Around the world, Australian companies are making the most of their expertise in creating large-scale retail outlets. Westfield is a household name but it’s not the only company with a knack for building malls: QIC and Lendlease have also made the move abroad, while others operate below the radar. From London to Singapore, Australian businesses are proving it’s not just great coffee their country can offer the world. Here we visit their HQs to see how these industry leaders are creating some of the world’s most dynamic shopping experiences from bases down under.
“The one constant with retail is change,” says Bruce Shaw, the managing director of Melbourne-based retail-design specialist The Buchan Group. “So the challenge is understanding where the market is going to be in four or five years.”
With much at stake for developers, the 126-year-old Buchan Group has built a reputation for spotting and pre-empting shifts in retail trends. Many Australian developers were caught on the back foot, for instance, when larger international chains quickly wanted to break into the market. Shaw’s company had predicted this shift early and designed Melbourne’s Emporium mall in a way that allowed Uniqlo to take over a roomy three-storey space. It’s an approach that is now winning the Buchan Group work from Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur.
One of Shaw’s aims is to dispel the notion of shopping malls as “fortresses”, instead creating market-like spaces. It’s an approach illustrated in his company’s design for the AU$575m (€376m) extension to Melbourne’s Eastland shopping centre.
Few can say they’re in the business of delivering sunshine but for Tim Phillips, owner of industrial-design firm Tilt, this intangible commodity is his calling card. “It’s like you’re under a natural canopy of trees,” he says, enjoying the dappled sunlight in the atrium of Sydney’s One Central Park building.
But these beams of light wouldn’t be here naturally: they’re bounced down by a dramatic cantilevered heliostat suspended 100 metres above the glass ceiling, which is covered in a series of reflector panels. This invention floods the mall with sunlight. “Retailers always prefer natural light wherever available, so being able to control it offers a wealth of opportunities for developers,” says Phillips.
He describes the technology that his firm has installed here as a “bolt-on” for developers to manage sunlight. Its implementation has led to discussions with property businesses in Asia looking to create sunlit precincts unaffected by the overshadowing that occurs in dense urban environments.
The retail arm of Sydney-based developer Lendlease has built malls from Cairns to Taipei and its expertise is now informing some of the world’s best shopping precincts in mixed-use projects. Head of retail development Gary Horwitz is unveiling plans for Sydney’s huge AU$6bn (€3.9bn) Barangaroo South project, currently in the first phase of a staged opening.
“We’ve taken lessons from the shopping centre and applied them to this new space, which is all about the street front,” he says. The development’s street-facing retail spaces are home to cult names, with F&B the driver of foot traffic. Sydney’s iconic Bourke Street Bakery has opened an outlet here, for instance; queues are already beginning to form.
Lendlease has numerous similar projects in the pipeline worth billions of dollars. If Barangaroo forms the prototype for these then it augurs well for small brands. “The market is sophisticated,” says Horwitz. “They want something that they have never seen before; they want to feel that it is cutting edge – and that it’s challenging.”
Headquartered in the famous Harry Seidler office block overlooking Sydney Harbour, Pure Projects creates crack teams to mastermind the construction and maintenance of some of Asia Pacific’s busiest and most attractive malls. Since 2010 the firm has grown to 100 staff off the back of a growing Asian workload.
“We work with developers, appoint the design team, make sure the design team works well with the builder, then oversee the construction and the training of local staff,” says founding director David Williams. The firm’s first international breakthrough was The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, a precinct in Singapore that formed the jumping-off point for many more regional projects.
For Williams it was important to try and reverse the attitude in Asia’s developing economy that suggested: “Build the mall and the retailers will come.” With clients including giant retail names such as Japan’s Aeon Mall and Ikano (Ikea), expect to hear much more from this quiet achiever in the future.
The iconic red lettering of the Westfield brand has come to symbolise Australia’s overachievement in mall-making; millions of Londoners and New Yorkers pass under this banner each year at some of the world’s busiest shopping centres. In 2014 the Australian company split, with Westfield’s Australian operations coming under the Scentre Group tag.
Where does Westfield lead the world in retail development?
I think a large part of our global success is that we have never thought about ourselves as a real-estate company that simply collects rent: we have always thought about ourselves as managing a business that curates retail to turn the consumers on. A compelling offer lifts everybody’s sales and here in Australia people are creating innovative businesses, which adds variety and vibrancy to our centres.
How are you accommodating these innovative businesses?
Westfield Chatswood in Sydney, which caters to a large Asian market, features a hawker lane of highly specialised small providers, which has created an amazing vibe. We have now extended that into a laneway, where we bring in food trucks as a core part of the offer. The success has gone as far as closing streets and extending the concept further to improve that centre’s focus as a destination for food-lovers, which also drives retail sales into later hours.
The depth of the retail sector here is such that no list can cover everyone. Two other key players, for example, are Queensland Investment Corporation (QIC) and Vicinity. QIC operates the Robina Town Centre mall in Queensland and Sydney’s Castle Towers shopping centre. Melbourne-based Vicinity brings together two big names in retail-property management: Federation Centres and Novion Property Group. It manages the Chadstone mall in Melbourne and Chatswood Chase in Sydney.