What has been your major focus over the past 12 months?
“Our focus has really been about pioneering the next generation of shopping centers, combining of retail, leisure and dining with great design and technology – and at the forefront of this, trying to cater to the customer experience. We’ve had a fantastic year with Westfield London – we’ve secured planning approval here for another 550,000 ft² of space, equivalent to 1,500 units – and a very successful first year with Westfield Stratford City. Since the opening of the Stratford center we’ve had 47 million people through the doors; 8.5 million alone during the Olympic period.”
What are your plans for growth? Where will growth be directed in the coming years?
“There’s a stabilization of the Stratford center taking place at the moment; one year on it is a center that is still very much growing into itself and so we’re continuing to evolve this product. Westfield London has been 100% leased for quite a while; retailer demand exceeds supply here, so we have to look at how we manage that.
“And of course at the forthcoming Westfield Bradford, Debenhams has now signed with an additional level of 17,000 ft², the rest of the anchor line up is secured and we’re in discussion with other retailers. Our business plan is to focus on iconic markets and iconic centers within those markets across Europe and in Brazil.”
What is your opinion of the state of the retail market in the UK?
“You can get caught up with what’s happening in the short term, but really we can’t change the economic environment. All we can do is continue to focus on the customers’ changing needs, to keep relevant to the local marketplace and to provide the best retail and other customer experiences within the centers.
“If you’re in the business for the long game then you can more easily weather the different economic cycles. Our centers, even those outside the stronger London market, have been quite resilient, and I think this is because we continue to focus on the customer.”
What new and exciting retail concepts/brands are you bringing to the UK?
“Our leasing team and agents are bringing the best retailers to the country. Recently we announced the opening of the first Victoria’s Secret store in the UK, at Stratford we have the first Miss London and the first Bosco store which got a lot of coverage during the Olympics through the Russian, Ukrainian and Spanish teams, along with Custo Barcelona, Forever21, Griffin, and the first MINI concept store. And at Westfield London we’ve seen the opening of the first Coach and Gilly Hicks stores to name a few.
“We continue to have very serious discussions with European and US retailers who are very interested in the market here and are particularly interested in our two London centers. We’re talking to everyone – including independents – but as Westfield London is 100% leased we are working within that to see how we continue to evolve the center, of course the expansion will help. We also continue to try and activate the common area space to keep the centers interesting and relevant.”
What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing as a business?
I think going back to the subject of the customer and staying relevant to their needs is so important. Technology in particular is changing so quickly however we see this as an opportunity in the years ahead.
“Our retailers in the UK are very sophisticated – and they are looking at how they communicate with their customers both online and in the physical space. Our job is to continue to try and be relevant and to try and adapt to these changes. Economic cycles come and go, but staying relevant to the customer will always be important, in good economic times and bad.”