Forget the global downturn, there is still huge retail potential across Central and Eastern Europe according to a raft of speakers at this year's ICSC Czech Republic and Slovak Retail Real Estate Conference the first joint conference held by the two ICSC national committees.
Markus Pinggera said: "Our strategy is to be ahead of our competitors. We went into Croatia four years ago, we are entered Spain this year and sales figures are good. We are also in Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Slovenia in this region."
Dusan Mrozek agreed: "The room for Marks and Spencer's expansion is immense. We want to open 15-20 shops every year for the next three years."
While the development pipeline has been drastically reduced and individual countries' economic outlooks cannot be ignored, the need for refurbishment and professional shopping center management is now a priority for the region's developers.
Walter Wolfler, Head of Development East at Immofinanz AG, Austria, said: "International retailers are gaining market share here and retail concepts from the United States and across Europe are still keen to enter the region. To accommodate them, when refurbishing shopping centers we are creating larger retail unit areas to meet their requirements. It's not always about big centers gaining market share over the smaller centers, either, it's about the clarity of concept. A shopping center can be small and successful provided the catchment area is understood."
Unibail Rodamco is also rolling out a program of redesigning, re-tenanting and remarketing across many of its shopping centers. Arnaud Burlin, Unibail Rodamco's Managing Director in Central Europe, said: "We are creating fresh interest and remarketing to spread the word. We need to keep investing in our assets installing better signage, better visibility, improving their modernity. A company must invest in challenging times and we have a 5.7 billion investment program."
However, Pavel Klimes, Chief Operating Officer at Euro Mall Centre Management in the Czech Republic, urged caution.
"Correct categorization of shopping centers is essential now and unless a developer has a clear strategy, and a clear view of the proposed development, they will fail. Proper investment in marketing is essential in the past, many developers overlooked marketing local, smaller projects in favor of investing in big marketing campaigns for the larger centers. Such smaller centers suffered as a result. Retailers must play their part and support the marketing financially."
He added: "Non professional management also has an important influence on a center's performance. Sometimes center managers behave as kings they must be trained properly and service charges should have a clear structure."
More than 100 delegates, including developers, reta