With its central location, fashion focus and mix of leisure and shopping, those signed up to Leeds’ newly opened mall hope it will revitalise the city.
Last week, West Yorkshire was home to the biggest shopping centre launch in Europe of 2013.
Three years in the making, Trinity Leeds comprises one million square foot of retail and leisure space, of which 75%opened on its first day, with the likes of Victoria’s Secret, Primark and Oasis due to open in the next few months.
The launch event itself was a bizarre Cirque du Soleil performance curated by designer Henry Holland, which felt at odds with the crowd; as one retailer later pointed out, everyone wanted One Direction to burst out of the box rather than an acrobat in a yellow onesie.
But once that was out of the way, the locals began their exploration of the new centre, and it quickly became a heaving mass of shoppers, vaguely reminiscent of the mall scene in zombie film Dawn of the Dead.
Marks & Spencer is an anomaly in that Trinity has effectively been built around the existing store, although the unit has been extended by 10,000 sq ft, or 15%, for the development. But with an official ribbon-cutting, free champagne and hidden gold stars offering free gifts, the M&S team had one of the buzziest - and busiest - shops in the centre.
M&S Store manager Paul Tyler tells me much of his focus has been on fashion and hospitality, with investment ploughed into areas dedicated to the sub-brands Autograph, Per Una and Indigo in particular, as well as the opening of a new coffee shop.
“Leeds is a vibrant, fashion-conscious city and the Trinity Leeds development is particularly focused around fashion, so that’s why we’ve developed that offer,” he explains. “I can’t go into specifics but we are expecting quite an increase in customer footfall as a result of the development. We expect it to go through the roof.”
Tyler is particularly excited about the prospect of late trading - the centre is open until 8pm during the week, two hours later than the city centre used to wind down in the evening.
“The leisure side of things will encourage retailers to trade later, and in turn will keep customers in Leeds rather than heading further afield,” he says.
“It will really put Leeds back on the map in terms of a retail destination.”
Warehouse’s retail director Jane Foggin says it was precisely this that encouraged the womenswear retailer to sign up for a unit back in 2010.
“We absolutely want to be where the customer wants to be, and that means both leisure and shopping,” she says. “You read so much about how the high street is dying and yet in major centres like Leeds, Bristol and Birmingham you have these big centres where you have the social, lifestyle [element] alongside the shops. It was a natural decision for us, because that’s what our [customer] wants - the whole lifestyle piece.”
Warehouse is trialling a new concept in its store, with a “window wall” - containing a blown-up sepia picture of Leeds - dividing the space between shop front and fitting room, and an expanded changing area that almost has the feel of a spa, with candles, magazines, comfy chairs and an iPad for accompanying friends and partners to browse on, as well as to make use of the business’s much-vaunted omnichannel offer.
“We wanted to create a social space, something to encourage [our customer] to come out - because then you can upsell more. We want her to relax and take her time,” Foggin explains. The staff can also transact, de-tag and bag in the fitting room, making the whole process far more seamless.
“The concept makes the product feel different,” Foggin says. “We’ve had lots of people in having a look around, but plenty of them have been spending.”
The launch has also given New Look the opportunity to trial some new shopfits, most significantly in its menswear department, which is experimenting with a more masculine look based around exposed brickwork, bright orange signage and lighting.
New Look’s teen range, 915, is also trying out a new approach, while its plus-size sub-brand Inspire has been renamed to the more immediately evocative Curves. Much has been made of New Look’s denim section, which has a distinct feel. “There are times in a particular market when you have customers going somewhere as a destination,” head of retail Elaine Wrigley says. “Here we’ve focused on menswear and denim, and so far today we’ve had great customer feedback.”
Wrigley is bullish about the opportunities for growth in Leeds alone, arguing that Trinity Leeds “brings a different shopping proposition” from the existing sites. Along with Tyler, she believes the later trading is a great opportunity for the business, and that the mix of leisure will attract greater footfall.
“The fact that this is a shopping centre will drive a more consistent approach,” she adds. “The challenge in Leeds has always been getting all the retailers lined up, but being part of such a huge destination centre, I would expect them to work more closely together. I am delighted to see we are trading late, because that’s a significant step change for the Leeds market.”
Superdry is also using Trinity as its first opportunity outside London to roll out some of its key flagship features, including a video screen behind the till, a new fitting room concept and special seating areas.
“We tried to bring new elements to this store, which will then roll out to some others,” says head of retail Claire Arksey. “But Leeds will remain a real hub for us - not just for the student population, but for the city’s fashion sense.”
Although Arksey says Superdry sees itself as a retailer that is committed to the high street, she notes that Trinity “feels like it connects the high street and shopping centre”.
“I think this centre has the best of both worlds,” she says.
But the centre will undeniably have an impact on Leeds’ traditional high street areas, with several retailers either having closed or in the process of closing down existing stores in order to move into Trinity Leeds.
Young fashion chain Urban Outfitters has taken a 9,500 sq ft unit split over three floors in place of the two-floor store it had for five years on Boar Lane.
The retailer’s creative director Stephen Briars says: “Trinity is one of a new breed of inside-outside developments that give you a greater sense of being connected to the street. There is something more genuine and authentic about the street environment.”
Foggin also takes a pragmatic approach to the high street versus shopping centre debate, saying the business should follow the customer. “Westfield Stratford is not just a shopping centre and Leeds is very much the same,” she says. “We want to be wherever our customer aspires to be, and at the moment she likes these kind of centres for the social side of things - that’s the way forward as we see it.”
Story in Numbers
- 100 - Retailers in the shopping centre
- 46 - Retailers that are new to Leeds
- £350m - Cost of the Trinity Leeds scheme
- 2,600 - Jobs created