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The concept of what constitutes a good “brand” is not always clear in a retail context, let alone within the shopping center world. It is tempting, and indeed quite common, simply to refer to a brand by name – the world’s great brands such as Apple, Coca-Cola, Louis Vuitton etc. are instantly recognized by name. But what’s in a name and what makes a great brand?


I started contemplating this in the late 1990s when I was asked to move to London from Sydney, Australia to help establish the European platform for the global shopping center giant Westfield. As many readers will know, Westfield has built a reputation by doing something rather unusual: naming its shopping centers. People often refer to this naming as “branding” the shopping centers, but that is a relatively simplistic view.

The naming of centers for Westfield started off as a humble, but ultimately wise proposition. Concentrating shopping center property in certain geographical areas seemed to make commercial sense as did naming them. The company continued this practice and the Westfield name has become ubiquitous and synonymous with shopping centers in these areas. But is the Westfield name in itself its brand? Why doesn’t the naming of shopping centers work for all investors? It’s because branding is not about naming, it is about outperforming expectation and consistently delivering on promises to key stakeholders.
When I arrived in the UK, a typical reaction I received was to tell me that branding hadn’t/wouldn’t work in Europe. Numerous examples of such failure were given along with warnings of a similar fate for us. We would have to earn the right to put up the Westfield name on our centers in the same way that the company had done in every property since 1960. The name itself doesn’t mean a thing without it.

Any firm has several stakeholders – its investors, suppliers, employees, and those consuming its goods and services. In retail property, the latter are principally our retailers and the people who walk through the doors to spend their cash – the retailers’ customers.
How one delivers value for each of the stakeholder groups simultaneously is what creates the positive brand. For investors, for example, it is about long-term value generation complemented by clear and simple reporting. For suppliers, it’s consistently fair treatment and prompt payment. For employees, it’s about pride and a sense of being looked after. Retailers value investor understanding, maximized profits, and clean, safe environments for their customers. Constantly exceeding expectations ultimately creates a strong brand. Name it what you will.

To illustrate further, some of the best brands in retail real estate don’t hang their name over the entrances to their shopping centers. ECE has built a brand over 50 years that is almost unrivalled by its peers. It sits among a few truly effective shopping center owners and managers that have created brands across all stakeholder groups by consistent delivery of key indicators over many years. I could name many other similar businesses, too.

At Balmain Asset Management, we strive each day to build our brand, but we have no intention of naming our shopping centers any time soon. It is about earning the right to a strong brand with all of our stakeholders at heart.


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