A multiracial future beckons for Mara Digital Mall

KUALA LUMPUR: Once touted as the challenger to Low Yat Plaza, Mara has become a ghost town of sorts, with only a handful of businesses selling handphones and laptops.

But Mara Corp chairman Akhramsyah Muammar Ubaidah Sanusi wants to turn things around, with new technology and a free hand for traders to conduct their business.

“Mara Digital Mall was conceptually flawed. It was based on an incident at Low Yat Plaza and this was not a healthy reason to start a business. Now we have to work with what we have,” he told FMT in an interview.

In 2015, a youth was accused of stealing an RM800 smartphone from one of the shops in Low Yat Plaza, resulting in demonstrations by some organisations which turned the incident into a racial issue.

While its concept was flawed, Akhramsyah said Mara Digital Mall was strategically located although this in itself was not enough for it to thrive.

Businesses at the mall can only get their products from a single supplier, and traders say this makes it difficult for them to lower their prices and remain competitive.

“Actually, the mall's problem was there was too much political interference by the previous Barisan Nasional government,” Akhramsyah said.

“In fact, Mara's management did quite well to help the traders despite the constraints caused by political interference.”

He said Mara Corp's subsidiary, Mara Incorporated, is now managing the mall and looking at ways to revive it and leverage on strategic retail space.

“I'm open to any suggestions to rejuvenate the mall. I would like to see next-level technology come in – I'm talking about having a space for augmented or virtual reality arenas.

“This is something even Low Yat Plaza doesn't have. If we want to talk about Mara Digital Mall being different from Low Yat Plaza, this is how we should do it,” he said.

He is also open to gaming studios or co-working spaces in the mall.

He said the key to successfully reviving the mall lies in giving traders a free hand in running their businesses.

“A lot of technology is foreign – how much can we restrict traders to buy from Bumiputeras? Having a space for Malays or Bumiputeras doesn't mean they cannot work with non-Bumiputeras or foreigners.

“We just provide the space. How they manage their business, who they work with, it's up to them. What we don't want is Ali Baba.”

Akhramsyah said Mara Corp is looking forward to ideas, and is not interested in dictating how people should run their businesses.

He said while Mara Digital Mall was set up as a platform for Bumiputera entrepreneurs, there was no reason why it could not be market-oriented.

At the end of the day, he said, successfully reviving Mara Digital Mall cannot be measured in dollars and cents.

“To me, its true success would be in it having a multiracial customer base. The surrounding clientele is multiracial, so it is disappointing if the clientele is not multiracial.”

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