Retail is certainly ready for change, said L&G’s Denizer Ibrahim, away from one-dimensional, cookie cutter, hermetically sealed assets, which it is no surprise to see struggling as they fail to reinvent themselves quick enough.
‘We’re in a position where the industry’s been run by the same people, the same suits, for too long and we have to begin to rethink: what does the consumer want?’
The mission was to reinvent how we do retail and also its philosophy, he said, shifting from landlords as ‘librarians’, collecting rent and making sure shopping centres are clean, to becoming more like ‘editors’, ‘curating environments with the right content at the right time, in the right places’. Furthermore, we are living in ‘cloud-cuckoo land’ if we think that retail assets like shopping centres and retail parks will remain 100% retail in the next five years. ‘I think we’re going to be seeing a lot more of them around the 50-60% mark’, he said, with the remainder activated by a broad mix: co-working, healthcare, leisure, education and SMEs contributing to ‘places for people’ and bringing ‘life into the heart of centres’.
The company has launched a flexible partnership model to introduce turnover rents and thus reduce risk for occupiers, allowing for newer entrants. Big changes are afoot, however. ‘Historically, the commodity of those shopping centres and retail parks was space, but actually we’re moving more towards time’.
Finally, Meanwhile Space director Emily Berwyn suggested that high streets were not really working before, but now represents a good opportunity to test different uses without fear of failure, developing more diversity not only of the use but the user too. This could be the creation of local neighbourhoods for those that don’t want to work in isolation at home, within a wider programme aimed at a longer-term impact and supporting individuals to engage with their high street.
However, high business rates are still the key barrier, especially in the West End, with thought needed to innovate to retain the energy once the business rates holiday finishes. Some measures could also be embraced more fully, such as Westminster’s experiment with outside eating in Soho.
‘Why can’t al fresco dining become a permanent thing?’ said Berwyn. ‘It should be something we welcome… We’ve been talking about cafe culture in this country for decades. Why are we not embracing it?’
Other points made during discussion at the webinar included the need to understand what each neighbourhood or high street needs and bring new activity to complement it; topics including food growing and the need to attend to the circular economy and sustainability agenda, placemaking, sharing stores to increase income streams and thinking less about them as places in which to buy things and more about experience.
Image: Westminster City Council