Retailers at Coal Drops Yard have described the shopping destination as “a dream that’s not materialised” as they struggle with “bleak” levels of footfall six months after it opened in London’s King’s Cross.
Designed by Heatherwick Studio and developed by Argent, the district opened on 26 October 2018 to critical acclaim as the future of experiential retail. However, retailers have told Drapers it is failing to attract customers with its niche, high-end brand mix, impractical design and isolated location. The scheme is home to 50 concept stores and restaurants.
“You’d be horrified at the customer numbers,” one retailer told Drapers. “We could have eight people in over a 10-hour day, so it is pretty bleak.
“I don’t think we can last much longer than the first year if things don’t pick up considerably. I haven’t got the luxury to wait for two years until it becomes a destination.”
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Another retailer added: “One of the criticisms from customers is that the brand offering is too aspirational. You don’t want to make another Westfield, but it might benefit from more accessibly priced brands.”
Source: Luke Hayes
Anchor retailers include Cos, Paul Smith and Fred Perry. However, the developer has also supported first-time retailers such as menswear brand Form & Thread and womenswear boutique S120. Drapers understands Cornish lifestyle brand Finisterre has bought itself out of the development.
The supervisor of one womenswear retailer felt the scheme’s image could be improved: “There’s a difference of opinion between the landlords and designers. It is being marketed as an architectural site rather than for retail.”
One property source agreed: “Fundamentally they’ve developed something that is incredibly well designed from a beauty perspective, but it hasn’t brought people to it.”
Argent told Drapers it is working with retailers to improve footfall by organising focus groups and feedback sessions.
Anna Strongman, partner at Argent, said: “Since launch, our efforts have been to support tenants. These measures include everything from enhanced wayfinding and signage, to additional enlivenment and a year-round events programme.
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“We have already seen this pay off with a 40% increase [year on year] of total visitors to King’s Cross in February 2019. Recent research conducted by Copa in January 2019 revealed that one in three Londoners are aware of Coal Drops Yard.”
She added: “We are confident that visitor numbers will continue to increase naturally over the summer months. King’s Cross is an incredibly popular destination, particularly during the summer period and we expect this to have a direct impact on people visiting Coal Drops Yard.
“We believe the brand mix will continue to support the success of the development, and our vision for this retail district. Coal Drops Yard offers something unique, and we want to stay true to our original vision. Whilst we have already seen the destination come to life, we look forward to its continued success in the coming months, and years.”
However, although retailers are happy that Argent is engaging, some told Drapers the changes are not happening quickly enough.
“A lot of [retailers] are saying [the scheme] is a dream that’s not materialised yet,” said one menswear store manager.