30/10/2007 - 22:00

New retail design challenges big box dominance

30/10/2007 - 22:00

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With hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on the development of new shopping centres in Western Australia, the design of the centre can make or break it.

New retail design challenges big box dominance

With hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on the development of new shopping centres in Western Australia, the design of the centre can make or break it.

As the established Morley Galleria and Garden City shopping centres can attest, big box-style retailing, which literally ensures every convenience can be found under one roof, has been a hit with both consumers and retailers.

But the unique Australian retail model of enclosing inter-connected supermarkets, discount stores, food and fashion outlets, banks, post offices and cinemas in a one-stop-shop is increasingly being infiltrated by the open “main street” planning trend reminiscent of Rokeby Road, Subiaco.

This ‘new urbanism’ approach to planning has its supporters and detractors, but the jury is still out on whether it will be the death of the “big box”.

Shopping Centre Council of Australia executive director Milton Cockburn said there had been a lot of emphasis from government planners on main street style retailing, which was the first serious challenge to the big box.

Mr Cockburn cited Bovis Lend Lease’s new Rouse Hill Town Centre in Sydney and Orion Springfield regional shopping centre in Brisbane by Mirvac as prominent examples of the “main street” approach, where consumers can drive through a main street retail thoroughfare and access large supermarkets on either side.

The trend is believed to have started with the Botany Town Centre in Auckland, New Zealand.

“On of the problems with it is that the number of retailers happy to be on the street is limited,” Mr Cockburn told WA Business News.

“One the one hand planners are saying we want to go this way, and on the other the retail leasing agents are saying tenants don’t like it. You’ll always find ten coffee shops that will go for it but fashion retailers just don’t want to be there.”

“In the height of a WA summer, customers just want to disappear into the big box air conditioned comfort.”

Mr Cockburn said the Australian shopping centre model was unique and that was why developers, owners and managers were having such success in other countries, spearheaded by retail giants Centro and Westfield.

“I think eventually the planners will turn to a happy medium and place more emphasis on making the big box more attractive externally,” he said.

In WA, a hybridization of big-box and main street styles is now occurring as developers seek to achieve the best of both worlds.

With an existing 41,000 square metre shopping centre at Lakeside Joondalup, ING Real Estate has adopted the main street approach externally while expanding its centre to 71,000sq m.

Developers Multiplex and Hawaiian are also taking the same approach to their transformation of the Claremont Arcade Shopping Centre.

Perron Group general manager Ian Armstrong said planners were insisting that ‘new urbanism’ was the best way, but this was often at odds with what developers wanted.

“The planners go out there and do surveys and people say ‘oh we love shopping in Rokeby Road’, but is it going to be great anymore if what we’re creating is superceded?” he said.

 “They think they know better but the people are having their say with their feet and their purses.”

Mr Armstrong said owners and developers had hundreds of millions of dollars of investment riding on design decisions, and the matter was a serious one for stakeholders.

Other considerations which are having a major impact on the design of new generation of retail stock emerging in WA include the desire of retailers and consumers for greater accessibility and parking provisions, larger tenancies and the clustering of store types.

Mr Armstrong said when designing a large shopping centre, developers had to think about shopper behavior and what essential elements would keep them returning to the centre.

Convenient parking was paramount.

“You must cater to those shoppers who shop for recreation, to browse, to meet people or for convenience,” he said.

“If people are buying huge quantities of items to take home, you must give them options to get it to their cars easily,” he said.

Architect and Hames Sharley associate Tony Lemme said the practice was noticing a growing demand from national retailers for larger sized tenancies ranging from 1,000sq m to 1,500sq m and a greater emphasis on the design input required for the interface between the shopfront and the mall.

Hames Sharley is working on the design of Pivot Group and ISPT’s Century City retail and office complex in the Perth CBD.

“Retailers are becoming aware that to compete with other retailers and attract shoppers into their store, they will need a point of difference from the others,” he said,

The practice has also noticed retail fit-outs are beginning to have a defined lifespan, such as five years, to keep up with the changing faces of fashion.

As a result, Mr Lemme said there had been an increased reliance on feature light fittings, electronic displays and moveable fixtures which were aimed at creating flexibility for the retailer.

Mr Cockburn said retailing fads had become a way of life for shopping centres and was all part of creating a successful mix of tenants which could be changed at whim.

“There are more preferential rights of renewal being offered than ever before,” he said.

“Ten years ago you couldn’t get enough of mobile phone stores, then four years ago it was juice bars. Now its coffee shops,” he told WA Business News.

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