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Retail: It’s people and places not just buildings and spaces

Managing retail is becoming a more active, more challenging but infinitely more rewarding process of curating spaces, delegates heard at ULI Europe’s recent online seminar on How Consumer Behaviour is Transforming Real Estate.

“Our mantra is people and places, not buildings and spaces,” said Ibrahim Ibrahim, managing director, Portland Design. “People are the essence of a place, architecture is just a by-product and the built environment is the last step. First you have to create the connective tissue that creates a sense of place.”

In order to be future-ready in real estate you have to rely on four pillars, he said: First, re-invent convenience, because people now live transient, digitised lives and want ease and simplicity.

Successful brands ‘go beyond selling stuff’

Second, re-connect to the community, creating a sense of sharing and belonging. Participation is the new consumption: the successful brands today are the ones that go beyond selling stuff to creating communities of interest and moments of experience.

Third, re-imagine place, involving retail, F&B, entertainment, markets and pop-ups that create a sense of excitement and surprise. He said that it is an activation of the public realm that encompasses co-working, co-living, hospitality and even healthcare and wellness. Ibrahim’s acronym for it is SWELCH, places that bring together: shopping, working, entertainment, learning, culture and hospitality. 

Ibrahim’s fourth pillar is to reposition value. It is no coincidence that the only growth area in fashion is vintage, because consumers value authenticity, social consciousness and environmental awareness as well as health and wellness.

‘Blended use’ replaces siloed ‘mixed use’

It is a question of re-thinking the old, tired, disconnected and siloed ‘mixed use’ to transform it into a new, vibrant and connected ‘blended use’ that really activates the public realm.

‘There has to be a real shift from leasing boxes and collecting rent to curating spaces to bring commercial offers,’ Ibrahim said. ‘Bring together a mix of occupiers, national brands and regional brands, local independents, influencers, individuals and community groups in the same spaces. Become a blending agent to create connectivity’.

It is essential to have diverse lease models to accommodate all these different occupiers, he pointed out: from fixed rent to turnover rent to footfall-based rent to ‘halo rent’, which is based on the impact on media impressions.