Describe the state of the food and beverage offer when you first began to work with Fields Shopping Centre in 2013?
In brief, the F&B proposition was an array of offers that were trying to be 'all things to all people' with little focus on professional concepts that would appeal to the many shoppers. 90% of the F&B offer was located on the top level (always a challenge, especially if the space is not well designed and with little appeal). It was a mix-match of traditional fast-food concepts (the regular players) plus too many 'mama and papa operators' that had limited know-how from a conceptual point of view. There was fierce competition with each other on price and hence the focus was lost on the USP (Unique Selling Proposition) of each local tenant. The overall look and design of the space on level two was also out-dated, uninviting and considered a deficient area in the centre. Not an ideal situation to be in when you are in the middle of constructing a cinema with the aim to drive footfall to the F&B units and vice versa.
How did you get a good overview of the situation?
Like most projects, an investment was made into market research, both macro, and micro. Getting an overview of the competition was fundamental, but even more importantly, the goal to get an accurate feeling about the concepts on the high-street and what was working, where and for which customer profile. To experience the concepts as an actual user rather than only an observer to gain a different perspective, especially in terms of the quality of the offer, the know-how of the staff and the service levels. Taking into account the global trends it was important to bring into the project food/dietary perspective, design implications of the different F&B formats that were emerging from other parts of Europe.
What key obstacles did you face during the project?
The fear of change from existing operators was absolutely the biggest obstacle to overcome. Keeping them in the loop from the start and involving them in the process was of vital, in order for them to evaluate and agree with the final concept. It also provided them with a clear understanding of what they needed to do with their existing concepts to bring them to another level in order to be able to compete successfully with new players coming into the centre and potentially taking some of their market share. At the time of commencing the project there were insufficient guidelines in place for the F&B operators and hence there were a ’few too many cowboys’ running their own show. This was not their fault; it was merely a symptom of F&B not being considered a key category before the explosion of the e-commerce market.
What was a key lesson for the 'way forward' for the landlord?
Dare to be innovative!
Do not fill up vacant space with just any concept. It's no longer a good enough solution for customers, especially if it's not adding value to the experience. Take the time to develop a good leasing strategy that will aim to fulfil the vision of the project. Even if that means having to wait a little longer to fill the space, than do it, of course within limits. Go out and find new entrepreneurs that have a great concept that can fit into the centre's overall offer, could be simply a case of adapting the concept in size, or design or actual offer. Challenge the existing operators on a regular basis, not only during the bad or quiet times, they also need to be inspired and motivated.
Do you have any tips for future developers, landlords, tenants or leasing agents in this space?
Landlords need to have a dedicated F&B manager/supervisor on the permanent payroll to ensure that the category is operating to its maximum potential, rather than only getting noticed when things go bad during rent discount discussions. A fresh coat of paint and a new floor with digital signage is not going to be the driving force of the sustainable success factor. Keep abreast of new and emerging developments both on a local level and a global level, not only conceptually but with actual food and dietary trends too. Have lease agreements that are specific to the actual concept – a 'one size fits all approach' no longer works. Having shorter time spans, pop-ups or flexible retail formats are a great way to engage and test new concepts for both the centre and operator. Allow operators to think outside of the box, taking the concept out of the four walls and bringing it into the centre with taste-testing, cooking demonstrations, food seminars and so on, just be creative.
Ensure that leisure or the pleasure of eating can be brought into the overall equation when planning for F&B developments. Get a dedicated group of Foodies on board!