The retail world needs “stories not stores”

At a recent round table held in partnership with Gleeds, a number of industry experts gathered to discuss how the industry could realistically transition from “retail toxicity” to create truly vibrant towns and cities. There are some fantastic examples of market sectors and specific brands breaking the mould and already doing just that – here are five that have really resonated with the Leonard Design team over the last twelve months and reflect how now is the time to stop worrying and let creativity win the day:

1. Rise of the garden centre experience

Our team is dubbing this the rise of the rural economy. There are examples of garden centres thriving all over the world but how are they doing this? They not only provide a place for people to visit, rest and browse but have an ability to change with the seasons. The mix of farm shops, wine and gastro food with well-being and art at the centre of it all is making them the perfect pitch point for families and the older generations.

The garden centre concept could become of significant interest to retail in 2019 all over the world. We’ve seen this in the grounds of Alexandria in Sydney, Australia and closer to home in the UK, the Harley Gallery in Wellbeck, Nottinghamshire.

2. Use of space and creating a mix of uses

With shopping centres trading in a really tough climate and the high street widely reported to be struggling – this will mean further investment in mixed-used retail developments.

retail trends - mixed use developments
Celadon city cultural village project

Retailers and developers need to work hard, invest in their venues and provide shoppers with a reason to come into a shop. This is what we’re seeing with Nike’s flagship store in New York which combines digital and traditional shopping – customers are able to customise their trainers using the app and scan QR codes on mannequins and clothing in store to check sizes and send them to the fitting rooms.

The easy way out for retailers is to sit back and blame the rise in e-commerce for the high street’s downfall. Those that have reported losses or gone into administration often have failed to move with the times or invested in solutions for their failing businesses. The likes of Next, Selfridges and John Lewis all reported growth in their Christmas sales for 2018 at a time when the high street is said to be failing.

There is a simple approach (which is easy for me to say) for owners of high street stores, is to think: “I own a shop and I need to lease it” and start to think “I own a space or a building in a great location, what can I do with it to bring it back to life?”

If it isn’t working, start again. Mentally, remove everything from your existing building and strip it back to the concrete frame. Stop thinking about the restrictions of the building you’re in and look at the opportunities.

3. Shops are closing in town centres – turn them into housing

This next trend follows along the same theme of space. The UK is facing an acute housing shortage and an increasing number of shops are closing on the high street – two worrying trends for local authorities.

retail trends - residential builds in town centres
Our striking contemporary design in Beeston.

On many local high-streets, a lot of the original stores were once individual houses. What we’re seeing is the opportunity to convert them back into residential use. It’s a win-win for everyone, increasing the population in town centres where there is demand to live which will help to bring a buzz back to high streets where boarded up shops are tarnishing reputation.

The High Street Report, backed by Sir John Timpson, outlines that town centres need to become community hubs with leisure, social services, residential, along with retail and hospitality at the centre. Residential is a key player in the future of the high street.

4. Public realm at the heart of city centre regeneration

More and more, we’re seeing developers take a public realm first approach before they embark on city centre developments. Retailers can only benefit from this as the movement of people and transport is vital to the success of the businesses that inhabit city centre spaces.

retail trends - the public realm
Sheffield Heart of the City II project

This has been the key in the Sheffield’s Heart of the City II project – with the masterplan being designed by Leonard Design Architects – by thinking public realm first, sites are benefitting from an overall better public experience as you flow through the mix of shops, leisure, commercial spaces and so on.

5. The year of personalisation

I recently heard Holly Tucker MBE (owner of Not on the High Street) speak about the importance of personalisation and bespoke products. The simple reason being is that these items are unique – they already have sentimental value before they’ve come off the shelf.

Your customer also really needs to see they’re in good hands. If customer care is poor, they will go elsewhere. There is a lot of competition in the retail sector and those who fail to put customer service top of the list will ultimately fail.

John Morgan, Leonard Design Architects

John Morgan is a director at Leonard Design Architects.Having spent 13 years at the world’s largest shopping centre group, Westfield, John has an in-depth, diverse knowledge and extensive experience working on, leading and delivering some of the most prestigious retail regeneration projects in the UK and Europe over the past decade and beyond. If you’re interested in the retail expertise of Leonard Design, contact the team.