Retail properties

Architect has designs on creative shopping malls in family firm’s old industrial buildings

Bosco Law was pioneer in government scheme to revitalise city

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 January, 2016, 3:23pm
UPDATED : Friday, 29 January, 2016, 3:23pm

Bosco Law Ching-kit is deputy chairman and chief executive of LAWSGROUP and Laws Fashion Group, which is one of Hong Kong’s largest textile manufacturers, fashion retailers, including brands such as Bossini, and property investors.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Toronto in 2001, Law worked in architecture and banking before joining the family business in 2005.

Law oversees the fashion group’s businesses in design, retailing, manufacturing and property investment. Among his property investments, he was the first to submit an application to the government in 2009 to turn a Lai Chee Kok industrial building into the D2 Place One shopping mall to house fashion designers and fashion-related products.

The project was not successful from day one and Law had to lead his team to cope with many challenges before the building became 100 per cent occupied this month.

He plans to turn another industrial building nearby into another shopping mall, D2 Place Two, in April, focusing on music, sports and make-up.

Q.Why did you abandon your career as an architect to work for your family business?

A. In 2005, the textile industry had a dramatic change because the World Trade Organisation eliminated the textiles and clothing quota from January 1 that year. At the time, I wanted to see how the manufacturing industry would face such a change so I joined the family business, first in manufacturing, branding, retail and property. I have just collected my long-service gold medal for working for the company for 10 years.

Q. One of your major projects is to revitalise the company’s industrial buildings, a scheme introduced by the government in 2009 aimed at better utilising vacant industrial buildings in the city. Can you share your experience?

A. I think the scheme is a good idea as it helps release space which has not been effectively used for other usage. Our family owned two industrial building in Lai Chi Kok for warehousing and manufacturing and I thought it was a good opportunity to achieve my vision of turning the industrial property into fashion and innovative industry.

Q. Why don’t just turn them into offices?

A. You are right that for an industrial building to turn into other usage, turning them into an office building would be the easiest way to go as it would need minimal reconstruction. Our company has an industrial building in Kwai Chung and we plan to turn it into office building later.

But for I wanted to do something special and thus decided to turn the industrial building into a shopping mall for fashion. I called it D2 for two reasons. One is because it is located at Lai Chee Kok MTR’s D2 exit. Its other meaning means Designers’ Dream.

This is back to our roots as LAWSGROUP has been a fashion manufacturer for 40 years and we still have 20,000 employees around the world to make fashion for retailers. I have a concept that if I can turn our property into a fashion hub for designers to establish their workshops, it would be a great idea as it would help promote the cultural, creative industry in Hong Kong.

Q. Have you faced a lot of challenges in doing this project?

A. Yes, there were numerous challenges. First, when you need to turn an industrial building into a shopping mall, you need to establish the escalators for the visitors to enter the building as they would not just take the lifts. Also, all restaurants need back alleys to drive away the rubbish and leftovers.

My background as an architect helped to design the whole reconstruction but it takes a long time. We submitted the project in 2009 but only had D2 Place One in use in 2012.

Then we started to invite fashion designers to come and sell their products. However, it did not work well as the building was new while some designers were pricing too high.

Q. How did you cope with these failures and finally achieve success?

A. I would not call it a failure but it was not yet a success when we initially started the project. But we learned from the experience and expanded the products to beyond just fashion, but also including shoes, hats and other accessories as well as increasing food and beverage. We also offer products with different pricing.

Adding marketing and events also helps. We held Saturday markets every week to attract visitors.

I would say it needed two years of hard work from my whole team, then we were achieve what we wanted. We have regular visitors while there are some designers who have upgraded their booths at the weekend markets into shops. This month, D2 Place One is 100 per cent occupied and I call it a success now.

Q. What is your next expansion plan then?

A. We are planning to turn another of our family owned industrial buildings, located just a few steps from D2 Place One, into D2 Place Two. The new one will also have a theme; I will only lease to tenants in creative industry to do make-up, music and sports. The building reconstruction is going to be completed soon, while the tenants could start to move in from April. This would continue our vision to turn the industrial buildings into cultural, creative shopping malls.

Q. Is running a concept shopping mall profitable?

A. If I take the project just as a property project to collect the maximum rental income, then some small artists may not be able to afford it. I still charge them market rent but then I have different types of shops or booths for them to choose. This allows them to pay the rent they can afford to pay while I can also strike a balance of making a profit while at the same time running a creative shopping mall.

Q. The redevelopment of industrial buildings scheme was launched in 2009 and will be completed in March this year – what do you think are the achievements and setbacks of this scheme?

A. Any scheme has pros and cons. For me, I think this scheme has led to a revamp of some old and outdated industrial building for better usage, which is good. From the process of application to doing my projects, the government also gave the approval very quickly.

Some people may criticise the scheme, saying it still has not solved the problem of the lack of space in Hong Kong. This is not a fair comment. The problem in Hong Kong is that we do not have enough land and the government has to get more land by reclamation or rezoning of the countryside areas. If people think the redevelopment of the industrial buildings would solve all the problems, it is impossible.

Q.What are the future challenges for the property market and how do you plan to cope with them?

A. We are very long-term property investors. For a long-term view, the property may move 10 per cent or 20 per cent or even more, which is normal. I think many of our tenants are taking very long-term views to their shops or restaurants business. We are therefore not so worried about the short-term movement of the market.