As Trinity Leeds aims to prove, fashion retail isn’t all about London - major regional shopping centres are also prime territory for retailers.
Billed as the largest shopping centre to open in western Europe this year, the recent launch of Trinity Leeds is a major coup for the city. Covering 1 million sq ft under a sweeping glass dome roof, the three-storey £350m scheme cements Leeds’ status as one of the UK’s premier retail destinations.
When it comes to shopping outside London, most of the major fashion hubs have one thing in common with Leeds: they’ve become strong destinations through the opening of such shopping meccas. The past five years have seen a wave of shopping centre openings such as Liverpool One, Bristol’s Cabot Circus, Union Square in Aberdeen and Cardiff’s St David’s Centre extension. What were once cities with arguably half-hearted retail offerings are now slick fashion destinations in their own right.
Bernd Hake, UK managing director of premium retailer Hugo Boss, says these “super-malls” have managed to unlock the full spending power of the UK’s suburban population, a consumer segment whose needs were previously unmet by local high streets.
He adds: “More importantly, malls have managed to elevate consumer experience to a level that the high streets have often failed to provide.”
These openings have also helped attract a new crop of retailers to the cities. The launch of Trinity Leeds and the likes of St David’s in Cardiff and Birmingham’s Bullring have seen fashion retailers open stores in the cities for the first time.
Up to half of St David’s retailers, such as Vivienne Westwood and Gilly Hicks, were not just new to the city when they opened in the revamped centre - they were also their first stores in Wales. The opening of Trinity Leeds brought Victoria’s Secret, Mango and Hollister to the city for the first time.
The attraction of these shopping centres tends to come down to size. “As the physical representation of the brand, stores have to be complete, clear and accessible propositions,” says Peter Cooper, retail portfolio director at shopping centre operator Hammerson. “That means the right store size along with overall visual impact in a
high footfall environment is critical in order to deliver the right amount of wow factor.
In the majority of cases, smaller locations simply can’t deliver the space that meets these criteria.”
This was the case for Fresh Channel, owner of retailers including Oasis and Warehouse, which closed five stores in Leeds to pave way for three bigger stores in Trinity Leeds. Ian Dudley, group property director at Fresh Channel, says: “Leeds has a lot of substandard retail units which are too small for current requirements, so Trinity, as well as being the only centre to open in 2013, also fulfils a big demand for larger space.”
As well as filling the need for larger stores, Hugo Boss’s Hake argues that shopping malls can provide the premium retailer with “more desirable brand adjacencies” than local high streets. “Our presence alongside other luxury brands like Paul Smith, Giorgio Armani, Swarovski and anchor brands such as Apple, Selfridges and Harvey Nichols allows us to enhance our brand desirability, which is crucial to our strategy both locally and worldwide.”
It no longer makes sense to be in every town and city across the UK; instead, they can only afford to be in high-quality locations that receive significant footfall.
Hannah McNamara, associate on the shopping centre leasing team at Cushman & Wakefield, leasing agent for shopping centres including Trinity Leeds and Liverpool One, says: “Now retailers are going multichannel they don’t need a large number of stores. They need them in top-tier towns and then they can offer ecommerce [alongside this].”
In addition to offering a wide mix of fashion retailers, these glossy shopping centres are more than just about shopping - they are leisure complexes with cinemas, free Wi-Fi and a wide selection of restaurants.
John Grimes, retail leasing director at Land Securities, the property developer behind Trinity Leeds, says it wanted the centre to be an entertainment hub.
“Shopping habits have changed - people want to be inspired by products and services so we’ve ensured Trinity Leeds is meeting the demands of modern behaviours through the introduction of technology, along with the best in food and leisure, all of which bring benefits in terms of footfall and customer satisfaction,” he says.
However, while these major regional fashion hubs tend to be propped up by shopping malls, McNamara says such shopping centres don’t appeal to all retailers. “If you look at places like Cambridge, some retailers only want to go for the quaint stores.”
John Lewis is one retailer that does not follow a particular location strategy. “Shopping centre developments can be a very successful way of delivering a new shop, especially something as substantial as a full-line department store,” says retail director Jeremy Collins. “However, there is no set formula for site selection; each location is looked at on its individual merits.”
Over the next few years, investment in regional shopping looks set to be in the form of shopping centres rather than the high street, despite the intentions of the Portas Review to revive traditional town centres.
Leeds will become an even more compelling destination for shopping with the opening of Eastgate Quarter, a £590m retail development anchored by the city’s first John Lewis store. Over in Bradford, Westfield is expected to start construction on a much-delayed shopping centre later this year, while 80 miles north, Newcastle’s Monument Mall is undergoing a £15m revamp, with Armani Exchange among secured pre-lets. The South hasn’t been forgotten - Westfield and Hammerson have entered a joint venture to redevelop Croydon town centre.
And while the likes of Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool are regarded as the current favourites for regional fashion hubs, you never know - they could pass the crown on to Croydon or Bradford in the future.