its 700,000 sqft office block above Kwun Tong MTR station. The result: a runaway success. Catering to Hong Kong's insatiable desire to shop at all hours, it is the only complex in the city that offers after-midnight shopping, dining and entertainment. As its entertainment and dining offerings get more varied and livelier, apm is even emerging as East Kowloon's version of Lan Kwai Fong. Even past midnight, youngsters and adults flock there, turning the complex into a virtual beehive of activity when most people in the city are already fast asleep. The number of shoppers at apm has doubled to eight million per month since opening in 2005. During Christmas Eve and the World Cup, it recorded a peak of 460,000 visitors each day - the highest-ever seen in apm. In the old days, investing billions in a rundown industrial area was unheard of, Ms Fung said. 'But we were proven correct in the development strategy that we adopted,' she said. 'Apm's success has prompted us to use this same formula on the mainland even as we adjust to market conditions which are different from that in Hong Kong.' She believes that apm will become a model for shopping centres being built in the years to come. Ms Fung recalls that in the past, retailers would have been shocked at the thought of setting up shop in decentralised areas away from Central, Tsim Sha Tsui and Causeway Bay. Many major retailers even refused to conduct site inspections of centres outside the core business and commercial districts. When apm was being constructed four years ago, her staff waited for eight hours at the development site for a prospective tenant who failed to turn up. Nine anchor tenants only signed leases at the last minute. That early scepticism proved misplaced. Apm has generated a total of HK$8.4 billion in sales over the past four years and contributes an annual HK$300 million in rental income to the group. With apm's success under her belt, she is now focused on attracting tenants to two SHKP shopping centres in Shanghai, now under construction. The 1.1 million sqft luxury shopping centre at Shanghai IFC in Pudong is scheduled to have its soft opening in April next year, while another 1.2 million sqft centre in Huai Hai Zhong Road will be completed in phases by 2011. In Hong Kong, sales of the five major shopping centres under her control - apm, the Sun Arcade in Tsim Sha Tsui, Tai Po Mega Mall, Yuen Long Plaza and Metropolis Plaza in Sheung Shui - total HK$6 billion, or about 2 per cent of the city's retail sales of HK$21 billion. Ms Fung is the founding chairman of the Institute of Shopping Centre Management Association and entered the property industry as a management trainee at a private developer. She then moved to KWah Properties before getting involved in leasing of residential, commercial and industrial property during a two-year stint at Cheung Kong (Holdings). She joined SHKP as a senior leasing manager in 1991. How should landlords, such as SHKP, get people back into the shops after the global financial crisis? Being a landlord, we are not only collecting rents but also acting like a manager of a private asset portfolio. There is no doubt that consumers are tightening their purses in order to save for rainy days. We have increased our promotional budget by 10 per cent to HK$55 million at apm this year. We are allocating more to giveaways and discount coupons. As mainlanders are less affected by the global economic crisis, we are promoting our centres in southern China and organising daily shopping tours to our shopping centres. We provide a shuttle bus to bring them directly to our properties. We have organised 10 shopping tours from Shenzhen and Guangzhou to apm for the past two years. Every month, we also closely monitor our tenants' sales. If they fail to meet sales targets, we try to find out the reason. Why was their performance poorer than neighbouring shops? In some cases, these retailers are unaware of their mistakes. Their sales will improve if we can correct these problems. Otherwise, we will try to relocate them to another shopping centre that better fits their customer base. Are tenants asking for rent reductions? The Hong Kong retail sector is a highly competitive market. As the city's largest private shopping centre operator, we do not believe that offering rent cuts is the best option to help our tenants survive amid the economic downturn. Our motive is to assist our retailers to generate sales growth not only in good times but also in bad times. That is why we managed to generate higher rental income and stronger sales last year despite the global financial crisis. For instance, apm's annual rental income increased 11 per cent to HK$300 million in the year to July. How do you see the prospects for the local retail industry and how do you plan to maintain your lead over rival shopping centres? Undoubtedly, the retail industry provides a good investment return as developers and investors continue to pour capital into the sector. We acknowledge that our rivals will steal our market share if we stop investing in our premises. Every year, about 1.8 million sqft of new supply comes on the market on top of existing centres. Although apm opened just four years ago, we will spend HK$50 million renovating the shopping centre in order to give a fresh look to our shoppers. Do you think Shanghai and Beijing pose a competitive threat to Hong Kong as the cost of opening a store on the mainland is not only lower but also provides a vast market for retailers? I have seen more foreign retailers skip Hong Kong and directly open their first store on the mainland. This rings an alarm bell for the industry and we need to continue to bring in innovative ideas to our shopping centres as a way to keep retailers in Hong Kong while they expand into the mainland. Fortunately, Hong Kong's popularity among international retailers is still relatively high as the city is the regional headquarters of most world-class brands. Hong Kong is still a favoured destination for retailers because of the city's established legal system and integrity. How interested are retailers in your new shopping centres on the mainland? Many international brands believe the mainland will be the No1 market for retailers so the pre-leasing for the Shanghai IFC shopping centre is proceeding smoothly. The 1.2 million sqft shopping centre in Huai Hai Zhong Road will be a chic shopping destination with a totally new concept for Shanghai.