Innovation is never easy, breaking new ground in the old and established ways of doing things requires sticking your neck out and taking a risk. The rewards are worth it, however.
Just before ‘the great pandemic’ we had a chance to prove this theory. Hammerson, a long-term client of Beyond, asked us to redesign a tired and under-used mall connecting Bullring to New Street Station in Birmingham. It was dark, low, and unloved. At first it seemed like a small refurb design project but as we and the asset manager, Emma Robinson, worked together on what a strategy could be, we began to formulate an approach that was much more exciting than a simple refurb.
The questions we faced included – How can a small mall compete with the Bullring on one side and the soon to be finished Grand Central on the other? How can you make a dark and low ‘corridor’ become a destination in its own right?
The answer was to think outside of the traditional leasing box and to really consider what customers want.
Link Street was born, we developed a strategy and created a brand and that would bring young, independent, and exciting new businesses together that wouldn’t usually be found in a mainstream shopping centre and a retail zone that was visually very different to the two retail megaliths either side of it. A curated offer from both short-term tiny pop-up retailers and new (formally online) brands ranging from fashion through to food and even barbers and other potential service offers.
We agreed that the mall needed to hang together into a cohesive whole in order for it register as a destination and this meant giving all the stores a common design for the shopfronts. This somewhat ‘against the norm’ thinking was achieved by creating a white, deeply recessed frame for each retailer which then had frameless edge lit glazing allowing the retailers displays to really shine out.
We dealt with the low ceiling issue by removing it, exposing the rather massive service ducts, and painting them dark grey. Angled linear lighting took the eye away from what lay behind it.
Financially the proposed model was a new approach for Hammerson. The traditional fixed 10-year leases would not work for start-up businesses so a more flexible lease structure was introduced. The income stream was less secure and required a higher level of management, but the frequently refreshed offer meant that shoppers found something new each time they visited and enabled Bullring to attract and incubate new brands that created a point of difference and attracted new customers to the Bullring Estate.
Retailers responded and an exciting, curated collection of brands opened their doors to customers to coincide with the opening of Grand Central.
Scott Haig, Founder of Clicks-to-Bricks and previously at Hammerson comments – Whilst the demise of Debenhams for example, has had a negative impact on footfall to Bullring, we have continued to see a number of brands grow from 200-800 sq ft units, into larger stores as well as a growth in their online success. Brands like novelty gifting brand Driftroom have now opened a second pop up store in Reading, lifestyle brand Myga Yoga started as a small kiosk in LinkStreet and are official sponsors for many sporting events and not to forget Trapstar; one of LinkStreets original incubation brands continue to grow their brand presence with a collective following of over 1 million and clothing celebs like Rhianna and Jay-Z. LinkStreet has set the tone for brands to incubate but also as a model for landlords to scale up brands while keeping things fresh for customers.
LinkStreet was ahead of its time. It has had its successes and challenges. The lessons learned have been used to inform the more flexible approach to leasing that has evolved in recent years. The new brands in LinkStreet generated a high level of media coverage and helped position the Bullring Estate as a dynamic forward-looking destination embracing changing market conditions.
We are in exciting times; new brands are emerging across all sectors. Innovative, sustainably driven concepts that are breaking new ground and changing established models. Consumers are looking for innovation and creativity, after nearly two years of hibernation people are emerging hungry for the familiar old brands but also for the excitement of brands seen online. LinkStreet has come of age as this kind of curated, focussed offer ticks all the boxes.
Let’s hope that landlords see the light and take on the role of director, producer and facilitator of wonderful content, remarkable spaces and become the best friend to the most outstanding brands out there.