Following our recent blog post on the secrets behind the success of outlet villages, we were contacted by Clarks Village and invited to take a tour of their centre.
We went behind the scenes of this infamous outlet with Centre Manager Chris Davis, to find out more about what goes into making Clarks Village such a thriving outlet destination.
Anna: When I walked into Clarks Village today, I noticed a man with an iPad speaking to customers about which stores they had visited and what they had enjoyed most about their visit. The customers seemed very happy to share their experiences with him.
Chris: Yes, that was Brian. He has worked at Clarks Footwear and then Clarks Village for over forty years, primarily in our facility team. He is in the prime of his life at 80ish! I invited him to join our guest services team to share his local knowledge and he is doing a fantastic job identifying how we can give our customers the best experience here. It also tells them: We’re listening to you.
Anna: I was very impressed – you could see that the customers enjoyed being asked to share their thoughts. The shopping experience is absolutely key, isn’t it? What initiatives do you focus on to make shopping here delightful?
Chris: One of our initiatives is creating exceptional experiences, so we focus on how we can deliver the highest standards to boost the shopping experience. We used to have a carousel in this area of the village, but we have now turned it into a landscaped space where customers can enjoy some downtime with their families and friends. We also use it as an event space – we will have a mini pop-up beach here in the summer and bands often play here. It’s a great way to give customers that little something extra.
Anna: I see you have a really funky food van in this space called Grubs Up. Is that new?
Chris: Yes, it’s a local company from Taunton. They have a number of vans around the centre all providing different types of food and excellent provenance. We like them because they are fun and offer great quality premium food.
Anna: They look very enticing. Getting involved with the local community is crucial for so many outlets. How else do you do this?
Chris: It’s all about engaging with our regular stakeholders and looking at how we can support the region. We get involved with Somerset Day and we work closely with Strode College, Millfield School and other local schools and businesses. Recently, we hosted an event for Wincanton College where the students could learn more about careers in the retail property industry.
Anna: Since you are so close to Glastonbury, do you run any events in conjunction with the town?
Chris: We have a strong green focus at Clarks Village due mainly to our proximity to Glastonbury. We joined in with Glastonbury’s plastic-free week recently: 50% of our brands already use paper bags, but we supported the rest by providing them with paper bags. We also recycled on their behalf and installed art in the village which centered around the plastic-free theme.
Anna: What a great idea. I see you also have some new brands since I last visited.
Chris: Yes, we have been delighted to welcome Jack Wills, Jack Wolfskin and Mint Velvet, and the latest brand joining in August is Haribo. Visitors in our catchment area always keep a close eye on any new store openings. We do exceptionally well with lifestyle and outdoor brands in particular. We have also had a number of brands refit their stores recently.
In addition, we have a pop-up space here, which we offer either on short term lets or for brands to try for up to a year. We find it’s a great way to bring new brands into the scheme: they give us a go, find they can be successful and then they take on a permanent store.
Anna: Clarks Village was acquired by Landsec back in 2017. How has it changed since then?
Chris: Being a part of Landsec has opened so many doors for us: it has given Clarks Village a voice. We share the same passion for creating memories for our customers, as well as providing a fantastic customer journey. Landsec has a talent for building centres that brand partners want to be in.
It’s clear that Chris knows exactly how to create a memorable, shareable outlet experience and the success of Clarks Village is a testament to that.
With the emergence of a greater push for climate-saving initiatives in 2019, it is great to see that the environment is a priority for Clarks Village. As the world now knows, it takes a village (or in this case, an outlet village) to produce real change, and by prioritising green projects it is likely that Clarks Village will inspire other outlet centres to do the same.
As part of their eco-focus, Clarks Village ran a plastic reduction initiative from 26th-30th June. Twenty six of their stores already offer paper bags, bags-for-life or recycled solutions, but during this week paper bags were trialled throughout the centre and Chris has set the objective of being 100% plastic bag free by January 2020.
To tackle the plastic waste produced by coffee cups, Clarks Village installed several recycling receptacles shaped like giant coffee cups around the centre. Every cup put into these receptacles is 100% recycled and the collections themselves are carbon neutral.
Clarks Village has also had a free water refill system installed since Easter to tackle water bottle waste, which has already been used 4,931 times! Every single one of their cafes and restaurants offer free tap water refills to anyone who asks. The environmental team are also recycling the used coffee grounds from the cafes and using it as fertiliser throughout their lovely flower beds.
Does your local outlet centre have any green initiatives? What would you like to see them offer as plastic alternatives?
Stay tuned for more peeks behind the scenes in the retail property industry.
Anna is an outlet and retail specialist, providing recruitment, consulting and leasing services through her company Intense Retail.
All photos courtesy of Clarks Village.