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Streets ahead

Drapers and property developer Grosvenor invited retailers and planners for a round table dinner to discuss the UK shopping experience.

The round table panel:

Mark Chapman, managing director, Chapman and Chapman Consulting
David Harper, agent, Harper Dennis Hobbs
Peter Horrix, store development director, HoF
Neil Barber, head of leasing, Grosvenor
Nick Hollingworth, chief executive, Austin Reed
Chris Goddard, senior planning consultant, GVA Grimley
Mark Bage, owner, Sarah Coggles
Nicky Dulieu, chief operating officer, Hobbs
Ciaran McCloskey, retail operations and business development director, Moss Bros
David Blakeney, development director, HoF

How are shopping centres affecting the high street today?
Neil Barber: We’re seeing a change in market demand. Look at Liverpool. It takes up a huge chunk of the city, but it incorporates hotels and office space. Someone has to have the courage to do something different and inspirational.

David Harper: But Norwich city centre, for example, has been devastated by its shopping mall. The planning process has to please so many people that it ends up pleasing retailers the least, so Norwich has lost its identity.

NB: There is a risk with moving prime pitch locations, which affected Norwich. But it also offers smaller retailers that can’t afford prime sites the opportunity to open in the vacated spaces in the city centres – this process just takes time. Norwich has been left with vacant sites by retailers that have relocated, but that will change. It also takes three to four years to open a scheme, during which time markets can change, which is beyond a developer’s control.

Chris Goddard: Princesshay in Exeter is a good example of a successful scheme. It’s so contemporary because the government was involved from start to finish, forcing it back to the drawing board to get it just right.

Nicky Dulieu: Exeter is working really well for us. It was one of the few areas where Hobbs wasn’t represented.
Ciaran McCloskey: Moss Bros isn’t in Princesshay yet, but we are in Exeter. Sales in our store have fallen by less than 10% since the mall opened – we were expecting more like 25%.

David Blakeney: The good thing about Princesshay, and the new St Stephen’s centre in Hull, is that they have brought people back into the city centres. Hull is low end and high volume, while Exeter is plusher. Our stores in those cities are trading up.

DH: One of the problems is being able to afford the anchor tenant. John Lewis charges such a ridiculous price that it essentially gets a free shop, while smaller chains get fleeced.

Should retailers be opening more stores or focusing on the internet?
Mark Bage: Between October and December 2004 our sector took £3.3 billion in internet sales, which rose to £7.7bn last year. Some retail development is almost irrelevant now. In the first year of our transactional website, we made £1 million – it’s like opening a shop, but without the rent reviews and the new storefits. I’m in two minds as to whether I’ll open another shop.

DB: But a good transactional website actually drives footfall. It’s like a shop window.

MB: I agree. So why not insist that all retailers that are part of a development, such as London’s Carnaby Street, must have a transactional website? Then they can all sign up to a central hub –, for example.

Peter Horrix: But people still want to try clothes on. Shopping is a social experience.

ND: Exactly. You can shop with your friends, with your mum. I work in retail five days a week, but I love to shop at weekends.

MB: But you might not actually buy that much if it’s a social experience.

PH: Shoppers also like going home with shopping bags. They love carrying a Selfridges bag – they want these shops in their city centres.

Mark Chapman: It’s not about the internet versus the high street. The whole of retail needs to be modernised.

Why do so many of today’s town centres look the same?
Nick Hollingworth: At the risk of being contentious, we’re reaping what we’ve sown. Town centres look the same and are squeezing the life out of indies. But consumers now want customisation. Look at how Marks & Spencer has segmented its offer. Every retailer has a price-driven offer, but also a premium range. Tesco Finest is the fastest growing brand in the UK. People are looking for things that are tailored to them, yet we’re building these huge malls that are so expensive. At Austin Reed, we aim to expand in smaller towns with character.

MB: But there are fewer of these little towns. Harrogate just looks like a smaller version of Leeds now. Why visit any of them?

NB: We need to capitalise on the vibrancy and individuality of cities such as Liverpool.

NH I believe people will return to smaller towns where they can still find independents and where parking is cheaper. Upmarket, smaller-volume centres don’t attract the likes of Arcadia, giving them a point of difference.

DB: Why not allow independents to join centres such as Bluewater at a lower rent?

CG: As a landlord you have to make a rational decision, so it’s dangerous for planners to say they’ll safeguard places for indies. That’s why multiples have grown market share. We drive that growth, however much we despise them.

PH: There is a future in major developments as social destinations. We’re anchoring Victoria Square in Belfast, its first new development. We’re also anchoring Bristol Broadmead and Eden in High Wycombe, a regeneration project.

CG: We’re learning from developments in the rest of Europe, such as having residential developments alongside retail space.

What about longer trading hours at shopping centres?
DH: Developers want to extend trading hours, but retailers are forced to pay for extra staff, with staff having to travel home late at night. Why do it? So you can gain market share?

NB: We have to think about what consumers want – would they like to shop after work, for example? Consumers expect choice nowadays.

DH: But centres are empty at 10.30pm.

PH: We don’t like longer trading hours.

NH: You just end up spreading six days’ sales over seven days. But once you’ve opened on Sundays, you can’t go back.

What should retailers be doing?
DB: We need to engage with local initiatives, charities and trade organisations.

MB: The best thing multiples can do is make a centre feel like it belongs to that particular area. Make its stores feel like indies. Shops such as Reiss, Jigsaw and Ted Baker, for example, have different shopfits for stores in different towns.

NH: But it’s not even about indies versus multiples. It’s about a different brand mix to suit each town offering a point of difference.

PH: To get the mix right, retailers, planners, developers and agents need to learn more about customers’ lifestyles, not about property and planning aspirations.

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