The COVID pandemic has been a game changer and catalyst for the real estate business, pushing the change to online for a lot of retailers.
A retail “apocalypse” is being unveiled in the USA.1
In Jordan, things are pretty much the same with a lot of small shops facing closures as they are unable to pay the bills.
It is harder to quantify the exact numbers of closures in Jordan, but local municipalities2 sometimes publish the number of shops that haven’t renewed their business licenses for the year, despite the many incentives.3
Yet one retail renting business has shown to be resilient in this pandemic.
Taj Mall, registered officially as Al-Tajamouat for Touristic Project Plc (ticket: TAJM), is a a multi-purpose shopping complex with less than 190 outlets in 150,000 m2.
Among its major shareholders, 2 Caymanian companies own more than 50% with the final beneficiary being the Bahraini holding company Bank al Khair4, 2 Qataris owning around 20% and Bank al Etihad owning just below 9%. The main founder has exited in 2019.
Even before the pandemic, things were starting to slow down in the economy as well as for Taj Mall. In that year, its foot traffic declined by 2.1% and its revenue dropped by 11%, going from 15.09 million JODs in 2018 to 13.3 million JODs in 2019.
Thankfully, revenues during the pandemic have only dropped by 23.4%. Rental income has fallen from 13.3 million in 2019 to 10.1 million in 2020.5
In that time, the company took lenient instead of punitive measures with the tenants. It has agreed to postpone and/or reschedule rents for a lot of the shops that might have taken a hit. This has helped with the company’s reputation in the market, even attracting further clients to set up shop despite the economic slowdown and the ongoing restrictions. Taj Mall still manages to service its debts and other commitments while lending a hand to its tenants.
Comparing the first six months of 2020 with 2021, it is evident that things have picked up substantially with revenues increasing by 34%.
Before the pandemic, it was common in Jordan to see a business, focused on selling a particular product, open up shop in your neighbourhood and then all of a sudden, a dozen similar businesses spring up imitating that product/service. (Most recent case study: 1 JOD Mansaf cup)
As per the laws of supply and demand, adding to that customer satisfaction with competitive prices, it is only natural for a business to face hard times. As Joseph Schumpeter put it well, an entrepreneurial business is already fighting for survival the moment it is incorporated, knowing that any challenge or competition is always on the horizon.
Jordan has witness a considerable rise in the number of Malls being built. Now some are facing tough times.
Taj Mall on the other hand is similar to the high end luxury malls in the USA6: they have proven to be useful, not just an area to shop but also a meeting area for friends and families. But they cannot just sit idle, they need to stay on the edge, improving themselves.
With a company with a good equity position, a healthy balance sheet, and a market capitalisation (40 million) lower than the value of land and building (120 million) it is sitting on, maybe for a start, they could start distributing dividends? Some shareholders would like to be compensated for owning their shares.