As the BCSC gather in the city for its annual conference, Manchester’s retail scene is set for further change.
Manchester United, it would seem, is not the only institution in the city struggling to come to terms with upstart neighbours with grand aspirations. Manchester’s established retail centres, notably the once swaggering King Street await the opening of the office-led Spinningfields development this spring with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.
Once Manchester¹s answer to Bond Street, King Street is already a pale imitation of its former self and its fractured store ownership has left landlords holding on to sky high rental expectations while many of the major brands including Oasis, Warehouse and Dorothy Perkins have upped sticks.
Nearby St Anne¹s Square has also suffered as Selfridges and Harvey Nichols have shifted the upscale retail hub to a conurbation of aspirational fashion brands around them such as Hobbs, Reiss and Ted Baker on New Cathedral Street.
But it is at the other end of the city that the new action sits. Spinningfields development has coaxed the likes of Mulberry, Emporio Armani and Armani Collezioni, and iconic local designer store Flannels away from King Street, encouraged by turnover-and-base rent deals, typically between 8% and 12% of turnover with an average base rent of £50/sq ft. The lettings are a third cheaper than prime city rents and 40% below the £200/sq ft quoted for some King Street space.
The 4.5m sq ft office-led scheme, to the west of the city centre, aims to create an upmarket area along the “Avenue” element of the development.
Flannels is also opening joint venture stores with designers Ermengildo Zegna and Joseph and will host a Prada shop inside its own store. Kurt Geiger is moving from St Anne¹s Square, Hugo Boss has signed up for its first UK standalone womenswear shop, while footwear brand Oliver Sweeney and US menswear chain Brooks Brothers have taken units.
Of course, Manchester has seen major retail change in its recent past. The current city centre has been shaped by its proximity to one of the country¹s most prominent out-of-town projects - the Trafford Centre - and redevelopment of what was effectively the axis of its old retail offer in the aftermath of the IRA bomb that hammered the city in 1996.
Restoration of the 1979-built Arndale centre enabled owner Prupim and planners to create a bridge link from the scheme to the then newly built Marks & Spencer store on Exchange Square and to bring in big names in big stores as phased renovation followed. Next, River Island and Topshop all took iconic space while eclectic brands such as Apple, Bratz, Pumpkin Patch and Billabong joined the throng.
The city continues to draw expansionist retail operators and is one of the first ports of call for international retailers after London. Swedish hardware retailer Clas Ohlson and Norwegian outdoor-wear brand Helly Hansen are recent examples of new arrivals.
But the retail renaissance remains uneven. With just 27 of its 43 retail units occupied, the Triangle Shopping Centre recently instigated a short-term, all-inclusive price for retail units, which can be let from £500 a week. The imaginative but symptomatic deal includes service charges, rates, water and electricity for a minimum term of six months.
With Spinningfields opening soon, the uneven equilibrium of the city¹s retail offer will undoubtedly change but Manchester¹s appeal as a major retail destination will not.