The West Edmonton Mall and CF Chinook Centre may be better known but Southgate Centre in Edmonton has established itself as the most productive shopping centre in Alberta – a dominant fashion and lifestyle destination.
According to the Canadian Shopping Centre Study 2018, by the Retail Council of Canada, Southgate, owned and managed by Ivanhoé Cambridge, ranked fifth overall in Canada with sales per square foot at $1,128. That number was down 1.66 per cent from the previous year’s $1,147.
Roman Drohomirecki, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Retail at Ivanhoé Cambridge, said last summer the mall owner conducted a “massive” focus group and customer survey of almost 8,000 people.
“Through that process we were trying to zero in on exactly what that consumer was looking for. What do they like about the centre. What do they not like. What bothers them. What could we do better. Who should we include in the mix. All with the view to try and create this seamless memorable customer journey experience,” he said.
“What’s happening more and more through these surveys is we’re finding that people are searching out engaging experiences, looking to us to provide engaging experiences that combine shopping and entertainment. They’re looking for non-traditional uses. They’re looking for food and beverage. It’s really important to them that we’re socially responsible as a community member. We learn all of this stuff and we try to move all of these levers to encourage the shopper to come to us. Find the right tenants. Absolutely paramount. Try to get unique, differentiating brands. Augment that with a specialty program that provides the brands, pop-ups for shorter periods of time. We have to be far more flexible today than we’ve ever been before.”
He said leases for retailers in the past were for more than 10 years.
“We’re experimenting at Southgate now. It’s called Storefront. They’re from Europe. But it’s essentially the Airbnb for retail spaces. You can go online and you can secure space from us for a day, a week, a month where in the past we probably wouldn’t talk about much shorter than a 30-day time span. There’s a real evolution happening that way,” added Drohomirecki.
He said Southgate had a vacancy it was holding, knowing it would be vacant for a year, and the mall’s specialty leasing group essentially programmed the space with 12 different tenants that came through the year – a month each.
“We’ve modified how it is we do things in order to provide more flexibility for some of these up and coming brands,” he said. “Digital natives are interested in a brick and mortar experience as well but they’re not necessarily interested in committing to a longer term. We want to provide them with that flexibility to come in for a short to medium length of time and really to be a turnkey experience for them so they don’t have to invest heavily in the front end.”
Southgate has 159 stores with a gross leasing area of 941,822 square feet.
“We’re in a very large, growing and affluent trade area. We’ve got a young shopper. Very well educated. Part of a family. Most of our shoppers have three people or more per household,” said Drohomirecki. “We have the LRT at Southgate. Twenty per cent of our shoppers arrive by transit. That’s an important ingredient.
“Our mix is great. We have a number of destination or unique to market tenants which creates a draw. In Edmonton, I think we offer a very convenient customer journey. The building’s not huge. So it’s easy to park. It’s easy to navigate. It’s easy to get in and out.”
Southgate is anchored by flagship Hudson’s Bay and home to retailers such as Restoration Hardware, Apple, Crate & Barrel, Bath & Body Works, Michael Kors, Browns Shoes, Coach, Kiehl’s, Sephora and Zara.
“Customers are offered a unique shopping experience thanks to the centre’s new décor, 15 vendor, 850+ seat food court, hotel-quality washrooms and exceptional concierge services. Southgate is committed to elevating Edmonton retail and serving the families of our city – one inspiring shopping trip at time,” says the mall owner.
“In the four decades following, Southgate has seen three major renovations and expansions, almost tripling the original floorplan, and bringing some of the very best names in fashion to Edmonton. The most recent expansion, completed in 2009, added an unmatched level of refinement to the retail experience in the city . . . Our 2009 expansion added over 30 marquee stores, two sets of hotel-quality washrooms, an expansive food court, two levels of parking, and a host of premier amenities.”
Southgate Centre opened its doors in 1970 with just 65 stores and services.
Drohomirecki said the mall will be able to make some announcements in the near future about how the former Sears space is going to look in the future.
“It will give us an opportunity to deepen our mix, to add some small store space as well as junior anchors and to add some amenities into the shopping centre. This is going to be a bit of a process but I suspect by the time we hit the tail end of 2020 there will be some stores that are opening,” he explained.
In 2018, Southgate opened Bailey Nelson, Poppy Barley, an expanded Aritzia, Hillberg & Berk, and Nespresso.
“It’s not just about the mix anymore. We have to go deeper than that. So in Southgate this summer we did a roller rink. It was a 2,500 square foot roller rink. It was the only one in Alberta. We were drawing folks from as far as St. Albert to Calgary,” said Drohomirecki. “We included some retailers in this for promotion. We included a local charity. There was the Youth Emergency Shelter. We were able to drive sales, drive traffic and raise some money for a good community charity.
“You can sit on your sofa today, surf on your mobile device, find what you need with a click and have it delivered to you when you wish. We want to get folks off of their sofas and into our buildings.”