What are the main changes in the physical retail sector that you expect to define the market in the post-covid world?
While the pandemic has accelerated the digital space for retail, it has also created a sense of oversaturation online, and we’re seeing a rebound from this as a consequence. With the vaccine programme maturing and lockdowns behind us, retailers have analysed their property portfolios and will still require physical stores in key international locations. We pride ourselves on selecting brands that offer a unique experience and product mix and often the retailers in our locations will be planning on opening their UK flagship store in Carnaby, Soho or Seven Dials and then onto four or five other sites in Europe or worldwide. A physical retail presence provides cut-through for brands, especially as consumers crave in-store experiences, interaction and engagement.
What are the strategies you found were most successful in increasing the footfall post-lockdown?
At Shaftesbury, we have always focused on establishing a strong mix of independent brands or concept stores to create individual appeal for our villages Carnaby, Soho and Seven Dials. Providing this one-of-a-kind experience is a strategy that has proven more important than ever in ensuring our success in the evolved retail market. Since lockdown started we have worked hard to continue to create a special tenant mix and a number of brands opened in our villages in the past year including; Adidas Original’s West End flagship, NBA’s first UK store, War Paint for Men’s first global store, Skin Laundry’s West End flagship, Route One’s West End flagship among others. Our focus when curating our tenant mix is to ensure our brands appeal to the coolest Londoners and brand savvy domestic consumer market, with a particular emphasis on youth fashion and streetwear, particularly in Carnaby and Soho. The line-up drives footfall, with all marketing, social and B2B campaigns centred around the idea of championing the unique attributes of shopping and visiting London and the West End.
What have been the most significant changes to consumer behaviour that you have witnessed since the restrictions have been lifted?
Consumers are shopping with a more defined sense of purpose and a greater inclination to support independent brands. The pandemic has also sparked more awareness around sustainability, more interest in the origin of products, and scrutiny of how a brand conducts itself in the marketplace. While we have always sought out brands with sound ethics and circular operations, it is exciting to see that more and more are appearing across the retail industry as demand grows. The evident shift in demand has also allowed us to further bolster our line-up of vintage and rental-based fashion retailers across our villages in the last 12 months as well including ‘Cow Vintage’ who opened their West End flagship in Seven Dials, and ‘Dunno Vintage’ who have launched their first store in Berwick Street.
Pop-ups had momentum before the pandemic. What role do you think temporary retail solutions will play during the recovery?
We have integrated the pop-up retail model into Shaftesbury’s portfolio strategy for a long time, and it has been the approach that has enabled us to work with and nurture unique and emerging brands. The value of this flexibility has and will continue to grow in a post-pandemic market. This was harnessed during the pandemic with the launch of Shaftesbury’s new Start-Up with Seven Dials initiative. The program identified new talent in the market and, as a result, we discovered four entrepreneurial female-led brands which were established or grown during the lockdown. The initiative has given these brands the opportunity to launch their first pop-up stores in the Seven Dials community, with the flexibility to grow and evolve from this platform. There has been a strong track record of brands converting from pop-up to permanent within our villages, as the flexible model creates a great testing ground for brands and will continue to do so as retail recovers. An example of this is the menswear brand L’Estrange which committed to a long-term flagship store in Seven Dials amid Covid lockdowns earlier this year, after trading as a pop-up at the destination since 2019. Similarly, we worked with Imad’s Syrian Kitchen who opened a number of pop-up restaurants prior to finding their permanent home which is now in Kingly Court. Imad is a Syrian chef and refugee who works closely with charity Choose Love who Shaftesbury mutually support through our charity initiatives.
How did the pandemic reshape Shaftesbury’s investment strategy?
Since March 2020, we have redirected investment to support our retailers and restauranteurs across each of our villages. Our key priority has been assisting tenants in navigating the pandemic and finding ways to maintain their physical presence as part of the Shaftesbury community. We remain invested in creating environments that encourage a positive experience, spark connections with our local businesses, and inspire return visitation to the West End. Working with outdoor, open-air destinations means we have been able to introduce installations, programmes of activity and additional alfresco seating, for consumers to enjoy at their own leisure. In addition to our tenants and visitors, Shaftesbury has a long-term commitment to the wider London’s West End so when the pandemic hit, we created a Community Fund, in addition to our regular charity support, with its purpose to support local charities and community groups in the West End. A combined total of €601,889 (£510,000) made up of monetary and in-kind support was shared with 12 local charities, aiding their work to help over 1,400 local young people over the last 18 months. We want to do everything we can to get behind the revival of the West End, and will continue to support the initiatives, strategies, and brands which will help to drive the resurgence of this iconic part of the capital.