Regardless of how smart and glitzy some shopping malls are on the inside, the exteriors of pretty much all such structures resemble unsightly aircraft hangers with few redeeming features.
In contrast, the beautiful buildings that house the stores, and the surrounding landscaped gardens, are key components that set Kilver Court Designer Outlet Village in Somerset apart from most shopping centres.
Roger Saul, founder of Mulberry and creator of Kilver Court, says the buildings are a key feature of the proposition and their history adds a lot to the overall experience of customers. Over its history Kilver Court has housed woollen textile mills, the headquarters of drinks business Allied Domecq, and latterly the head office of Mulberry before becoming a designer outlet village.
“In 2010/11 we saw an opportunity to take the existing buildings, which have seen a lot of different industries, and open a designer outlet village. Today, it’s about creating an experience for consumers. Bicester Village is the most successful out-of-town shopping mall in the world by some way and we’d like to think ours in the next step on from this,” he suggests.
In addition, whereas Bicester is firmly fixed on global luxury brands, Kilver Court is more about British brands with a focus on aspirational names. Saul cites Bamford and Rapha as ideal examples that are “best in class, very strong British brands, which are the best of their kind”.
He also feels luxury is becoming somewhat “hackneyed” and that there will be an increased focus on brands that are more considered when it comes to the planet and have sustainability at their heart. “It’s not about conspicuous consumption [anymore],” says Saul.
As well as sourcing a particular type of branded retailer to his outlet village Saul says there is then an ongoing monitoring of their new products and collections in terms of how they have been received by shoppers. This determines if changes are necessary and they need replacing with a new more relevant brand.
He is also very careful that the retailers in Kilver Court do not resort to filling their designer outlet stores with goods that have been “engineered to be sold at a discount”. Instead they need to be bona fide reduced price lines that would have been sold at full cost in the brands’ core stores. “Ninety percent of our retailers do not produce goods that are just to be discounted,” he says.
Such has been the success of Kilver Court since its 2011 opening that the current 28,000 sq ft of trading space is to be extended, initially by another 11,000 sq ft and then in three further phases that will ultimately take it to almost 80,000 sq ft. This will enable another 45 shops and restaurants to be added at a total investment of £8 million spread over four years.
This expansion is in contrast to what Saul reckons will happen to many high streets and shopping malls – where he forecasts a continued decline in their fortunes. “I can’t see anything other than decline on the high street. Retailers cannot afford to be on the high street so some of them will need to become cheaper or there will need to be a change of their character. They will become more residential. It’s the same with shopping centres. There are some good ones and so there will be a percentage of them that will succeed. They need to think about their offer,” he explains.
Glynn Davis, editor of Retail Insider