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How I got here: Naomi Howard, retail leasing director of Land Securities

Land Securities’ retail leasing director believes augmented reality and beacon technology will create the memorable shopping experiences of the future.

Naomi Howard

Naomi Howard

I’m semi-obsessed by the healthy food blog Deliciously Ella, so after making one of her bircher muesli recipes for breakfast I head out for a morning run or swim. I’m always in the office by 7.30am to go through my emails. I love getting an early start on the day.

My main focus is now on our new Westgate Oxford shopping centre development, set to open in the centre of Oxford in 2017. A lot of my time is spent in meetings with architects and designers, as well as internal board meetings where we discuss plans for the development. I also travel across the world to source retailers for the new shopping centre and get to know their strategy for the UK to see if they would be a good fit. We team this information with research on the catchment area, to make sure we are finding the right retailers for the right centre. We are looking at brands in a number of countries, including France, Scandinavia and the US, particularly New York. However, we also have a very strong focus on our home-grown talent.

We start talking to international retailers four or five years before the shopping centre opens, so we have all the plans in place, whereas we tend to talk to domestic retailers more like two to three years in advance. Approximately 31.1% of the space at Westgate Oxford has already been pre-let. Brands committed to the scheme include John Lewis, which has secured a 140,000 sq ft flagship store, as well as H&M, Michael Kors, Superdry, Primark, Next and Schuh.

We meet with our existing tenants face to face as regularly as we can to keep abreast of how they’re getting on and ensure we understand their business. This might result in them requesting changes such as more retail space or an area to accommodate their delivery service with the rise of click-and-collect.

A hugely interesting part of my job is seeing what’s happening in retail in London, as well as across the rest of the UK. I am constantly attending conferences and meeting with brands one on one from the British and international fashion industry to stay on top of various trends affecting the sector. I also visit other fashion capitals around the world where I find inspiration for how shopping centres can work and source new retailers.

While some people might not like travel, I love that aspect of my role. Walking a city is the best way to get to know which brands would work in a particular shopping centre, and by talking to people you find out what’s cool. The challenge in my job comes from the fast-paced nature of retail in general, which always keeps things interesting.

When I started at Land Securities five years ago, I joined the Trinity Leeds development 18 months before it opened so working with that team will always have a special place in my heart. That shopping centre was innovative in terms of its combination of retail space (70%) and leisure (30%), with leisure becoming an increasingly big feature. Trinity Leeds spearheaded Land Securities’ digital thinking with a personalised and loyalty-based shopping app. Within a year of opening, Trinity Leeds had the fifth-largest social following among shopping centres in the UK.

Plan for Westgate Oxford

Plan for Westgate Oxford

By contrast, I’ve been working on the Westgate Oxford development since day one and I’m closely involved in the day-to-day running of the project. We’re at the forefront of evolving trends and planning for the likes of augmented reality, virtual shopping assistants, contactless payment and beacon technology. Who knows – what we will be talking about in the run-up to Christmas 2017 may not have been invented yet. We should be able to announce new technologies that will be a big part of Westgate Oxford as we get closer to launch.

A job that mixes fashion and property appeals to both sides of my brain. It’s amazing that every day I get to meet a new retailer and learn about their brand. People might not think it, but there’s a lot of creativity in what I do as I also get the opportunity to work with amazing architects and designers.

This industry needs individuals. It’s so important to be open, honest and have integrity, which will help you through any difficult situation. We’re all under so much pressure, so it’s important to have a joke once in a while.

I’d like to say I have a really relaxing evening, but usually I check my emails and get ahead on what’s happening the next day, which helps me sleep better. Then I like to have a cup of chamomile tea and read a book. I love a good autobiography; the last one I read was on Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

Plan B

My other career would be something sporty. Not necessarily a professional sportswoman, but I think it would be fun to be a sports scientist working with elite athletes. When I watch sporting events like the Rugby World Cup or the Olympics it really inspires me to see people at the top of their game, fuelled by drive and determination.

CV

Education

2000-2003            Property Valuation, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology

2003-2004            Real Estate Management (MSc), Oxford Brookes University

Career

2011-present    Retail leasing director, Land Securities

2006-2011            Retail surveyor, Lunson Mitchenall, London

2005-2006           Chartered surveyor (RICS), Knight Frank, London

2004-2005           Graduate surveyor, Savills, Dublin, Ireland

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