Ambitious, confident and highly experienced, La Lucia Mall Centre Manger Vanessa Blevins has been at the helm of one of the North Coast’s most loved malls for more than 16 years. She also recently oversaw the mall’s R66 million upgrade.
Ask any of their loyal shoppers and they will tell you that La Lucia Mall is convenient, classy and safe. It’s a community-focussed shopping centre with a unique mix of tenants and an atmosphere that is welcoming and warm. But a great combination like this doesn’t happen by accident.
In fact, it takes a great deal of planning, years of restructuring, a hard-working team and a leader who is determined to see the mall be the very best it can be. That leader is Vanessa. For the past 27 years she has immersed herself in the local retail industry, working her way up the ladder in the process.
Born and bred in Durban, the former Durban Girls High School pupil is a mother of two daughters (aged 14 and 11) and has been married to Simon, a KZN retailer, for 16 years. It was when the couple decided to settle down and get married in 2003 that she made the big, career-changing decision to take up the position of La Lucia Mall Centre Manager.
Vanessa began her career in the shopping centre sector shortly after finishing her studies at the then University of Natal (where she majored in both legal and industrial labour studies). This career took her from public relations officer at the Windemere Centre in Morningside, through leasing experience at Gateway Theatre of Shopping to joining the management team at La Lucia Mall. When she got married in 2003, she accepted the role of Centre Manager for La Lucia Mall.
Vanessa says La Lucia Mall had been through some hard times. “There were a lot of vacancies and we needed to make changes. It took several years of strategising and planning for us to get the tenant mix right and turn the mall around. The opening of Food Lover’s Market and Dis-Chem (the first in the province and still the biggest in KZN) in 2006 was a game-changer, as will be the opening of Cotton On on 11 October.”
Ensuring you have the right mix of tenants is hugely important, says Vanessa. “Your retailers have to be relevant to your market. We are based in a suburban environment with over 50 schools in our trade area. This means we have a lot of ‘school run’ shoppers, who are looking for convenience and quality.”
While much of the mall’s success has been due to its fantastic position and the phenomenal growth and investment in the La Lucia ridge area, Vanessa says it has also been thanks to the fantastic team she works with.
“We have a great centre management team and we work very closely to ensure things run smoothly all the time. Communication is vital and thanks to social media and technology we are able to communicate effectively with our shoppers and each other, and identify and resolve problems quickly.”
This was especially important, she says, during the mall’s recent R66 million renovation. The upgrade, which was completed this month, started in January and focussed on updating the look and feel of the mall, keeping it relevant and on trend.
Commenting on the mall’s new look, Vanessa says, “The mall looks great, but our main focus is on tenant mix and convenience, ensuring we have everything our shopper needs, that everything works and that our customers are can shop happily and safely.”
In her spare time Vanessa loves to cook for family and friends. She enjoys going to the Kruger National Park and anywhere in the Drakensberg and the bush, and enjoys trail walking. She only learnt how to ride a bicycle after she turned 40 and has completed in Berg & Bush and other MTB events, as well as the Cape Cycle Tour and Amashova bicycle races.