ACROSS: In 2015, VIA Outlets acquired Landquart Fashion Outlet (from ING Real Estate). What was the reason behind that transaction?
MATHIAS BOMMER: When VIA Outlets bought what is now Landquart Fashion Outlet, we were in the midst of an intensive acquisition phase. We were attracted to the center for its numerous macro factors – for example, there is no other outlet center or similar retail competition in the immediate two-hour catchment area; Landquart Fashion Outlet is also the only outdoor outlet center in Switzerland. Strategically located an hour outside Zurich, it benefits from a 3.9 million catchment that is within 90 minutes. It sits just off the A3/A13 motorway, which sees 40 million cars every year and is the gateway of renowned international alpine destinations, such as Davos, Klosters, and St Moritz. The outlet is also immediately adjacent to the Landquart train station, which serves 3.8 million passengers per year, and it is 80 minutes from Zurich airport, which saw more than 31 million passengers in 2019.
While the center enjoyed high sales per visitor, VIA Outlets saw an opportunity to implement our “3 Rs” strategy of Remodeling, Remerchandising, and Remarketing. With regard to remodeling, we were able to further enhance an already attractive center by making improvements to the landscaping and the sense of arrival. In terms of remerchandising, the occupancy rate was around 70%, which presented ample opportunity to refine the tenant mix and increase the premium offering. Finally, we noticed that the marketing was underdeveloped as the main focus was on the local catchment; we saw enormous potential to reach an international audience – particularly due to the fact that the Canton of Graubünden is Switzerland’s top leisure region, counting more than five million overnight stays each year.
Since VIA Outlets’ acquisition, the occupancy rate has gone up to a healthy 96 percent, which still allows us to continue our remerchandising efforts and continue attracting more premium international brands. We have welcomed several new, more premium brands, such as Mammut, Hugo Boss, Armani, Guess, Norrona, and Simone Pérèle, as well as one of the few H&M outlet stores in the world. Our next store to open will be Michael Kors, which is due to open its doors in late November.
ACROSS: VIA Outlets has been active in Switzerland for five years. Are you satisfied with Landquart Fashion Outlet’s performance so far?
BOMMER: We have seen strong performance over the last five years, with brand sales having increased by 53 percent, greatly due to an improved brand mix and a close collaboration with our brand partners. Footfall has grown by almost 40 percent, and we are seeing a good mix of national guests from the wider catchment as well as international guests, thanks to our extensive tourism initiatives. Needless to say, 2020 has been an extraordinary year due to the outbreak of Covid-19, but despite having to close the center for just under two months, we have seen positive results as both footfall and sales figures have outperformed 2019 numbers.
ACROSS: The fashion outlet market in Switzerland is one of the most saturated markets in Europe. How competitive is Landquart Fashion Outlet?
BOMMER: Landquart Fashion Outlet is highly competitive, with no direct competition in the immediate catchment. While there are other outlets in the Aarau, Aubonne, and Mendrisio regions, there are none that can offer anything similar to Landquart Fashion Outlet in terms of brand mix, strategic location, and overall customer experience.
ACROSS: What makes this particular fashion outlet special?
BOMMER: Its location and surroundings, its unrivalled brand mix, which offers a mix of international and local brands, its strong F&B offering, which is anchored by renowned chef-led restaurant Margaux, the great accessibility from the nearby train station, and access to well-known ski resorts are just some of the unique benefits Landquart Fashion Outlet has to offer. All of that is underpinned by the fact that it is an outdoor outlet much akin to a Swiss Chalet village, with each unit having a unique look and where the architecture includes local elements, such as the sgraffito ornaments, traditional wall decor typical of the canton of Grisons. Local features like those are details that cannot be found in any other outlet or shopping center, thereby giving it a distinctly authentic look and feel.
ACROSS: How has Landquart Fashion Outlet been affected by the COVID-19 crisis?
BOMMER: We saw the first impacts of Covid-19 back in February, when there was a sharp drop in non-EU tourism to the center. Following governmental advice, we closed the outlet from March 16 to 11 May 11, 2020, after which we reopened with safety measures in place. We also took the initiative of partnering with Bureau Veritas to become Safer Shopping certified, which we know our brand partners and guests alike appreciate. Following the reopening, both footfall and sales figures have outperformed figures from last year, and this trend is set to continue. All in all, the effects of Covid-19 on business have been minimal. In addition, we managed to continue our remerchandising activities throughout the lockdown, which meant that we were able to remerchandise 29 stores, of which 11 were new store openings and the remaining were upsizes, downsizes, or contract renewals.
ACROSS: What are VIA Outlets’ plans for Landquart Fashion Outlet?
BOMMER: VIA Outlets will continue to elevate the center to the level of an international premium fashion outlet destination by attracting even more global brands, while making sure that the charming local character remains in place. This will be done by investigating how we can optimize our GLA. We are currently also looking into expanding the F&B offer, while continuing to focus on sustainability, with Landquart Fashion Outlet being the VIA Outlets flagship for eco-sustainability. Lastly, we will be driving the digital transformation with the aim of offering a seamless shopping experience to our guests, and, through experience and design, make Landquart Fashion Outlet the place to be whether you are a brand or a guest.