Westfield London has been a real success, but its developer continues to inspire mixed feelings.
There was a lot of PR last Friday about Westfield London celebrating its first anniversary, including me on BBC London News a couple of times, and the consensus is that it the centre has been a success. There was a good degree of secpticism around the opening, particularly as it came just a matter of weeks after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the start of the banking crisis, but seems to have traded very well and got stronger as the year has gone on.
Not everything has worked — food has been terrible for Marks & Spencer apparently, and some of the more obscure overseas fashion players have unsurprisingly struggled — but most aspects of the scheme have succeeded, even, it seems, the luxury Village area. Shoppers like the centre, it’s raised the bar in terms of shopping centre design and quality and most retailers are very happy with how they’re trading there.
There is, however, a but. And the but is that even if they love the scheme its developer inspires a strength of feeling among many of its tenants which I’ve never come across with any other property developer. I was talking to the mildest mannered retailer you could ever meet at a party last Thursday, who is doing brilliantly in the scheme, but who said he deeply disliked dealing with Westfield and couldn’t stand what he saw as the company’s uniquely aggressive approach. Others concurred.
The arguments about Westfield’s store design demands and service charges have been well aired, and when I met Westfield UK MD Michael Gutman, who is actually very likeable and straightforward, a few weeks ago he was unapologetic for the company’s approach, saying that the company demands the high standards of store design to help its centres and its tenants withstand the assault from online.
However, I can’t help but feeling a slightly more collaborative approach would win Westfield a few more friends. It develops great schemes and Stratford is sure to be another good one. I suppose the question is whether it matters if your customers like you, as long as you deliver them the goods?