As a real estate developer and specialist in shopping centres for more than 20 years, my retail radar is always on when it comes to new projects. When we now talk about developing retail and shopping destinations, we talk about experience and how the new way of shopping must include an engagement. Although I see few examples of experiences created to engage.
On my retail radar, one of the most compelling urban development projects started in the UK already in 2001, is Kings Cross and Coal Drops Yard.
King’s Cross is the largest mixed-use development (271.000 Sqm) in single ownership, through Argent LLP, to be developed in central London for over 150 years. This is definitely an interesting mix as you will find here among unique offices the Louis Vuitton UK headquarters and Google, Central Saint Martins School of Art, Everyman Cinema, world class residential experiences, and vast variety of shops, bars and restaurants.
The huge transport hub in London was built in the 1850s for receiving and sorting coal. From this ancient activity derives the name of the coming shopping experience, Coal Drops Yard. Mind you, they don’t name this a shopping center, it’s all about experience. When the doors will open the 26th of October, it’s mainly a new shopping street with shops, cafes, bars and restaurants. Hot names already in action are Paul Smith, & Other Stories, Sweaty Betty, Carhartt WIP, Jigsaw. There is more to come and they all will be surrounded by Victorian architecture, the canal, new and refurbished buildings. Coal Drops Yard brings something truly new to London’s shopping scene.
So, what to expect of new experiences?
I went to see it myself and participated on a guided tour with New London Architecture, and I was really fascinated by the cobbled streets and Victorian brick arches combined with rich ironwork. This create a vibrant atmosphere for already existing and coming brands, that is expected to be as divers as the visitors the developer aims to attract.
Among those already opened was Tom Dixon, who has been in the lead of British design since the 1980s. When asked why he chose to establish not only a shop, an office, a restaurant and a factory he said;
– “I think for everybody involved in selling things, the idea of a shop has become a bit old-fashioned. It needs to be a place where you’re broadcasting from; it needs to be a place that’s active and for us it’s really difficult having a dusty old furniture shop. We needed a space that is a stage for lots of different collaborations and events.”
The events already takes place!
I signed up with my two daughters, for Tom Dixon Ceramic event, where we could create our own extraordinary ceramic, one item for the coming restaurant and one to bring back home. Each and one of the participants from this event, made plates, bowls or mugs to be used to serve future hungry visitors of the brand-new restaurant and roof terrace (opening in September).
The shift in consumer behaviour
As we monitor a huge shift in consumer behaviour, the consequences have become evident as the physical shops faces new challenges in less sales and footfall. Maybe it’s because they have become a bit old fashioned. I think we will see more of the activity driven shopping, entirely by experiences and interactive technology rather than the pure act of purchasing a good. Nevertheless this activity was purely physical and not at all digital, and it felt good!
Did we make something extraordinary?
In terms of possible products to sell, I don’t think so…my skills at least are not that developed in this area. Nevertheless, what I find extraordinary is the idea of making us participate and engage us in their preparation for their restaurant. I’m pretty sure I will return, hoping to see one of my plates being used, and will probably not be the only one😊.