UK retail stores: making places not filling spaces

As large chains continue to shutter a significant number of UK retail stores, there are calls for different landlord-tenant relationships. At this year’s Retail Design Expo there were some intriguing insights shared about this subject in relation to the shopping centre sector.

On 4 July the administrators of Calvetron Brands served notice on the fashion retail group’s remaining Jacques Vert and Precis concessions in the UK, Republic of Ireland and Canada.

The closures will result in 500 redundancies in UK retail stores and 250 across Canada, while a further 90 staff at the group’s head office and distribution centre will also lose their jobs. The move comes after 102 concessions were shuttered in June, resulting in 445 employees being made redundant just a month after the business entered administration.

Jacques Vert and Precis’s demise comes as House of Fraser plans to close 31 UK retail stores, Debenhams eyes multiple shop shuttings, Marks & Spencer speeds up its property portfolio reduction, and companies such as New Look, Carpetright, and The Original Factory Shop streamline their physical space through company voluntary arrangements.

Joint administrator for Calvetron Brands, Benjamin Wiles, said: “Calvetron Brands has faced the perfect storm of extremely difficult trading conditions on the high street, rising costs and low customer confidence all of which hindered our ability to secure a buyer.”

All this activity cannot fail to lead to the question: what next for shops and the high street? A conference session at this year’s Retail Design Expo (RDE), in May, looked at the retail space from a shopping centre angle, with relevant stakeholders in that sector having their say on how to keep customers returning to bricks and mortar.

Retail Connections has picked up some of the key talking points, which should give retailers and other players in the industry some food for thought in the wake of major changes taking place in the retail landscape. The key message from the session was to make UK retail stores “places” of note, not just think of them as spaces to fill – i.e. focus on the experience and creating a sense of place.

And it is something that the retail property industry and the retailers themselves need to work on together in order to drive success, according to the RDE session.

On relationships between retail property owners and tenants

Tony Devlin, executive director of CBRE: “Discussions between landlords and tenants have improved dramatically, but we are nowhere near singing from the same song-sheet in terms of what retailers want from their landlords and what landlords want retailers to deliver to their centres.

“That is something that needs to evolve before it is too late. We are now going through the biggest structural change in retail in the last ten years, and that is not set to change.”

Bill Kistler, executive vice president & managing director for EMEA at the International Council of Shopping Centres: “Up until recently as an industry we’ve been fairly lazy; we’ve been handing retailers the keys after an arduous negotiation and saying ‘we’ll see you in ten years, good luck’.

“It wasn’t our job to worry about their customers and their experiences – that was [retailers’] job. That is a conversion that we as an industry have had to make.”

On the design and experience of UK retail stores 

Gabriel Murray, chief creative officer at Studio 48: “Retail has been very vanilla. Retail shops and shopping experiences have been boring.

“Everyone in the world of retail needs to start taking Viagra [to reignite the world of retail]. The way to do it is through good design. Now is the time to change, we need to change the way we look at things, and start designing the future of retail.”

Simon Wright, managing partner at TGP International: “[It’s all about being] brave and doing something different – and giving opportunities to new and exciting things.

“Offering experiences you can’t get elsewhere.”

On how to offer a successful retail proposition

Tom Nathan, general manager Hammerson (at the time of the conference representing Hammerson client, Brent Cross Shopping Centre): “Everything is driven by the customer. We have to understand her today, we have to predict her tomorrow, and then we have to work out how we can engage with her in order to make sure that our place is successful.

“We need to keep it simple. The interaction, the experiences, the way they play and eat – it’s all about emotions to create loyalty. We feel that very strongly.”

Tom Nathan added: “Retailers and property people have always had the ability to adapt – we just need to do it quicker and we need to have a bit more courage.”

Tony Devlin: “The biggest threat and the opportunity is still the internet, from a retailer’s perspective how do they deal with online sales and still attract that online sale to store. How do they merchandise online vs in-store and how they deal with click & collect?”

Check out some of the conversations from Retail Design Expo’s sister event RBTE

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