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Strengthening the industry’s voice

In an interview with ACROSS, John Coyne, the new Chief Executive of the British Council of Shopping Centers (BCSC), argues decisively for the relaxation of Sunday trading laws in the United Kingdom. His aim in general is for the industry to be even better heard by the government.

ACROSS: You were appointed Chief Executive of BCSC in June. What have the first months in your new role looked like?

JOHN COYNE: I have taken my first hundred days which will end with the BCSC Conference & Exhibition 2015 to learn about the retail property industry and in particular what the BCSC Membership requires from their industry body. What is very apparent from my engagement with all Members’ and Stakeholders is their passion for the retail property destination place. It is an extremely strong and ambitious industry that is punching above its weight as we emerge slowly from a very tough economic time as can be evidenced from the industry benchmarking and financial data available.

ACROSS: There is currently a discussion in the United Kingdom about more flexibility on Sunday trading hours. What is BCSC’s position on that topic?

COYNE: We strongly support the consultation currently underway by the UK government to relax Sunday trading laws. BCSC shares the view that devolving the Sunday trading rules as part of a localism agenda will give local UK areas greater control of the local economy, improving the well-being of local citizens and communities and driving additional economic benefits for their local community.

Overgate. Image: LandSecurities
Overgate. Image: LandSecurities

ACROSS: Apart from the implementation of more flexible Sunday opening times, what would you consider as your most important targets as Chief Executive of BCSC?

COYNE: Ensuring that BCSC membership is of the highest quality and value, promoting high standards of skill, knowledge and professionalism in retail property ownership and management. Actively delivering business opportunities and expansion through ambitious innovation programmes. Identifying and executing successful interventions in the media, to ensure that our public profile continues to rise. On matters ranging from planning. Local council engagement to economic policy, BCSC will lead the debate in print and broadcast media. We will also continue to maintain strong political relations across the parties, and grow our representation within Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and other neighbouring European countries including staging key meetings with senior members of Government. It is at these meetings that we present the priorities and concerns of the membership.

ACROSS: The number of international retailers in the United Kingdom is continuously growing. Why is the country so appealing?

COYNE: The United Kingdom is rightly considered to be highly innovative when it comes to retail. International retailers in particular look at the country as a testing ground for their expansion plans. If they are successful in the UK – which, given the stiff competition, is an enormous challenge – then they can succeed elsewhere. We consider this “testing ground” function to be a very positive continuing development that brings British consumers wider choice.

ACROSS: And the starting point for international retailers is London, right?

COYNE: Yes, it’s usually London but not always. The success retailers achieve in the capital determines whether they roll out their concept and offering to the rest of the country.

ACROSS: How does the shopping center market in Britain differ from that of the rest of Europe?

COYNE: It is a very well-developed and innovative market that – in addition to shopping – impresses with many creative offers. It is no longer “just” about consumption, but rather about a destination experience. After all, people want to experience as many different things as possible in their leisure time. Shopping is just one element, albeit an important one, on their leisure radar. Our members and the industry are responding by optimizing and growing both the food beverage offer and entertainment experience in their malls.

ACROSS: What trends do you currently see in food courts?

COYNE: There are many new concepts that grab a consumer’s attention. The trend here is clearly moving away from what we commonly call fast food to more higher quality offerings. In particular, successful overseas concepts, primarily from North America, are increasingly finding their way into British retail destinations. Here they can assess their model in the European food and beverage market. Conversely, local gastronomy vendors are focusing more and more on export – preferably to continental Europe and less to North America.

ACROSS: How important is online shopping in the UK?

COYNE: I must start by saying that we consider online retail a complimentary retail activity. After all, the retail property industry does well when retailers do well. We have consistently pointed out, however, that online retail requires huge logistical capabilities. Against this background, some of our members have already adopted and implemented Click & Collect services. From our experience and on the basis of research, we know that, although people very much enjoy “browsing” on the internet, they like to examine the quality of a product in “real life” before purchasing it. To this end, they go to retail destinations, where they often purchase more than they had discovered online.

ShepherdBushMarket Image: Development Securities
Shepherd Bush Market Image: Development Securities

ACROSS: What exciting shopping malls are in the development pipeline?

COYNE: BCSC are encouraged by the signs of recovery in the market with a number of large development and refurbishment schemes coming forward in recent months. There are some ambitious projects under construction in the UK. Two malls, one in Beverly in the northeast of the country and one in Newport in South Wales will open later this year. In summary, the retail industry here continues to demonstrate its willingness to evolve and reinvest in order to ensure it remains attractive, providing retail destinations where visitors choose to spend time and money.

ACROSS: Finally, an organizational question: How can one view BCSC’s cooperation with the ICSC?

COYNE: The retail property industry is truly an international community and clearly a key responsibility of BCSC is to discover knowledge, learning and business opportunities and then connect and communicate those with colleagues and peers who are facing similar challenges. What better way of achieving this than by co-operation through collaboration and on occasion partnering with an international council. ICSC is the confederation which works within Europe and indeed internationally connecting great ideas, great people and great organisations to inspire leadership and achievement within the retail property industry community. BCSC is proud to be a part of it. 


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