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BCSC: Q&A with Sheila M King, Hammerson

Hammerson’s group retail leasing director talks to Drapers about the mood on the floor at this year’s edition of property trade show BCSC and the real estate company’s acquisition of the Victoria Quarter shopping centre in Leeds.

What has the mood of the show been like this edition?

I think it’s been really positive. Retailers are here to do business, and we have meetings lined up throughout the whole trade fair, despite what’s been going on over the last few months in terms of sales.

What sort of concerns are you hearing from property directors, and what does this mean for their property strategies?Fewer, bigger, best. They will be much more selective in terms of where they go and the key thing is they want to get the right size of store to put in their full range and maximise the sales. They’re showcases.

You’ve got all of the mass market retailers here. [Though] I think some of the aspirational retailers aren’t here. I was with Hollister yesterday and they’re not here. Hollister has just got together its world strategy for the next five years, which is quite interesting. [The brand has] earmarked 20 units for next year [2013], across Europe and the world. Though the brand will be very selective about the stores they take?

This morning Hammerson announced that it has acquired the Victoria Quarter in Leeds. What are your plans there, and what else are you talking to retailers about at the show?

We have France and the UK, so that’s a big point of difference. For us to have announced Victoria Quarter in Leeds this morning is really exciting, because it gets us into a different level of the retail market which is more aspirational and luxury. Victoria Quarter has got Vivienne Westwood and Luis Vuitton, and there is a lot of growth in that area of the market because a lot of consumers aspire to those retailers.

The Victoria Quarter is anchored by Harvey Nichols, and then there’s a development scheme that we’re doing that will adjoin. We’re going to add on a new area, which will be John Lewis and some new units. They’re quite small units [right now], so we’ll look at which retailers want to up-size and then we’ll take those out and put them into the new units. We need to look at the thing as a whole piece and make sure the design and all the elements work together

It’s a great opportunity to get us into that area of the market and work with the team in Marseille, because we’re talking to very similar retailers. Victoria Quarter, Brent Cross and Marseille [Les Terrases du Port] are the key ones for us in that market.

It’s a really exciting time for Hammerson. Especially with our links with Value Retail [Hammerson own 20% of the business], because they’re across the globe, they’re going into China. So we’re going to work with Value Retail more, because they know those [luxury] brands, and I know they American retailers. We’re going to share more knowledge.

We’ve also got our plans for Croydon, the Centrale and Whitgift Centre. It’s going to be a complete redevelopment of the town centre, looking at merging the two schemes and improving the actual Croydon town centre; creating more leisure and just giving it a completely different reputation to the one it has currently.

What are you hoping to get out of exhibiting at the show?

We have our usual meetings where we want to close down some existing conversations and all of the key people are here. The other main thing is this link with France and the UK, making sure that the retailers [attending] are aware of that for when they’re looking at their European strategy.

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