ACROSS: There was a change in management at First Christmas in late 2019 and you became Managing Director in January of this year. How did this come about?
Frank Pöstges-Pragal: Kersten Rosenau founded First Christmas in 1999 and successfully managed the company for more than twenty years. Ultimately, Kersten has been thinking about withdrawing from active business for some time. This decision marks the beginning of a new phase in his life. However, Kersten Rosenau will thankfully continue to assist the company in an advisory capacity.
ACROSS: You have years of center management experience. That must certainly be an advantage in your new position, right?
Pöstges-Pragal: It definitely is. I came up in the retail real estate sector and held many different functions in this industry, including Chairman of the Board of CentrO in Oberhausen. In addition to that, I have a soft spot for people and emotionalization. This is why Christmas always fascinated me. We realized many great projects in Oberhausen. After all, CentrO is a big urban-entertainment and mixed-use center. Christmas was always a key event for us. We developed and operated our own Christmas market and used it as a tool for commercialization. The Christmas market turned out to be a major attraction and generated enormous frequencies, revenue, and profits. This means that I am bringing experience from the retail side to First Christmas. I know what makes centers work, I know their challenges and tasks. Due to my experience I have a different approach than somebody who has not worked in retail and only created and sold decorations throughout his or her career. My experience is a substantial asset for First Christmas.
ACROSS: How important is Christmas for your, the retail sector, and the shopping center industry?
Pöstges-Pragal: The zeitgeist always plays a role for Christmas. Of course, Christmas is a traditional theme. It is firmly established in our western society, has a designated place, and is an integral part of our lives. I hope that it will always stay that way. However, if you look at the retail world from a different angle, you see substantial threat scenarios caused by e-commerce, online retail, or the digitalization of stationary retail. Therefore, many changes have become necessary. Stationary retail needs to change and remain competitive. To achieve that, we need approaches and solutions. Stationary retail’s advantage is that it can emotionalize the places and locations where people come together. The zeitgeist of globalization, which also includes digitalization, naturally stokes many fears. Everything has become very short-lived and seemingly unsafe; people are afraid to lose their jobs. Now more than ever, they need fixed points, reliable anchor points in their lives. These include traditions they have known all their lives, which they can rely on and make them feel comfortable. These traditions have a lot to do with local color. It is what they know from home, what they grew up with. In this context, Christmas is one of the strongest emotions and memories one can have. That is why this issue is so important. The goal is to move this emotion more into limelight and link it to specific local conditions. Christmas in Salzburg is different from Christmas in New York, Hamburg, Moscow or Milan. Retail places have to capture the respecitive spirit. In return, people give back a piece of authentic emotion. Being at home in your safe environment is an anchor point for people in a globalized world, in which it can be hard to find your way at times.
ACROSS: Almost right from the beginning of your new job you were facing an enormous challenge due to the Covid-19 pandemic. How has it actually impacted your line of business?
Pöstges-Pragal: The impact is quite massive. Previously, the business with Christmas decorations was strongly characterized by investments. Christmas decorations were purchased by center managements or advertising associations and used for five years before they invested in new decorations. That is simply not possible right now, and we understand that. The world of retail real estate is facing massive losses of revenue this year. The industry is cutting budgets and substantial investments are postponed. That is what we hear. This year is therefore particularly challenging for us. However, we absolutely believe that it will get better next year. It is entirely possible that acquisition models may shift a bit, for example more decorations could be leased than in the past. Our partners and we are well prepared for this situation and we provide individual solutions for our clients. Big investments can be spread over time to make these investments feasible. Summing up, one can say that the demand for Christmas decorations is clearly more restrained. However, we face the future with confidence. As I said, people need Christmas and there will always be another Christmas.
ACROSS: Of course, we do not know what kind of impact Covid-19 will have on this year’s Christmas business. How important is it for shopping centers to emotionalize Christmas and convey a sense of normalcy, particularly in these trying times?
Pöstges-Pragal: I can understand that many of them cannot do what they would have done otherwise due to financial restraints. That much is clear. However, doing nothing does not work either. Christmas has to take place. After this time of cutbacks, Christmas is the ideal time to make people happy. One should remember the things we always had. This year is the moment for little things. Centers should invest at least a little in measures and ideas to facilitate exactly these moments. We created cost-effective stagings that can also be realized quickly. Every shopping center has its own mall furniture. We, for example, try to redesign them as interactive photo-points. This means that we furnish benches with angel wings, and when I sit on it to take a break I look like an angel, and it becomes a nice opportunity for a great photo. This can also be done with halos, or reindeer antlers. They create funny moments for relatively little money, make people smile or even laugh, and let them have a good time. I believe that this is what this year’s Christmas is all about. We at First Christmas aspire to be creative even when it comes to affordable or cost-efficient elements. We strive to be multisensory and create emotions on several different levels.