Phil Cottingham operates as Head of Retail at Quintain and is leading the development of the London Designer Outlet (LDO) in Wembley. He spoke to Retail Gazette about making the concept a reality and its future strategy
Why and how was this concept initiated and why was Wembley chosen as the location?
“It’s being used very much as a catalyst to bring forward the regeneration of Wembley.
Although this pre-dates my involvement, if you go back to 2002 when the site was acquired, planning was put in place for what is effectively a mix-use of rental, residential, retail and so on.
At that particular time, the planning requirement involved looking at what would work in that location and if you look at neighbours close by, a lot of the full price offerings have been dealt with by Brent Cross so I think off-price was probably the most viable way to go. I imagine that when it was being looked at in terms of the masterplan, it made the most sense to promote an off-price scheme in this area.”
How does LDO differ from its competitors and what can you offer that is unique?
“I think the thing you have to remind is that we have an existing customer base; we have just shy of 800,000 people within the 20 minute travel time and we make sure that we provide for the local customer and for their needs while also making sure that we have a diverse mix to appeal to your typical outlet shopper.
We have 10 million people to draw from for that not forgetting the tourist market and making sure that it appeals more widely. So it is an awful broad church that we have to appeal to and the trick is getting that right. A lot of this is about how we are doing it, which is informed by research not only within the local catchment but also within the hour drive time catchment and ultimately thinking about how we communicate to these people.
It’s great as far as I see and we are very lucky that we have such a diverse customer base to draw from.”
As a central location, how important is it to represent British fashion and what do you take into consideration ahead of signing up new retailers?
“Of course we have lots of retailers interested in the scheme rather than looking at it in terms of British retailers or otherwise. This is about what is going to appeal to the customer. So ultimately having done research, we know that they want to see names such as M&S and Gap but equally we must make sure that we provide for the average drive time and profession brands that we know that the customer from further out wants to see within the scheme.
Let’s not forget, we also have a very good range of bars and restaurants as well as a cinema, all of which will bring people from the immediate catchment. We are blessed in being opposite the national stadium and next to the Arena, all of which have international events which again will bring a different audience to this part of London.”
What general feedback have you had from local residents on the outlet?
“It’s interesting that the local feedback has very much been that they want their own “shopping centre” and that’s how they will use it - as their local centre.
Obviously it is an outlet but that is how it will be used and based on research that we’ve done, we know that residents shop at Brent Cross and Westfield London but they want something that’s closer to home.”
As retailers continue to ramp up their multichannel offerings, are there plans to offer any digital or omnichannel services to customers visiting the outlet?
“I think you’ve got to make sure that you are in step with the times and interestingly the retailing format is actually quite basic in that, compared to a shopping centre, there isn’t the same sophistication of fit out though that is no reason to not at least ensure you are in line with the latest technology.
We have the opportunity at LDO to ensure that from a technology point of view we are in step with what the customer wants. We are already thinking about a concierge type service where people will leave their shopping and go off to do other things and have the opportunity to operate a delivery service. It is about making sure we listen to what people want and respond to that.
We have 85 retail units and 15 Bars and restaurants so think about the amount of people that will potentially employ. Generally across Wembley, we think that the projects going on around the area mean there are over 9,000 people working across the whole Wembley development. It’s not just about LDO but the fact that there will be significant employment at our regeneration site.
When we have shown photos to people of the new site, they were pleasantly surprised by the progress that’s been made in transforming the whole area; it has massively progressed and we are excited about the next phase.”