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Property: Leaving the town behind

Once the territory of DIY or discount fashion, retail parks now attract more prestigious tenants.

Fashion retailers such as Next, Matalan and TK Maxx have long been familiar sightings at out-of-town retail parks. But now more of their peers are testing these locations for the first time. Take footwear retailer Schuh, which opened its first shopping park store at Glasgow Fort in August, as did rival Office and young fashion brand Jack & Jones.

Meanwhile, Nike is to open its first full-price retail park store at Broughton Shopping Park in Chester next month.

So what’s changing the mindset of such retailers, many of which had never previously contemplated an out-of-town store? Schuh only started to seriously consider the strategy last year, after a successful experience trading as a concession within Republic’s store at Glasgow Fort.

“The strength of performance from this small concession provided the confidence that a standalone store could work on large parks that had a similarly strong fashion focus as Glasgow Fort,” says Mark Horne, estates surveyor at Schuh, which will open another store at Teesside in September.

Retail parks

“Some retail parks are clearly evolving and the rebranding of a number of these to ‘shopping parks’ illustrates that repositioning away from bulky goods and towards the fashion end of the market,” he says.

Horne says Schuh will monitor trade at the stores over the rest of the year and that performance will dictate the possibility of other out-of-town store openings.

But while a number of retailers are joining retail parks of their own accord, one landlord, British Land, is trying to lure in a broader range of tenants - including more high street fashion retailers - through a different route by working with shopping centre leasing agents.

John Maddison, head of retail park asset management at British Land, says: “The shopping centre agents are used to dealing with many different retailers and are letting schemes at Westfield, Trafford Centre and Bluewater,
so they’re obvious people to work with. They will come across international brands and other retailers will come up on their radar [to bring in].”

Mark Disney, head of shopping centre development and leasing at CBRE, one of the agents working with British Land, says shopping centre agents will be able to utilise their contacts book to bring in a fresh crop of tenants, including those that had traditionally shied away from retail parks. He points to Schuh as an example. “As it’s a fashionable retailer and because it’s trading well [we can use it as an example when speaking to] similar retailers we know. A traditional retail park agent would not have that level of knowledge or the [contacts] at those type of retailers.”

Another factor tempting retailers is the transformation of retail parks in recent years. Originally home to DIY retailers and lower-end restaurants, some have evolved into leisure destinations complete with cinemas and gyms.

However, not everyone has a rosy view of such shopping parks. Aurora Fashions, owner of womenswear chains Coast, Oasis and Warehouse, told Drapers it is looking to pull the plug on its four out-of-town stores across the Oasis and Warehouse chains in Glasgow Fort and Birmingham Fort.

Ian Dudley, property director at Aurora and for Karen Millen, says: “We opened these several years ago but like-for-like sales are declining and we’d like to get out. It’s probably because of the location, the fact they’re fairly small stores and not carrying our large range, [but] also because our fashion shopper is not going out to retail parks.”

Nevertheless, Justin Taylor, chief executive of UK retail at agent Cushman & Wakefield, says if some of the elements of in-town shopping centres can be applied to some of the best out-of-town parks, then they will successfully attract a broader range of retailers, including international brands. This is the challenge for both landlords and agents.

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