As Leeds Trinity opens its doors, we get a glimpse at the future of the high street and the role it must play in consumer economics.
By Jack Peat
Leeds is steeped in retail history, and so when Andrew Dudley told the Yorkshire Evening Post that his company’s latest development, Leeds Trinity, would be spearheading the ‘revival of retail’ in the country, I couldn’t help but feel that he may have a point.
The demise of the British high street has become a periodical column in most daily newspapers, and the signs of the sector’s collapse have been hard to camouflage out on the streets. British consumers are now accustomed to the wrong side of an ‘open’ sign and would feel out of place in a city centre that didn’t sport at least one row of ‘for sale’ signs, but regardless of the causal factors of the sectors dip, the demise of the high street simply be a call for change.
Trinity Leeds will be the first major mall to open its doors to shoppers since September 2011 and the last in 2013. It has become the next step in the retail history of Yorkshire’s largest city, joining a spectacular group of shopping arcades that houses a number of boutique designers, along with the first branch of Harvey Nichols to be built outside London.
Nearly two decades later, Leeds is repeating the feat by welcoming Victoria’s Secret, an American lingerie firm, into its new shopping centre. Far more than a glorified retail complex, Trinity is leading a retail resurgence which could change the fortunes of our beleaguered high street.
Here’s how Leeds fixed retail, in four quick steps:
A recent Business Department-backed report revealed that town centres must stop just trying to copy Oxford Street if they are to recover from the economic crisis. Building on Mary Portas’s work to revive high streets that now have one in seven shops lying empty, the report argues that businesses and local politicians need to work out the ‘personality’ of their areas in order to better meet the needs of local residents and visitors.
Trinity works with the fabric of the town centre by joining the central high street and utilising central space in the city. Within close proximity of the train station and town’s main ‘squares’, the new building almost reflects the grandeur of the Corn Exchange, which is located only minutes away.
These days, shopping centres have to be ‘destinations’ to compete with the internet, Michael Gutman, the managing director for Westfield in Europe told the Economist. Florid architecture, high-end brands and lots of things to do other than shop are all vital to the modern mall, and they will be the reason shoppers close their laptops and make the journeys into town.
Trinity Leeds is covered by a striking glass dome. A quarter of the space is used by restaurants and various other leisure facilities—far more than in older malls. “You can’t eat out online,” notes Gerald Jennings, an executive at Land Securities, the site’s developer and operator.
What’s more, Trinity offers independent chains that are more of an ‘occasion’ than the average night out. Bars such as The Alchemist, The Botanist and Cielo Blanco shout personality, while the new cinema is steeped in luxury for the maximum experience.
– Flagship, not toy ship
Retailers are starting to cut down in stores to just a few ‘flagship’ stores. “Before you needed 250 or so stores to reach most of the population,” says Andrew Shepherd of BNP Paribas. “Now big retailers want perhaps 75.” Shops are therefore becoming “brand ambassadors” by complementing websites, rather than retailers running two ventures separately.
Almost half of the stores in Trinity are new to the city, with Apple, Hollister, and Mango among the names debuting in Leeds. These will be complemented by new flagship stores from brands including Marks & Spencer, Next, River Island and Topshop, who are doubtless dropping their lacklustre attempts elsewhere in the city.
Finally, convenience is king in a ‘I want it now’ culture. With plentiful floor space, cheap or free car-parking and easy access for delivery lorries that retailers want, the central location of Trinity Leeds as well as the convenience of having everything under one roof has proved a winner for consumers and retailers alike.