MIXING IT UP – a new direction for retail space

Retailers sharing space with other retailers or leisure operators is not a new concept but our interpretation of it has evolved.  Traditionally this model took the form of concessions in department stores where retailers, perhaps to launch a new product range or because they sold niche goods in a local market unable to sustain an entire shop, would hire in-store space to sell or promote their products.  This was very much the domain of the beauty and luxury fashion retailers, although in recent years department stores have fought a losing battle between High Street and online sales. The outcome being the demise of the department store – Jenners, Lewis, Watt Brothers, BHS, Debenhams and TG Hughes – examples of those that have either completely collapsed or been forced to scale back their operations in recent years.  The most recent victim being Debenhams, increasing the gap in space options available to beauty retailers, which Next hope to exploit with their new beauty hall concept.

A more modern interpretation of shared retail space is the pop-up concept but even that is evolving in terms of the providers and format of temporary retail units.  House of Fraser, as an example, has attempted to introduce a new spin on their traditional concession model by offering pop-up space for customers to trial new luxury brands or to provide a continually fresh mix of experiences within their stores.  Everyone is familiar with pop-ups, having at some point over the last 10 years encountered a pop-up store and eatery, facilitated by online marketplaces such as Appear Here.  Yet, temporary space to rent by the hour and pop-up collaborations are seen as the way forward for the industry.  This mainstreaming of temporary space is driven by a vision that the retail sector should be adapting in parallel to the co-working revolution experienced in the office sector. The property industry is rumoured to be moving in that direction but as yet few examples can be found in our case study cities.  The COLAB hub of The Savoy Market in Glasgow was one of the few examples, providing co-working space for local independent businesses to create, promote and sell their products, but is rumoured to be another causality of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Out-of-fashion department stores are not the only option for retail brands sharing space.  Habitat, to support their multi-channel growth strategy, developed under the ownership of Sainsbury’s, has seen the creation of Mini Habitat stores situated alongside Argos outlets in supermarkets across the country.  Pep & Co’s in Poundland is an in-town example of the growing trend of retailers working together in partnership.  Another development along this theme has been the use of leisure uses to increase customer dwell time in stores.  Examples of such partnerships include Caffe Carluccio’s in Sainsbury’s St Albans superstore, a Disney-themed café and beauty studio in Primark’s flagship store in Birmingham, and more recently Gaming Stations in Sports Direct.  A non-leisure sharing example of this is Mamas & Papas concessions in Next.  The sharing of physical space and overheads is a logical development when retail brands are co-owned but “stores-in-stores” through genuine partnership working are also becoming more common.

It’s this sharing of use that is the area now evolving at a rapid pace to offer novel use mixes. Inclusion of a Social Bites café in the state-of-the art Bank of Scotland flagship launched in December 2019 on Argyle Street in Glasgow illustrates how far we’ve come in creating novel mixes.  As well as the flexible ground floor space being used as a café it is used by BoS to provide training events, offering customers a new era in banking where the physical barriers between customers and banking staff are now a distant memory.  A more recent example is the collaborative pop-up store on George Street, Edinburgh that housed Meander Apparel and the in-store Five Rings Coffee station run by a group of Olympic medallists. Success in physical retailing is achievable as part of the experiential economy but finding a modern twist in the mix of uses holds the key to the adaptation and survival of the High Street.

Retailers, just like leisure operators, need that unique selling point.  That is no truer today as it was before the pandemic.  We might have been stuck at home in the same enclosed space for the last 15 months and temporarily encouraged to shop online but as the restrictions are eased, shoppers will be hungry to experience something new and different.  Blending uses into a novel use of space can create that wow factor but it needs imagination and outside the box thinking.  Yet, this alone will not be enough to get ideas operational.  It will need retailers, leisure operators and landlords to work together in partnership to find solutions to the barriers that emerge – maintaining social distancing being the most obvious conundrum occupiers face at the moment.  Shoppers currently might be desperate for change but they still remain demanding in their expectations. The more unusual the blend of retail and leisure the better to capture the attention of today’s discerning shopper.

Allison M Orr

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