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Nikolaus Huter is Managing Director of Huter Invest, the investor of FOC Slovenia ///credit: Huter Invest
Nikolaus Huter is Managing Director of Huter Invest, the investor of FOC Slovenia ///credit: Huter Invest

Outlet Center development Fashion Outlet Village Slovenia: “We see a high interest from international brands.”

Slovenia’s first Fashion Outlet Village is scheduled to open in 2024/2025. The HG Invest investor group around the Tyrolean company Huter Invest is developing it. Nikolaus Huter, Managing Director of Huter Invest, spoke to ACROSS about the development, the advantages of locations close to the border, and why more and more offline shopping locations should be converted to outlet centers.

ACROSS: What is the current status of the Fashion Outlet Village Slovenia? 

Nikolaus Huter: Preparations for the realization of the Fashion Outlet Village Slovenia are in full swing. The most critical steps have already been taken: The property is already purchased, the zoning plan is approved, and the submission process is in progress. Leasing is also in full swing. We are negotiating with internationally known casual, sports equipment, and fashion brands. The Center Management is planned to be taken over by FOC Retail Service Ltd.

ACROSS: What influence does the current global economic crisis have on the project? 

Huter: Despite the globally challenging situation, we do not see any negative influences, as the interest of international brands in outlet centers is high. The leasing situation in continental Europe, and especially in the German-speaking countries, is even more stable than during the Covid-19 crisis. Building permission procedures are still highly restrictive in the previously mentioned area. The Fashion Outlet Village Slovenia, located 30 minutes south of Graz but already on Slovenian territory, is a unique opportunity for outlet center developers. Greenfield developments are generally speaking very difficult and our center represents a unique opportunity.

ACROSS: Fashion Outlet Village Slovenia is the first outlet center in the country, near the Austrian border and not far from Croatia. Who is the primary target group of the project?

Huter: We want to attract fashion and sports equipment shoppers living in the surrounding catchment area as well as day and overnight tourists. The catchment has 2.5 million residents and includes the cities of Graz and Maribor. It is located in a solid touristic area at the “Weinstraße” and the “Vulkanregion” in the adjacent Austrian province of Styria, with approximately 13 million overnight stays, and those of Slovenia with approx. sixteen million yearly overnight stays.  The nearby Šentilj casino resort offers entertainment and overnight accommodation for 400,000 visitors annually, mainly from Austria. This location is unique when it comes to international transit and visitors. The Fashion Outlet Village Slovenia is next to a transit route, which sees 8.5 million cars every year. Furthermore, we attract shoppers from Croatia, Serbia, and Hungary.

ACROSS: How would you describe the Fashion Outlet Village’s brand mix?

Huter: The category mix is based on our international experience in the outlet center sector. It will primarily include casual, sports fashion, and fashion brands. The segments outdoor, shoes & accessories, home, and kidswear will complete the broad brand mix. Of course, bringing new brands to the region is also a considerable change, and we are definitely doing this. So far, the names of the brand partners are still confidential but will be released when we launch the opening campaign. This international brand atmosphere is integrated into a very “Slovene feeling.” The architecture will reflect Slovenian culture and the traditional Habsburg architectural style.

ACROSS: ESG is one of the industry’s biggest challenges. What effects does it have on the building project?

Huter: The building will be ESG certified. Maximum sustainability is an important goal for our development.

ACROSS: The other big topic is e-commerce. Are there any omnichannel activities planned?

Huter: Since the dynamics of e-commerce are very high, omnichannel activities are on our to-do list, but there are no concrete plans at this point. We aim to reach customers on all channels and actively promote our brands and products. Marketing communication will take place at the POS, offline, and online. The customers will find a unique shopping atmosphere in the new Fashion Outlet Village that will ensure an enjoyable stay. Our greatest goal is that the center’s visit will be an excellent experience for every customer. And each marketing activity will be checked individually to see if it contributes to this goal.

ACROSS:  Apart from the Fashion Outlet Village Slovenia: What other projects do you have in your pipeline?

Huter: Huter Invest develops several Central European real estate and touristic projects. The company can develop projects on the greenfield and manage the centers with our team. One of the references of Huter Invest is the Outlet Center Brenner, which opened in 2007. It is located in Italy, directly on the Italian-Austrian state border, and looks back on a successful development. The Outlet Center Brenner was the first newly built outlet center in the Alpine region and today joins the ranks of the most successful outlet centers in Europe. Seventy shops with 350 new jobs have been created over 15,000 sq m. Around two million visitors stop by the center every year. International brands such as Hugo Boss, Tommy Hilfiger, and Puma are among its anchor tenants. Many components of this project are comparable to the new project in Slovenia.

ACROSS: Which countries/regions are you focusing on?

Huter: Austria is our home base, and we approach new projects from here. This way, we and our partners benefit optimally from our market knowledge. Therefore, our clear focus is on Austria and its surrounding countries.

ACROSS: What are the most critical trends in the outlet center industry at the moment?

Huter: First, it is all about creating unique offline shopping experiences for the customers. Enlarging existing offline outlet centers is way more promising than developing new projects. The outlet model has proven its strengths and success; therefore, I also see a clear trend or strategy in converting offline shopping centers to outlet centers or hybrid entities. On the other hand, the focus of full-price retail should be on online channels.

Nikolaus Huter

Nikolaus Huter is Managing Director of Huter Invest. The company is an independent, owner-managed holding and investment company, based in Tyrol, Austria. With more than 25 subsidiaries the company invests in real estate and firms, while also implementing own projects. The primary geographic focus is on Central Europe – in some cases even beyond. „We are following a proactive shareholder strategy by investing equity capital. Transparency and honesty are key principles in every step of our business relation”, states Nikolaus Huter, CEO Huter Invest.

Slovenia´s first Fashion Outlet Village is being developed by HG Invest in cooperation with FOC Retail Service GmbH and Outlet Evolution Services. On an area of more than 20,000 sq m, 70 shops and several hundred new jobs will be created in two phases. Its first phase will be opened in 2025, phase two is scheduled for 2028. The Village will be located directly next to the motorway exit for Šentilj on the Austrian border in the northeast of Slovenia. It is only 30 driving minutes south of Graz, the second-largest city in Austria and about 15 driving minutes north of Maribor. More about: www.fashionoutletslovenia.com

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