Value Added Shopping Throughout Europe
By John Bonar
Desiree Bollier, the CEO of Value Retail, is a dynamic, tightly packaged lady who exudes energy as she bounces into the upstairs lounge at the fashionable GQ Bar.
Value Retail operates nine Chic Outlet Shopping villages around Europe, each conveniently close to a major city and hosting up to a hundred fully branded outlets offering famous name products at huge discounts.
What’s the secret?
They are selling last season’s or last year’s collections and they are selling them in a countryside location far from the high overhead of Europe’s most fashionable high fashion streets.
Why is she here?
“We have a great collection of shopping villages in interesting tourist locations, with local gourmet dining options and Russians, we have discovered, have a voracious appetite for fashion and quality. Our shopping concept is ideal for opening a dialogue with the Russian consumer”.
Since opening their first village at Bicester in the English countryside midway between London and Birmingham in 1995, Value Retail has spread, creating chic retail environments complete with cafes and restaurants close to Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Milan, Brussels, Frankfurt, Munich and most recently, Dublin.
“We get three million visitors a year and 30% of them are international tourists”, says Ms. Bollier.
Increasingly they are noticing an upsurge in Russian visitors, particularly in Barcelona and Paris.
“Yes, it’s an American concept, but adapted and fine tuned for Europe. Each of our villages is bespoke for the area where they are and reflect the country they are in. The brands in each village differ from area to area and usually include local but national brands which complement the multinational brands. Each village is architecturally different, but they are all in a rural setting with green and lush countryside around them”.
“Brands are creating more collections than ever before”, interposed David Blanchard, Value Retail’s Group Retail and Marketing Director.
“Typically they will do six collections a year,” he told me. “They sell these at full price in their flagship stores, and what’s not sold after the end of season sales they liquidate at pence in the pound”.
Now, instead of losing control over their merchandise, the big name brands from Polo and Ralph Lauren to Versace and Villeroy & Boch to Christian Lacroix are selling them, heavily discounted (up to 70% off), through their own outlets in Value Retail’s villages.
Ms Bollier insists that “there is no hint of cheap,” in the villages. “They sell quality products, and no damaged goods. The integrity of the proposition is extremely important. We are serving a fashion savvy, value conscious, aspirational customer”, she says.
“We operate like a department store. We have a commitment to brands and fashion. We add value. We try to understand the brand and assist with staffing and even with the decorating of the display windows. Right down to the branded shopping bags the customers take out of every outlet, the experience should equal that of visiting a brand’s flagship store”.
Like a department store, Value Retail collects a percentage of all the boutiques’ turnover.
The concept is working. Mr. Blanchette quotes figures that are staggering. For Japanese tourists to the UK, Bicester Village is the second most visited destination after Windsor Castle.
Of all VAT refunds claimed by Indian visitors to the UK, Value Retail accounts for 10% of them. For Chinese tourists, Bicester is second only to London in attracting visitors.
“We have had a staggering success with tourism,” he says.
“It’s very interesting to see the trends: Increasing numbers of South Americans visiting Madrid’s Las Rozas Village; more Russians shopping at Paris’ La Vallee Village.”
Each village hosts between fifty-five to a hundred plus designer boutiques.
The typical London customer for Bicester Village is a West End resident, who comes twice a year during the week with a friend. “They come up early”, says Mr. Blanchard. “This is not a convenience shop. Our customer will browse around picking up items for herself, her children, her husband and her home. While they are there, they will have lunch and make a day of it.
“For other customers, it is a once in a lifetime visit. They may have read about us in a magazine in Shanghai and they have a sense of discovering the products and enjoying an interesting experience”.
On word of mouth recommendations, tourists are flocking through Value Retail Villages and spending between 200 and 500 Euros each per visit.
“We work hard so they enjoy the luxury of spending less,” quips Mr. Blanchard quoting a slogan coined by a fashion magazine. Ms. Bollier says her biggest joy is “watching the jaw-dropping surprise on people’s faces,” when she takes them to one of the villages for a visit. “How much time did you say we could have here, is what they always ask”.