What the right destination can do for a retailer

I’ve always been fascinated by interiors and architecture. I know that towns and cities everywhere go through transformations on a regular basis, and it is the job of retailers and other businesses to respond to the changing make-up of urban centres. After all, any alteration to a retail landscape can rapidly change the prospects for, and appeal of, individual shops. This is why lots of companies will be paying attention to recent plans from Derwent London, who have outlined their intention to revamp large areas of Tottenham Court Road and create a newly re-energised shopping district. Will Derwent’s plans be good news for retailers looking to break into Central London? Or does it undermine the business culture that already exists there?

Tottenham Court Road’s redevelopment is linked closely to London’s ongoing Crossrail project, which will bring brand new stations to central locations and up passenger numbers. This is obviously attractive for businesses. As Derwent’s John Burns has said: “with Primark having already moved into a flagship store and Zara joining as well, [Tottenham Court Road] will become a proper shopping destination.” This kind of thinking is borne out by London’s status as the most popular city worldwide for international retailers. With 57% of international brands already occupying space in the city, new developments in London are only going to seal its position as a leading light for prime retailing. With MBS currently working on store design roles for several leading brands, I’m eager to see new retail destinations and concepts spring up!

However, does new work like this come at a price? London is highly regarded for its areas that offer a particular specialism – Savile Row for suits and Camden Market for vintage or punk apparel, for example – and Tottenham Court Road is no different, having been a furniture and electric hub for years. The street has a strong reputation in the sector, with flagships from companies like Maplin, Habitat and Heal’s still maintaining a presence. Is it financially sensible to turn a street with a pre-existing emphasis and ethos into an identikit retail destination? We shall see. Given that companies like Made.com are showing that there are other ways to sell furniture and homewares successfully, maybe the street will have to change its outlook as time goes on regardless.

Of course, there are organisations that exist to prevent this kind of thing happening, preserving the special atmospheres of particular areas. One such body is New West End Company, which controls the area around Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent Street (although not Tottenham Court Road). Speaking to MBS, a New West End spokesperson said: “although we do not concentrate on Tottenham Court Road itself, we always keep an eye on events in neighbouring areas. The works in Tottenham Court Road over the next five years are sure to increase visitors and bring more attention to the area.” This goes to show how developments often have a welcome knock-on effect for the surrounding general area. Look at the recent £300m investment in Selfridges, for instance, which will give the profile of Oxford Street another boost. Who knows, maybe this is what the area needs to bring it up to speed by the time Crossrail rolls around in 2018? Only time will tell!

I think London is a wonderful destination, and the smooth integration of retail with transport and other infrastructure is part of what makes it such a world-leading city for shopping. Which other cities around the world have got this balance right? Let me know at moira@thembsgroup.co.uk, and have a fantastic weekend.