The Business Year

Salomon Cohen Bouchara

Executive Director, Constructora Sambil

Dylan Wiman

Executive Director, Aquamundo

How do you differentiate yourselves from your competitors in this market? SALOMON COHEN BOUCHARA Constructora Sambil currently has and manages seven shopping centers in different cities across Venezuela; we are […]

How do you differentiate yourselves from your competitors in this market?

SALOMON COHEN BOUCHARA Constructora Sambil currently has and manages seven shopping centers in different cities across Venezuela; we are considered one of the largest companies in the sector. Our shopping centers are focused on retail and entertainment, as all we want is for people to be comfortable spending many hours at Sambil, and we don’t merely want them to shop. Sambil Santo Domingo is the largest shopping center of the Dominican Republic; it was our first shopping center beyond Venezuela, and we look to bring our many years of experience and know-how to bear in the country. We offer our visitors many activities free of charge during their visit; on Monday we run cooking shows, while on Tuesdays we have artistic presentations, and so on. We also have a joint venture with a company that organizes numerous activities, which brings theater shows and other entertainment. We also have a major aquarium, Aquamundo, a park for children of up to five years old, and another for older children. Moreover, our customers enjoy boarding trains throughout the hallways from which to see all of the stores, and which families in particular love.

DYLAN WIMAN This market is teaching us that you have to be very diverse in what you offer. It is not always easy to enter other countries. For example, if you open an aquarium—essentially a middle-class product—in the US you face stiff competition. Operating an aquarium means high operational costs and you cannot give tickets away, but at the same time, it’s not a luxury item. You therefore have to offer different packages and special prices. In particular, being in the Caribbean and South America, these countries are not always as oriented toward the middle-class as the US. This is teaching us that we have to really be creative and come up with new ideas and promotions to get people through the doors.

Since you are new to the Dominican Republic, how do you see your company moving forward?

SCB This is our first year in Santo Domingo. We are getting accustomed to all of the new attractions that Dominicans are asking for. Understandably, the public of the Dominican Republic has different preferences from that of Venezuela. We are also well aware of the need to provide fresh entertainment every week. We really know what the Dominicans like, and are also incorporating concepts that worked in Venezuela. Some of them do well, while others not so, for various cultural reasons. We also opened a 2,000 capacity theater over the summer where we host numerous activities, such as concerts and conventions. We look forward to increasing our visitors, making their visit to Sambil an enjoyable, happy, and comfortable experience for their families. Sambil is not merely a shopping center; it has come to mean family, education, entertainment, and so much more.

DW This is our first such scheme, but we aim for continued expansion. Our ultimate vision is to have 10 aquariums in the Caribbean and South America. ICM wants to make sure we have this one operating at full potential and we need to work out any bugs so that we can avoid them in the future. There are indeed plenty, and we have already learned a lot. We are now looking for our next location. Something that we are obviously looking for is the interest of other foreign investors in partnering with us, as we did with Sambil. We hope to have other opportunities with Sambil and are already discussing the potential of other malls they are establishing. Partnerships may not necessarily always be formed with Sambil, but we do hope to work with them again in the future. Right now, we are working on a project that will be more of a Sea World experience, to be owned and operated by ICM as well, but under a different name. We are looking to try different models. The shopping center model is something new here. We have just put our own twist on the aquarium in a shopping model concept.

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