ACROSS: You are celebrating 25 years of Designer Outlet Parndorf this year. Was the anniversary year able to build on the success story of the location?
Schwann: We are still a few weeks away from the important Christmas business, but we can already say that 2023 will be the most successful year in the history of the Designer Outlet Parndorf. Our anniversary campaigns and promotions have paid off. Our sales are well above 2019, and we expect more than 6.5 million guests in Parndorf to shop by the end of the year. We have had an excellent start to the year, and our brand partners have proven themselves once again. We have seen strong growth across all quarters. Most recently, Black Friday Days were a great success, and now Christmas shopping is on the agenda. The fourth quarter will crown what has already been a successful year.
ACROSS: This is in contrast to many other industry players.
Schwann: As a designer outlet, we are developing in the opposite direction to the general trend in retail. The general economic situation tends to mean that people are shopping more in outlets. We also want to make it as easy as possible for our guests – and open the center for longer around Christmas, Mon – Fri from 9am to 9pm. Just like we did in the summer. But it’s not just footfall that has increased; per capita sales have also risen.
ACROSS: Who were the most important visitor groups for Parndorf?
Schwann: Domestic tourism continues to be the strongest. This is followed by guests from the neighboring countries of Slovakia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. But we are also continuing to look towards Serbia and Romania. We were able to achieve outstanding visitor numbers from these regions again. International tourism from China has not yet returned but it is on the rise again. Regarding tax-free sales, we are at just under 75 percent of 2019. We are confident that we will be able to achieve significantly higher frequency increases from international tourists from China, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East in 2024. We are once again a bookable element with the major tour operators, which is a very good sign.
ACROSS: Which segments have grown in particular this year?
Schwann: We were able to grow in all categories. The luxury segment developed well, and luxury will remain a significant topic in the future. Over the past three years, we have transformed a total area of 17,000 sq m at our location. We have renovated, expanded, remodeled, and moved stores to other areas. These changes have had a positive impact on the different segments. Our push in the catering sector was also significant. For a long time, gastronomy was of secondary importance for the entire outlet sector. However, these times are over, and we have been able to make substantial gains here. For example, we were able to open a great Austrian concept this year with Le Burger. With Lia’s, we have an exciting Austrian idea at the location. But our food truck area is also very popular with our guests.
Welcoming and the feeling of being a guest at the outlet are essential parts of the consumer experience. This includes best service digital and physical as well as offering places to rest and relax during a shopping trip. /// Images: McArthurGlen
ACROSS: Space is a topic of discussion in the outlet sector. More and more flagship stores are opening with up to 1000 sq m. Is this a trend?
Schwann: I don’t see a clear trend here. The size of a store depends on how a brand positions itself. Some brands demand large spaces due to their product range and appeal. Of course, we are in dialog with the brand partners when we see the high productivity confirmed. We have several flagship stores in Parndorf. But we are very much interested in maintaining the boutique character. 100 to 300 sq m – these are the store sizes we aim for. This leads to more brands for a location. With exclusively large stores, the location’s appeal would be lost.
ACROSS: What issues are you currently dealing with?
Schwann: The fundamental issue is always the optimization of the location. We are examining all options in this respect. As already mentioned, tourism is becoming increasingly important. Not only is the return of customer groups relevant here, but we are also approaching new markets like USA and India. We see clear potential here. Vienna is welcoming more and more Americans, who we naturally also want to host as guests in Parndorf.
ACROSS: It is noticeable that you speak almost exclusively of guests rather than customers.
Schwann: That is a very conscious attitude. Welcoming and the feeling of being a guest at the outlet are essential parts of our consumer experience. The idea is to welcome customers as if they were in a hotel.
ACROSS: What does that mean in concrete terms?
Schwann: This is also best described in terms of tourists. For example, we have opened an additional guest service desk to welcome tour groups and individual travelers. We also have employees who speak German, English, Hungarian, Slovakian, Romanian, Chinese, or Arabic. These employees greet customer groups and sometimes guide them through the center. They know precisely which group has which focus. We have also equipped the center with digital tokens that guests can use to obtain information. However, it is crucial to engage with guests even when they are not there. We have our tourism department within the Group, which works very closely with the tour operators. For example, we also have a team in China, which has kept us up to date with consumer trends over the past few years. It is also essential for international visitor groups – and this is where the hotel character comes into play again – to create opportunities to retreat. International guests sometimes spend many hours on the road. They need physical spaces where they can relax while they store. These are all examples of our attitude towards our guests; we want to take on even more.
ACROSS: However, this kind of service orientation requires many good employees – a rare commodity in this industry.
Schwann: One significant advantage – in contrast to other industry players – is that we have no problem finding employees. We benefit from our proximity to the border and have access to employees from home and abroad. But there is much more to it than that. We have to prove ourselves time and again as an attractive employer. This also means we work closely with our brand partners and sometimes support them in employee training. The luxury sector is vital here. We need a large number of highly trained employees with excellent language skills.
ACROSS: What does this training and support look like?
Schwann: Employee training is a cross-location issue at McArthur Glen. McArthur Glen has set up its own Retail Academy to provide our employees with ongoing education and training. This is a core topic within the Group. The Retail Academy offers specific intercultural training, language, and sales training. These programs are also explicitly aimed at our brand partners. Of course, not all of them participate, as many major brands have their own programs. Some training courses are organized centrally, but some trainers come to our site. The investment in employees pays off – for the customer and us. In addition we offer all our brand partners a new online training tool called Modo where we are able to train all our employees 24 hours in various topics such as visual merchandising, leadership, sales services and English. The big advantage is that this training can be done on laptops, smart phones or I – pads. We are focusing on further enlarge the training program with other sales relevant topics in the near future.
ACROSS: Besides finding employees, the frequent lack of transport links is also a hotly debated topic in the outlet sector. What is happening here in Parndorf?
Schwann: We have been connected to the public transport network for a year now. An electric bus runs directly from Parndorf train station to our center. This means guests can now travel to us by train from Bratislava or Vienna. That was a big step. There is also our shuttle bus that runs from the Vienna Opera and a Flixbus coming from Budapest. We are currently launching a project for electric charging stations. The topic of transport is very closely linked to environmental issues. Photovoltaics will play a significant role here in the coming year.
ACROSS: Finally, how is Parndorf driving digitalization forward?
Schwann: The outlet business focuses on the stationary business and creating worlds of experience. We optimize physical spaces so guests can immerse themselves in the brand worlds and we want to make them tangible. Of course, there are brand partners who bring the digital world to brick-and-mortar retail. Click-and-collect options are an example of this. However, these projects are still in their infancy. The sports sector, in particular, has repeatedly made advances in this area, but on the whole, omnichannel solutions are not a big issue for us.
Mario Schwann is General Manager of Designer Outlet Parndorf
Twenty-five years of Designer Outlet Parndorf: It all started with a clear vision. Learn more about the development of the location, decisions about the brand mix, the development as a tourist location, and why the geographical location at the border triangle of Austria, Hungary, and Slovakia always pays off, especially in challenging times. Read more