A relentless focus on design and new concepts has kept Westfield at the forefront in the specialty retail industry.
Recently I sat down with Ted Kaminski, SVP, Mall Retail for Westfield to discuss how Westfield has continued to stay on the cutting-edge of specialty retail. I took a peek at some of the exciting new initiatives rolling out this year and at where the company’s specialty retail program is headed in the next five years.
Westfield has always been considered an innovator in the specialty retail industry. How does it continue to stay at the forefront?
One element that sets us apart is our focus on design. We push the envelope with regard to design. For example, in 2008, when many companies were pulling back, we reinvested in our RMUs. We completely redesigned them by taking down posts, removing rooftops, opening up the selling area and introducing backlit pylons. More recently, we rolled out a new lifestyle graphics program to help retailers increase sales and to create an improved shopping experience. Another detail that sets us apart is the relationship that we build with retailers. Retailers at our properties become our partners and our success is tied together.
Can you tell me a little about Westfield’s philosophy on specialty retail as it stands right now?
It’s a balancing act of ensuring we have the right number of specialty tenants, the best retail offerings for each property and a mix of tenants that complement the overall shopping experience.
Are you currently working on any new initiatives that are different than what some of the other mall developers are doing?
We launched a new concept this year called Dwell. The concept includes a restaurateur selling snacks or food from a larger kiosk, 200-400 sq. ft., or a cluster of two smaller kiosks with designated seating areas around the retail space. As the name implies, this creates a unique opportunity for shoppers to decompress and unwind, or fire up a laptop or charge a cell phone while they grab a bite to eat or a drink.
How did the Dwell concept come about?
Dwell is based on Westfield Australia’s model of bringing interesting food concepts into the mall environment.
Are there any other initiatives that you have underway to keep your specialty retail program fresh?
We developed another interesting concept called a Cabana RMU. The concept was created to mirror a mall redesign that was taking place at University Town Center in San Diego. Our goal was to create a resort-like environment in the retail space. The RMUs’ designs complement the re-design of the center. For example, they have fabric around them creating a space that is similar to what you would see at the pool of a high-end resort.
It seems that you are doing more local leasing, with for example, emerging artisans. Is this a new trend within your company?
Yes, this is a new trend. We are going after this category very strategically by pursuing artisans through a pop-up store program. The first artisan pop-up store was launched at University Town Center. Since this initial launch, we have had 100% occupancy by various artisans in this space. We will be rolling this concept out throughout the U.S.
In the past, artisans may not have looked at a shopping center as a viable option to make sales and create brand awareness. This is opening up a new sales channel for them while simultaneously creating product diversity in our centers.
We have recently written articles about several of Westfield’s international specialty retail programs including, Westfield UK and Westfield Australia. Do you think Westfield’s U.S. specialty retail program is similar to these programs, or are there major differences worth noting?
Westfield has an entrepreneur-centric culture. And this mentality exists around the globe. We want to establish Westfield as a place where retailers will want to come and take a risk to sell their products.
The major difference with our U.S. program is that specialty retail is more mature here. Overall, the programs are larger and there is a heavier reliance on RMUs.
How do you foresee U.S. specialty retail evolving in the next five years at Westfield?
We will continue to have to strike a balance between retail uses and creating an enjoyable experience for our customers. I expect to see an increase in the number of national and regional brands in the common area. In particular, we will see more food concepts.
We will continue to see local entrepreneurs launching new businesses through our RMU program. In addition, RMU tenants will continue to grow into permanent kiosk locations. And pop-up stores will continue to be important part of our common area strategy.
The industry is cyclical. I think we will see the industry turning back to the basic premise of bringing in entrepreneurs with exciting uses so that our specialty retail programs create a point of differentiation within the mall environment.