McArthurGlen Designer Outlet Vancouver Expanding and Adding Tenants Despite Pandemic: Interview

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The COVID-19 pandemic has been exceptionally challenging for the retail industry in the past year or so but despite the tough times McArthurGlen Designer Outlet Vancouver Airport has been in expansion mode.

The shopping centre has opened 13 new stores in the past 12 months and it has four additional openings planned for the end of 2021.

Robert Thurlow

“In the last 12 months despite it being a pandemic and people nervous about what’s going on in every kind of business landscape, we actually opened over a dozen new stores here at the centre,” said Robert Thurlow, General Manager at McArthurGlen Designer Outlet. “And interestingly 80 per cent of those are permanent deals not temp deals.”

The most recent was Versace.

“There was a lot of nervousness, especially around retail 15 months ago. Retail ecommerce for example exploded in early 2020. Lockdowns of course limited the ability of brick and mortar stores globally and then what I really saw later was that now that in-store shopping is much more accessible consumers have really switched back to it. Certainly here,” said Thurlow.

Image: McArthurGlen Designer Outlet

“And it seems that customers really do prefer bricks and mortar shopping even if ecommerce is more widely available than before which of course it is. But I really think the early surge in those online sales was really a matter I guess of what I would call necessity rather than real consumer preference. And I have to say we’ve been really fortunate we’ve only had the one closure here in BC, we were only closed from mid March of last year through mid May and we’ve been open ever since.”

The shopping centre has 103 stores currently. The centre opened in 2015 with its Phase 1 which included 240,000 square feet of retail space and 75 stores. Just prior to the pandemic, Phase 2 was completed and opened in August 2019 which added another 85,000 square feet and another 28 stores.

The centre is currently just over 325,000 square feet.

“We have land up in the northeast corner of the centre where we have a potential little over 65,000 further square feet and about another 30 stores that can be in that area,” said Thurlow. “That will get us to a total centre of a little under 400,000 square feet and 130 stores.

“That was part of the original strategic plan of the centre – that the centre would be built over three phases. Phase 3 doesn’t have a date on it yet but we’ll be reviewing that in 2022.”

The stores which have opened in the past 12 months at McArthurGlen are:

  • Aldo
  • Aritzia
  • Herschel
  • Matt and Nat
  • Mackage
  • MaxMara
  • Oak and Fort
  • Tory Burch
  • Versace
  • A&W (Food and Bev)
  • Freshly Squeezed (Food and Bev)
  • Food Folk Eatery (Food and Bev)
  • Hugos Taco (Food and Bev)

“I know people are wondering about what’s going on in retail. I have seven future deals in play – four of those will be opening by the end of 2021 and three of them will be early in 2022. What’s been exciting is that retail is so lively and there is still activity going on in retail. Through these difficult times you’ve got to kind of lead with optimism and strategy and you need to get yourself through it and we’re very fortunate that we are the true designer outlet centre in the region. We are probably the only real true outdoor environment where you can really come in shop with the type of brand mix that we have in the region,” said Thurlow.

Image: Versace at McArthurGlen Vancouver Airport

“That’s played well into our performance as well. People feel very comfortable shopping here in what is kind of an outdoor village maybe rather than going into an indoor kind of location.”

Thurlow said traffic to the shopping centre has been growing month by month by month.

“It’s a great indicator but it also shows the strength of the local catchment because I’m very much in the exact same position this summer as I was last summer. Borders were closed. I didn’t have my American visitors. I didn’t have international visitors. So last summer and this summer I’ve really been living off of my local catchment which has been very strong,” said Thurlow.

“Since reopening last year, I have actually 26 per cent more visitor numbers this summer than I did last summer.”

Tourism does make up a nice portion of the McArthurGlen business but the centre has been able to really gain a lot of that back from the increased frequency and spend it is seeing from local consumers.

“It really has been quite remarkable. I do think our brand mix and the new brands we’ve added in especially with so many of them being really well known in the BC area, they really resonate with the local consumer and we’ve really seen them to the centre to visit not only those brands that they know but certainly, and this has been across our portfolio interestingly in Europe, in the increase in the category of what I would call outdoor athletic brands,” he said.

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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