Shopping Centre Magazine: State of Independents
Posted by Shopping Centre Magazine on 6th May 2016
combination of increased void space available in more shopping centres (and
this before the BHS administration) combined with a possible rethinking by
landlords about retail homogenisation and the need to create authentic
destinations, seems to be resulting in a small increase in presence of
independent retailers in shopping centres around the UK.
don't get set to start celebrating 'Independents Day' too hardily quite
the recent report by the Local Data Company and the British Independent Retailers
Association (BIRA) highlights, the number of independent shops in the UK
increased by just 476 in 2015 (18 percent) to total 270,121. However, it's the
presence (or lack thereof, depending on your viewpoint) of independent
retailers and operators that seems to have started to prick the collective
consciousness of an industry where authenticity and diversity are beginning to
carry more weight in the development and leasing process.
“The big challenge for bricks-and-mortar shops is footfall,”
says British Independent Retailers Association (BIRA) deputy CEO and
communications director Michael Weedon. “Also, if ou look over the last five
years for The British Retail Consortium/Springboard Footfall Monitor you’ll see
that town centres have lost nearly 9 per cent of their footfall. Independent
retailers can help to counter that.”
Weedon, who was born over the shop his father managed,
concedes that there are challenges in having independent retailers and
operators in shopping centres (in 2015 some 34,288 independents opened while
38,812 closed across the UK), but he says for those landlords working with
independent retailers there are greater returns beyond the rent roll.
Certainly, shopping centre owner Ellandi would agree. The
company has actively and positively championed independent retailers in the
past few years. Property director Mark Robinson says the investor’s 29-strong
7.5 million-sq ft portfolio of largely community-focused centres is home to
some 1,700 tenants of which 400 Robinson qualifies as independent or regional.
“That is by number around 15 per cent of the rent roll,” he
said. Ellandi, he adds, is proud of this, so much so that the company is
celebrating #Indi2016 – its 365-day initiative featuring individual Twitter and
Facebook mentions to spotlight each of its independent tenants – resulting in
what Robinson calls “fantastic engagement” with up to 5,000- person reach per
social media blast.
“There are a lot of units in many shopping centres which are
effectively obsolete in terms of attracting national retailers,” he says of the
industry. “That’s a problem for landlords as are vacant rates liabilities that
quickly apply. They make it an imperative for the landlord to act. At the same
time local and independent retailers bring vitality and a sense of place and
anchor to these schemes in a way that the nationals can’t. We’re a massive
believer in them.”
Robinson points out that brands like New Look and Superdry
also started from carts and temporary shops and have evolved to major chains.
“Out of the 400 or so independents in our centre there might
be another Julian Dunkerton (founder of Superdry) out there,” he said. “Of
course, with independents the business doesn’t always work out, but often they
have created a sense of interest and a point of difference. We are not
landlords who say that you have to take a 15-year-lease that’s that.”
Others are also seeing to colonise the high ground when it
comes to independents. Among them is the St David’s Partnership in Cardiff,
Wales. Colin Flinn, regional director at Intu, which is in joint venture
ownership of the centre with Land Securities, point to the recent opening of
independent retail store Paloma by way of example.
“At St David’s we recognise the value of providing a varied
retail offer that appeals to our very strong catchment, including city
centre-based students and customers from surrounding areas. In order to achieve
this, it is key to have the right balance of stores. Dining and leisure is also
reflective of the varied retail offer, with independents such as Soho Coffee
and treetop Adventure Gold,” concludes Flinn.
And they are not alone in the industry in looking to independent
tenants. British Land points to The Lanes area of Meadowhall which features 19
independent retailers. At Whiteley, its shopping centre in Fareham, Hampshire,
British Land specifically included independent local retailers such as children’s
shoe store Little Soles, along with Solent Cycles, a local estate agent,
independent bistro Montagu’s and climbing experience Rock Up. Furthermore, the
centre has also used its town square for independent markets.
“IT is important to have local and independent retailers
training alongside big brands,” Claire Barber, head of London, South Easy and
Meadowhall for British Land, said. “This helps create a sense of place and also
makes the centre a real part of the community, contributing to its long-term
Ed Cooke, who has just been appointed as action CEO of
retail property organisation BCSC, says that retail destinations have been
adapting “to create a more experiential offer” but he is also pragmatic about
the tenant mix.
“Owners sought to offer space to pop=ups and independents to
avoid vacant shops in centres at the height of the financial crisis” Cooke
says. “Both remain an important part of the shopping centre ecosystem and are
now often planned into a tenant mix strategy. However, as always, centres must
look to ensure the right mix and balance between independents and multiples.”
Chris Wieszczycki, principal director heading retail &
mixed use at tp bennett, also points to the recent BITA/Local Data Company figures
as indicative of the potential – and challenges – ahead.
“The individual character of independent stores offers
something unique and more engaging than chain retailers – the personal touch and
authenticity,” he said. “Typically, they tend to be less focused on customer
turnaround and more on the experience. The increased diversity of the offer and
the authenticity of the experience have the potential to attract the customer
back to retail destinations.