INTERVIEW: Metrocentre on Black Friday, new openings and what to expect in 2024

As part of our 2023 Retail Week coverage, in association with Metrocentre, we sat down with Ben Cox, Asset Director from Metrocentre itself to discuss all things retail, from the shopping destination’s recent swell of new openings to the importance of Black Friday to this omnipresent industry. Read on to find out more…

1) Firstly, can you talk us through many of the recent store openings and expansions we’ve seen at the Metrocentre in recent months and the effect these have had on the centre overall?

Metrocentre has been given a new lease of since The Metrocentre Partnership took over in October 2020. The team is delivering an ambitious business plan to future-proof the 2.1 million sq ft centre attracting major brands, upsizing existing tenants and instigating a £70m investment programme to meet the changing needs of the local community.

The future of Metrocentre is about adapting to become more than just a shopping and leisure centre by incorporating a broader mix of uses and services. This plan will provide continuity with the surrounding areas and allow the expansion of sustainable transport links to better connect the centre to its customers.

Phase one of the centre’s strategy saw the £5m refurbishment of Town Square, bringing in new flooring, lighting, seating and bringing back some of the greenery the centre was once known for.

This investment helped to secure the re-letting of the ground floor of the former House of Fraser to Harrods Beauty, the addition of Jo Malone and the upsizing of Goldsmiths and introduction of a standalone Rolex Boutique, which is set to open in December.

Last week Frasers Group opened the 140,000 sq ft former Debenhams unit which anchors the Red Mall to accommodate flagship stores for Flannels and Sports Direct, and to introduce Everlast Gyms to the centre.

We’ve been working with our major brands to deliver best in class flagship stores and Zara is the latest brand to accomplish this, more than doubling its footprint in the Red Mall. This follows on from other major upsizes for brands such as H&M and JD Sports last summer.

Retailer investment is in the region of £50m since October 2020 reinforcing the strength and resilience of the centre and its reputation as a key location for major brands.

Since The Metrocentre Partnership took over the reins in October 2020 the centre has welcomed 58 new retailers, occupying over 350,000 sq ft of space, and has supported 42 existing retailers, occupying almost 300,000 sq ft, to upsize and refurbish their stores.

So far this year 14 new retailers have opened including fashion brands Vanilla, Moda in Pelle, Skopes and Apricot plus independent homeware brand Rowen Homes.

The leisure and dining offer has recently expanded with the opening of Treetop Golf in the Qube. Treetop brings an immersive and expansive mini golf experience across two different 18-hole courses which provides a different dimension to the centre’s established leisure offer.

Grounded Kitchen and Wingstop opened in the last 12 months and they have recently been joined by casual dining brand Street Taste. Award winning local Greek street food operator, Acropolis, will join the line-up ahead of Christmas.

Outside of the main shopping centre the former Toys R Us site on Metro Retail Park has been demolished and redesigned to accommodate three new brands. Dreams are now open and will shortly be joined by Natuzzi and NCF Living making it fully let.

The Retail Park has also seen investment with improvements to the car park and the introduction of rapid EV charging units.

2) The last few weeks have seen a few major openings. Can you tell us a bit about those and their significance in the run-up to the festive season?

Flannels, Sports Direct and Everlast Gyms joined the line-up last week just in time for our peak trading period. The Flannels flagship store boasts an expansive new luxury fashion collection from brands including Givenchy, Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford and Vivienne Westwood.

Their new beauty offer includes a Dolce&Gabbana Beauty counter which is one of only three in the UK, and the only one in the North of England. Brands such as these appeal to a more affluent customer and will support other premium brands across the centre.

Sports Direct, who have opened directly above Flannels in the Red Mall, have been one of our most requested brands since they departed the Centre a number of years ago.

The shop features specialist sporting areas for running, football and outdoor pursuits and is also home to the brands USC, Game and Evans Cycles. Due to their comprehensive offer they will act as a big footfall driver appealing to a broad demographic.

The introduction of a gym to the centre has been something we’ve been actively pursuing and are delighted that Everlast Gyms have taken the top floor of the former Debenhams unit. Described as the UKs largest hybrid gym it offers a big box facility with a boutique gym feel.

The gym is appealing to a wide range of members from hardcore gym fanatics who are enticed by the size, scale and design of the gym, to centre staff who are making use of the facilities before or after their shift.

Everlast offers a full immersive workout experience boasting specialised fitness areas for yoga, spinning, HIIT training and even includes a full-size boxing ring. Members also have access to saunas, chill tubs, physio rooms, and a smoothie bar.

Zara, which opened at the end of September, is the only one in the region and is a major draw for fashion focussed shoppers. It has had a fantastic start and we are delighted with its performance to date.

3) With Black Friday quickly approaching, what does this period represent for retailers with a physical presence?

While no longer a mad-cap hunt for bargains on one big day, Black Friday has firmly become a key date in our retail calendar and marks the start of our peak festive calendar. With many retailers promoting offers earlier in the month giving savvy shoppers the opportunity to start ticking gifts off their lists over a longer period of time.

People look both in shops and online for deals and having the right mix of stores, restaurants, events and leisure experiences will attract shoppers.

As the dominant trading location in the region visitors will be attracted to the centre by the idea of a fun day out with their friends, making the most of the leisure facilities and food and drink offered to make the experience a memorable one.

4) Do you have any predictions as to the kind of retail trends we’ll see in 2024?

Mixed use shopping, leisure and community space is a key to creating thriving destinations. Earlier this year it was announced that Newcastle and Gateshead NHS Foundation Trusts have signed a long-term lease with the centre for the new Community Diagnostic Centre (CDC).

At just under 40,000 sq ft the CDC facility will provide imaging, respiratory and cardiac investigations for around 145,000 patients a year. Delivering alternative anchor uses is an integral part of the asset strategy for Metrocentre, diversifying the reasons to visit and creating additional footfall and jobs.

We also introduced the Community Hub to the upper Green Mall last year. We have been using the Hub for a variety of uses which support our ESG strategy. The Hub is used for employability initiatives and skills training as well being available to hire by charities and community groups.

Open seven days a week The Hub has accommodated a range of occupiers from autism and mental health charities to yoga and cancer prehabilitation. In the coming weeks we will be announcing an exciting new partnership with the Newcastle United Foundation!

5) What, if anything, can you tell our readers about the Metrocentre’s plans for the year ahead?

The Centre’s sustainability strategy will again be a key focus for the centre in the year ahead. The first phase of our ambitious plans to ensure a more sustainable future for the centre completed earlier this year with a £3.1m investment in a solar panel and EV charging scheme.

The project, which was part funded by the European Regional Development Fund, will generate enough electricity to power 340 households a year and will reduce the centre’s grid dependency by 22 per cent and offset more than 28 per cent of our annual electricity usage with our own low carbon supply.

The centre’s EV charging infrastructure will also see improvements in the coming year. We currently have over 100 EV charging units and plans are in place to increase this to 174 in 2024.

In order to ensure Metrocentre remains a vibrant and dynamic destination, a key focus is the integration of additional leisure alongside the retail and service offering, providing additional reasons for our shoppers to visit.

Powerleague submitted a planning application back in August to transform the top floor of our Blue multi-storey car park into a series of five-a-side football pitches. The football pitches allow for leagues, social bookings, children’s parties, holiday camps and coaching.

A number of deals are already in solicitors hands to bring in some exciting new brands in the new year, many of whom are new to the region. We will also see substantial retailer investment from a number of existing stores.

The strength of this asset is supported by a loyal catchment who enjoy the benefits of free parking, ease of access of getting to the centre and the raft of exclusive brands which are not available elsewhere in the region.

As we look ahead we are confident that the changes made in recent years, as well as our continued investment pipeline, will inject new life into the centre to ensure that it continues to be the go-to destination for shopping and leisure in the region.

This article is part of Bdaily’s 2023 Retail Week, in association with Metrocentre.

By Matthew Neville – Senior Correspondent, Bdaily

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