Shopping centers are transforming to meet new demands and fulfill different functions, but change rarely happens without risks. From new locations and digital revolution through to new concepts and pop-ups, Atrium Group’s COO, Scott Dwyer, discusses the changes to Poland’s retail landscape
Interview by Alex Webber
WBJ: The retail sector has undergone major changes in the last few years, how have these impacted Atrium’s strategy?
Scott Dwyer: In terms of our portfolio, we’ve moved out of both Romania and Hungary to concentrate on two countries: the Czech Republic and Poland. We’re now focusing on major urban locations, with Warsaw seeing heavy reinvestment from us, and which at the start of the year accounted for one-third of our Polish portfolio and we plan to grow that to over 50 percent through acquisitions and redevelopments.
At Atrium, we’re not interested in planting flags around a country, what interests us is catchments areas and that’s what Warsaw can offer. Take Atrium Promenada as an example; the district has grown by 10 percent in its number of residents, while local purchasing power has risen by 20 percent. As I speak, 900 apartments are being added close by. Here, all the microeconomic factors that are of interest to us are present. Elsewhere, we’ve got Targówek, which used to be little more than a field – now it’s a major urban location, while the area around Reduta has emerged to become the most densely populated area in the country.
Across Poland we’ve seen a situation where many centers are expanding, while other, more niche, centers are opening. Where does Atrium stand among all this?
For us to be relevant we need to be of a certain size. We need to be able to offer the right entertainment options, diversify and add to our gastronomic offer. Right now, across the market, the underlying ethos is to either go big and try and offer everything or go small and niche. People are short on time, when they visit a center they want to do so in the knowledge that they can have and do everything they want.
For a few years now, there has been talk of shopping centers moving more towards fulfilling a social role…
Right. We see ourselves as offering the community a valuable service, and as such we want our visitors to view us as a community center. Opening hours are being extended; in the morning people can visit a medical service or a gym, while at night they have cinema or restaurant options. For as long as I can remember there’s been talk of a cinema in the area of Reduta, but now we’re finally implementing that ourselves with the launch of a 3D cinema in November. In the future, we’re aiming to look beyond the four walls of our centers and perforate outdoors more by opening public spaces.
Harnessing outdoor areas, improving their entertainment offer, etc. Across the board, centers are trying to do something different…
We have to. The industry has to take more risks. We need to be adventurous as that’s the only way to learn what works and what doesn’t. That’s one of the biggest advantages of having a large shopping center – our size allows us to experiment on the fringes. I like to think that at Atrium we have a different approach and try things that others don’t.
On the subject of innovation, what have we seen from Atrium?
A good example is the Carrefour in Atrium Promenada. It’s highly digitized, with all items accessible online, cash registers at the back and a section in the center offering made-to-order food. It’s a completely new concept.
When it comes to trying “new things,” how do you view pop-up stores?
For us, pop-ups are a great way to test a retailer, whilst for the pop-up, being present in a center is a good test of consumer demand. From 15 pop-ups, maybe four or five will eventually convert into real tenants. For us, pop-ups aren’t about making money, they’re about embracing space.
How has the partial ban on Sunday trading affected the industry?
Footfall is slightly down but sales have remained stable. There are mixed issues here. A retailer who now only opens six days a week will tend to actually make more money because they have lower variable costs. It’s not been the doom and gloom situation some people predicted – people have redistributed their shopping habits and will now spend more on a Saturday or Monday. We haven’t had to recalibrate.
What does the future hold for you?
In the short term, we’ve got a 8,600-sqm extension of Targówek opening soon, not to mention a new leisure offer in Reduta. And, of course, looking further down the line, there’s Wars Sawa Junior. There’s plenty going on, and while we don’t like to put a timeline on things, I think by 2021 you will definitely see a “new us.”
You mentioned Wars Sawa Junior. Being in the heart of the city, does this mark a change of strategy for you?
Not at all. Though not in the heart of the city, we’ve already got two very urban locations in Prague. As I say, we’re interested in catchment areas, and with Wars Sawa Junior you have an estimated 60 million people who will pass it each year. Clearly, this is a long-term project we have on our hands, and while I’m currently limited to how much I can say about it, we know full well that this will compliment our other assets and not overlap them. Broadly speaking, it’s a great piece of real estate in an excellent location that will be something of a hybrid: a shopping center with high-street elements. We’re always on the lookout for the right asset, and Wars Sawa Junior is exactly that.