BY STEPHEN COURT
The Macellum of Pompeii is considered to be one of the oldest purpose-built retail destinations known to civilisation. It was developed around 200 BC and housed a busy collection of shop units. It even operated a primitive form of home delivery, if you had servants to do the fetching and carrying. Located next to Pompeii's business, political and spiritual district there is a familiarity about its 2200 year old mixed-use urban plan design.
After abandoning nomadism and early farming the allure of organised retail has played an important role in town and city life the world over ever since. And it still does.
During 2020 our retail and retail property landscape has confronted its latest inflection point, this time caused by a handful of connected events within a few short years.
Old ways of working have been tested to destruction of late as the arrival of digital mobile technology unleashed the true potential of e-commerce. Add in the financial impacts of 2008/2009 and 2020's punch to retail's solar plexus, and you have the latest consensus that a step change must now happen.
The future will increasingly belong to nimble multi-channel environmentally conscious brands across all retail categories. Similarly for the retail real estate players, the property owning winners must figure out how to prosper in a world turned upside; one which demands more from them and offers fewer rewards as payment and thanks. A sixth sense for maximising impact has never been more important to retailers and real estate owners. Let's be honest, creating solutions by converting prime vacant space into thriving retail event platforms hasn't always been their strongest suit. When your business depends for the most part on discretionary retail and you want to pull in customers beyond the so-called passing trade, then you must deliver unique brand-led experiences and generate valuable media coverage to encourage participation.
Lone Design Club, for example, has an approach to retailing that makes sense in these times. Fleet of well-shod foot, they pivot in and out of today's unpredictable terrain of multi-channel retail's real and digital landscape. Their magazine-like editorial approach to e-commerce complements their passion for highly sought-after urban retail locations, which inject life into temporarily darkened retail hot spots.
In doing so they leave positive footprints for the independent fashion brands they showcase. They commit to improve the business knowledge of emerging brand owners and give oxygen to a talented but vulnerable sector by opening up commercial routes to sustainable success.
Simply put, independent designers access prime locations of landlords who could not conventionally host them nor attract the demographics they bring. It's a modern marriage, or perhaps a civil partnership, and enjoys the halo effect of relevant digital content and sales channels to maximise the results.
Retail's future has to be more integrated. More co-dependent. Being part of a constellation involving socially conscious brands, forward looking retail property owners and customers who act more like fans than shoppers has never looked so compelling, as the old landlord hegemony gives way to a different paradigm.
Having worked on a variety of retail, entertainment and leisure developments from Disney Theme Parks, the Olympics, World Expos and state of the art retail destinations I am optimistic that retail can become ever more creative and environmentally responsible out of the chaos of today's pandemic-hobbled economic uncertainties.
Pompeii rose again from the 79AD devastation caused by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, retail and all. We just have to be open to what regeneration means in our time and not resist the tide of change coursing through the way we go about our business.
Stephen Court is an advisory board member of Lone Design Club. After graduating in theatre production at the London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art his work in professional theatre later took him to the Walt Disney Company as a Theme Park & Resort Development Imagineer, after which he worked on World Expo projects, major sporting installations and has also been instrumental in a series of big brand launches. He has spent the last twenty years working as a senior executive within the commercial real estate sector.