5 minutes with Giles Membrey, Founder & Managing Director, Rioja Estates

With a career going back to the establishment of the UK’s first outlet centres, Giles Membrey is now working on the development of what may be the last large-scale, new-build designer outlet village in the UK – the Grantham Designer Outlet Village.  We caught up with him to find out more.

Giles Membrey

Tell me about the Grantham Designer Outlet story.

We are working closely with landowners, Buckminster, an established trust dedicated to the local area, to create a designer outlet village which will bring visitors to the region and give customers the very best leisure shopping experience.

Full planning consent was granted in June 2018 and we expect to start on-site in the autumn of this year. Grantham Designer Outlet Village is scheduled to open late summer of 2021 with the first phase, at around 180,000sq ft and 90 stores. The second phase – around 90,000sq ft and 40 stores – which already has outline planning consent, will open approximately 18 months later.

What benefits will the outlet centre bring for the local area?

People will have easy access to premium designer brands and a quality outlet shopping destination that cannot yet be found locally. Independent research tells us to expect 3.5 million visitors per year when the scheme is fully open, which will drive visitor numbers to Grantham town centre and regional tourist attractions, bringing with it the associated economic benefits seen with other premium outlet schemes.

What gap in the UK retail market does Grantham Designer Outlet Village strive to address?

There is no true premium designer outlet village in the area, especially not with the visibility and access Grantham Designer Outlet Village will enjoy from its adjacent new junction on the A1. The international brands we are in discussion with cannot be found anywhere else in the region, and our research tells us they are in demand. Grantham Designer Outlet Village will serve Lincoln in the north, Nottingham to the west, Leicester in the south west and Peterborough and Cambridge in the south.

How is Grantham Designer Outlet Village’s business model different to other outlet centres?

We have taken inspiration from the best large-scale UK outlet schemes in our design and seek to improve upon the best commercial practices. Our design mixes traditional village architectural style with modern materials and we are on track to achieve the internationally recognised BREEAM “very good” accreditation.

“Designer outlet villages have shown double digit growth and for the last six years”

Which retailers have already signed up?

We are focusing on brands that our research tells us will do well in this market. The scheme has been universally well-received and, although our negotiations are still at a confidential stage, people in the region will be surprised and excited about the level of famous designer fashion, sports and food & beverage brands that are interested. We have already agreed terms and signed numerous letters of interest for the scheme.

What do you say to people who question the development of Grantham Designer Outlet Village in such a volatile climate for retail?

Statistics say that, while full price shopping is in a low part of the cycle, many designer outlet villages have shown double digit growth and for the last six years. Outlets have outstripped performance of full price retail and shopping centres. The brands we have spoken to are keen to expand their UK presence as it is a large and affluent market, they are simply careful which projects they choose. Footfall in outlets across the UK has increased and sales densities continue to rise.

How is Grantham Designer Outlet Village addressing some of the challenges facing the retail industry as a whole?

Outlet shopping, as opposed to most retail channels, is a leisure activity, which online shopping cannot compete with. We pay careful attention to customer experience in terms of the village-style buildings, the customer journey, the food and beverage offer, customer service and beautiful landscaping. It will be a destination for people to enjoy quality leisure time with friends or family, which cannot be done online.

What would you say is the biggest risk for the retail sector?

The standard of management of most retail property and the lack of understanding of most town centre and shopping centre managers, planners and landlords as to what makes an attractive destination and shopping experience. People want to visit destinations that are pleasant to spend time in and that put them at the heart of activities. Also, landlords and retailers need to work together for mutual benefit, as in outlets.

“Outlet shopping, as opposed to most retail channels, is a leisure activity, which online shopping cannot compete with”

Describe your role and responsibilities.

I am the developer of the project and have assembled a skilled and professional team to ensure that the scheme is managed to the very best standards of outlet. We are managing the leasing, funding and detailed tender design processes.

What got you into retail in the first place?

I got involved in the retail sector in the late 1980s having completed my degree in real estate surveying. Retail property is the most exciting field of property development and management because success depends upon numerous stakeholders, including consumers and retailers. Outlet retail is even more exciting due to the mutually beneficial relationship between the landlord and the tenant – which was unusual in retail property before outlets.

How has your previous experience aided your current job?

Experience with the UK’s first schemes, and some of the most successful ones across Europe, provided learnings that have informed the development of Grantham Designer Outlet Village.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Trying to follow a line that is both responsible and keeps disparate groups happy – rather like an orchestral conductor bringing people together to develop Grantham Designer Outlet Village, from the professional team, brands, funds, contractors, through to local authorities, MPs, councillors and local stakeholders.

And the most rewarding?

Creating retail schemes that will be of lasting benefit to the regions.

What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking on a career in retail?

Be a people person. Find out what people want – colleagues, clients, councillors, customers – and give it to them.

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