Martin Macwhinnie is the Center Manager of Grand Arcade in Cambridge, UK. Today we are interviewing him to share his thoughts about the situation of the sector.
First of all, analyze the current situation… How are you living it?
I’m currently managing a premium level shopping centre in Cambridge (UK)
We lost a number of retailers during the pandemic period, but fewer than most. Demand for good retail space in Cambridge remains high and we opened 3 new units last month – JD Sports (Sports footwear and athleisure – adidas, Nike, North Face etc) on 1,500 sq metres, Beaverbrooks, premium jeweller and a watch boutique for TAG Heuer. As an international tourism destination, Cambridge has yet to see the tourist numbers recover from locations such as Far East, Middle East and North America.
For our retailers their single biggest issue is the lack of availability of staff. Always advertising and struggling to recruit and retain. Combination of factors with people shifting from retail and hospitality to home based office work post pandemic and the impact of Brexit.
What is the biggest problem or weakness that a shopping center has to face?
For many shopping centres it is vacancy rates with numbers of empty units. In the UK a lot of centres are repositioning themselves with new and different uses. Leisure (cinemas, bowling, restaurants etc) and alternative uses such as health care and local government offices.
Maintaining relevance and finding ways to be important in the lives of communities is key.
What role does technology play? How does it help a Shopping Center in the current situation?
We are using control systems to help us reduce our energy consumption. With recent increases in energy costs this has become more significant with each year.
How do you achieve customer loyalty now? What do you think this customer is looking for? How can we offer them an optimal experience?
For us it is about providing additional activities to keep our customers visiting with events and experiences.
In October we held our first “Let’s Go Circular” event focussing on the circular economy with workshops for children and adult regarding circular fashion, tackling food waste, repairing technology, the impact of waste in our oceans etc. This was incredibly popular with lots of customer and local and national media engagement.
Are you optimistic about the future of this sector? What do you think the mall of the future will be like?
I am optimistic. There has been criticism of malls in the UK that everywhere had the same stores and the same offers. Recent events have changed that dramatically. I believe that the future of shopping centres is to be destinations that are relevant to their customers and communities. There will be greater differences in centres in different locations than was the case previously. For some centres the key draw will still be larger retail units, for others cinema and leisure and for many it will be local services like local government offices and health & diagnostic centres, for others it will involve residential conversion.
For some centres, the future will be demolition and redevelopment. This is just part of the cycle. People ate out and shopped for centuries before shopping centres!