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Recreating Covent Garden as a 1m sq ft 'Selfridges without a roof'

Beverley Churchill, creative director at Capital & Counties Properties (CapCo), reveals how she has elevated the piazza and its surrounds into a premium retail and leisure destination.

Bev Churchill, creative director of Capco

Beverley Churchill, creative director of Capco

Beverley Churchill, creative director of Capco

How has Covent Garden changed since Capco bought the estate in 2006?

The shopper has changed completely in the last 10 years. The audience used to be drawn to the district because it is architecturally beautiful, but they weren’t connecting with the brands or spending. Now we have a much more engaged audience. They are shopping, eating and enjoying the culture. You can really see the change over the years. Each of the 100 brands we have added has brought a new layer to the experience and with it a new consumer.

Is the shopping offer now complete in the area? What’s next?

It’s never done and we have plenty coming down the track. It really is a continual process. I have been involved with the project since day one, as I was brought in for my retail background. [Churchill was previously marketing director at Selfridges]. That retail mentality has been crucial in transforming the area. [Covent Garden totals more than 1m sq ft and has more than 400 units. Henrietta Street has beecome a menswear hub and contemporary fashion brands including Burberry and Sandro have been introduced on  KingStreet.] The final piece of the puzzle will be Floral Street, which will be relaunched in 2017.

What are the key ingredients for a successful retail destination?

There’s no rulebook for creating interesting places, but getting the balance right is the name of the game. We set out wanting to create a Selfridges without a roof. Selfridges has a vibrancy and a democracy that we wanted to bring to Covent Garden. We’ve created an alternative to the traditional department store in an area immersed in culture which has a real community and with it plenty of glamour and grit. Our doors don’t close at 8pm – Covent Garden is an authentic place with its own personality and that’s what makes it special.

How do you see the future of bricks-and-mortar?

The future of retail will be all about specialists and connoisseurs. To get people out and off their sofas, retailers need to connect with shoppers and convey their passion for the brand and product.

Covent Garden Market Building

Covent Garden Market Building

Will digital play a big role in stores?

Everyone is exploring digital innovation in store. However, the thing we hear more and more is that good old customer service improves the customer experience over anything else. People will come back to a store if they have been treated in a warm and welcoming way rather than if they got to play on an iPad. Digital elements will play a role, of course, but it’s finding the natural balance that’s key.

How is the retail/property mood following the Brexit vote?

Touch wood, the result of the European Union referendum has had no major impact on footfall or sales in Covent Garden. Before the vote there was a bit of uncertainty, but footfall was up 8% in the week following. We were since on a trip to Europe and had meetings with 10 potential new tenants and no one mentioned Brexit. There is still strong interest from international brands in central London – they have not lost any confidence.

Covent garden map

Covent Garden map

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