After a recession led figure slump, which saw out of town shopping centres struggle to attract consumers and fill vacant spaces, there seems to be a turn around, with UK leading property investment companies ceasing the opportunity to acquire them as investments and vehicles to drive up rental values. Investors believe small towns will be the areas to see largest future growth.
Drake Circus in Plymouth is a case in point. A distressed sale, the 560,000 sq ft space was recently bought by British Land for an estimated £240million and is now anchored by the likes of Primark, Next and Marks and Spencer.
FashionUnited caught up with Drake Circus general manager, Mike Jones, to hear about developments.
FU: How have you seen Drake Circus and indeed the shopping centre retail experience change over our new e-commerce days?
MJ: Generally shopping centre retailers provide better customer service and there is no substitute for seeing purchases first hand and, in the case of fashion, trying them on. E-commerce also drives footfall to shopping centres where retailers offer a 'click and collect' service.
FU: How many shops in all do you house?
MJ: We have 70 tenants, ranging from high quality independents to leading retail brands, including M&S, Next, Primark, Topshop, H&M, Cult and Pandora.
FU: How are you trying to keep DC up with the multiple news ways of shopping, such as social media and cross channel?
MJ: We are active on Facebook and Twitter, using social media to let a growing number of users know about what is happening at Drake Circus. We are able to maintain our social media presence thanks largely to the good relationship with have with our retailers, who are proactive in telling us their news and our quick response to blog posts, questions and queries. We are also in the process of making our website smartphone ready.
FU: What do you think you offer that other West Country outlets don't?
MJ: Drake Circus is fully under cover and offers a wide range of services designed for customer comfort - not least a 1270 space car park. On the whole Drake Circus stores are larger than other comparable stores within the region, which means that they tend to have some of the best product ranges in the South West. We are committed to the wider community of Plymouth; we work with charities and are involved in a number of initiatives, such as the Plymouth Business Improvement Bid. Visitors also benefit from the wider experience that Plymouth has to offer - a historic waterside city ideally located for the best of the South West.
MJ: I am unable to say too much but we expect an evolving retail offer as the result of British Land's commitment to seeing Drake Circus reach its potential. I think we will see more American and European retailers opening shops across the UK, including small town centres such as Drake Circus. Online retail will also undoubtedly remain a big growth area, so the actual shopping experience will be key – good customer service and a provision of a strong line up of shops – British Land’s investment has already seen a big anchorage of retail spaces.