Ricasoli Properties Ltd, the developers behind The Shoreline mixed use development at SmartCity, have appointed an international team to advise them on the evolving retail proposals for the project, working alongside architects Haskoll. Development Solutions, headed by Philip Harcourt, and retail specialists SSRC, run by Stephen Spendlove, have been appointed to advise on the concept and how it will be realised and occupied.
Spendlove and Harcourt previously worked together at Colliers International where they were involved in other major projects in Malta such as The Point and continue to work together internationally on retail projects in such places as the UK, Russia, Slovakia, Libya, Poland, Serbia, Ukraine, Latvia and Estonia. In advising on The Shoreline proposals they have also introduced a former colleague, with whom they continue to work, internationally acclaimed and leading place branding specialist, Malcolm Allan of Placematters. Here the team responds to questions regarding the brand (and the brands) that will drive The Shoreline successfully forward.
Branding nowadays is not only reserved to the business world of products and services as many cities, towns and even localities are seeking to develop a placebrand for their local areas to help them define the destination and make it stand out from the surrounding localities. What are the challenges when developing such placebranding?
When we talk about brand, many people think about a logo or a name. But a logo or name is only part of a brand, and often not the most important part. A brand is more about the essence of something in a holistic sense. Take something like Coca-Cola. Whilst the name is synonymous with the product, as is the way the name is written, or the logo, so too is the colour, the shape of the bottle, the flavour and the things that are associated with the drink; driven by the brand. So, it is with place-branding and the strategy by which it is implemented. Place-brand strategy is about how you present or tell the story of the offer and experience that your place delivers to one’s target audiences – businesses, organisations, residents, workers, shoppers, learners and visitors. It is about creating a place as a destination that people can recognise, identify with and want to visit. It must evoke a degree of emotional empathy among its audiences whilst also describing the experience that they are likely to be looking for. It must also be honest, and not imply that a development is something that it clearly is not.
In short, place-brand strategy enables developments, attractions, towns and cities to become sought after destinations of choice where people and businesses will spend time and money.
What is the key reason for developing such a brand at The Shoreline?
In short, a brand strategy reduces development risk and increases profitability. How? By ensuring that the design of the development, and the way it is managed attracts desired tenants and market audiences.
To do so, The Shoreline must have its own distinctive identity, by which we mean what it is identified with what it offers and what it’s like to spend time there. Already SmartCity is an established brand, both in Malta and in the other SmartCity projects around the world. But the SmartCity brand is much more about the concept and the developer’s global aspirations than about the place itself – a “technology park” at Kalkara in Malta. Over the last decade, SmartCity has been evolving but, as yet, the technology aspirations have not been fully realised, although there are strong aspirations that the new centres of learning that are proposed will change this.
Nevertheless, The Shoreline is another element of SmartCity altogether. It may have some technological aspects, but it is more about amenity; about creating a great life at SmartCity through the right mix of housing, shopping and entertainment that will attract target audiences. It is about turning what is essentially just an office park (from 9 to 5 Monday to Friday) into a 24/7 living destination. To do this, The Shoreline must have its own place-brand; distinct from and not subservient to SmartCity. People may say “Let’s go shopping at SmartCity” (though not at present). What we want them to say is “Let’s go for a day out at The Shoreline”. We want them to say this in the same way they might say this about a day out in Valetta or Sliema. But the key reason for developing a brand is to give people a reason to locate at or to visit the place.
There seems to be no conclusive evidence that place-branding exercises in themselves produce value for money that is unless they are linked to other improvements in the place, and they build on the aspirations of the local community. (a) What are your thoughts in general about this statement? (b) And what about The Shoreline in particular?
Smart place brand strategies are based on the factors that developers and place administrators decide are the outcomes they want to achieve, the plans they put in place to realise the outcomes and brand management through key performance indicators (KPI’s). When such indicators are agreed and means to empirically measure them are in place then it is possible to collect evidence of the extent of the impact of the brand, e.g. levels of lettings, levels of visitation and spend; attendance by target audiences.
Many place branding exercises may appear to fail because they are approached the wrong way around – typically starting with a name and the design of a logo which they then try to attach to a concept and vision. At The Shoreline we will need to grapple this having been driven by a need to name and market the residential element, with the retail brand having to remain subservient therefore. Hence the branding challenge will be greater.
However, the success of a place and the way it espouses its brand offer can be affected by factors outside the control of and beyond the influence of someone developing a specific place or destination. The way to mitigate factors such as these is to identify, in advance, the kinds of change that might negatively affect the brand and plan in advance how to minimise their impact.
Addressing the aspirations of a community is equally important and the practice of community engagement and consultation is becoming increasingly prevalent in the development world and in the practice of effective place and destination branding. But how do you define the community that you must engage with? Whether you are developing an abattoir or a shopping centre, it is probably that the people closest to your development site will be most affected, both during construction and operation. Thus, it is likely that some will be most opposed to it (especially in the case of an abattoir), and some supportive of improved local facilities (possibly in the case of a shopping centre). However, limiting consultation to those who live or work in close proximity to a development or destination will not provide a comprehensive or accurate view of target audience responses; it will always almost prove inconclusive. It is therefore our opinion that consultation should embrace a community that takes in the entire catchment. In the case of The Shoreline, this means the whole of Malta.
The Shoreline proposals are within SmartCity, which has few neighbours, and which may be perceived by the market as suffering from a stuttering start, having been unveiled on 10th September 2007, a year (almost to the day) before the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Whilst SmartCity may now have some office space and a handful of restaurants (mostly vacant), Ricasoli know that they have big challenges to take SmartCity to the next level and turn it into a retail and leisure destination, complementing the early success of the residential apartment reservations at The Shoreline. The aim is for The Shoreline to lead, rather than follow, the fortunes of SmartCity, and part of this will be to establish it as a shopping destination where people from across Maltawill come to enjoy what we call Experience Retail. As a destination, the intention is that The Shoreline will both drive the aspirations of the local and wider communities, and will bring with it the need and desire to improve infrastructure and improvements within Kalkara, and also Malta as a whole.
As a branding expert, do branding exercises work best when something has changed in an area, such a regeneration activity, or when seeking to attract new businesses or residents to a new development project, such as The Shoreline project?
Branding can drive change as well as the other way around. When a new development takes place, this is just part of regeneration. Regeneration has become something of a misused “buzz word”, which has wrongly been applied to any form of property development. Strictly speaking regeneration is renewal from within, and comprises social, environmental and cultural regeneration for which often (but not always) physical redevelopment (or regeneration) is a vehicle or a catalyst.
In the case of SmartCity, the regeneration occurs through the development proposals for the core site, but the long-term intention is that it will provide a catalyst for the wider improvements in the Kalkara area. Already, this has been evidenced through new infrastructure proposals, planned new ferry services and growing numbers of tourist visits. Separate to the wider issue of brand for the places of The Shoreline or SmartCity will be the consumer brands that will be attracted here and in turn become attractors. Hence brand becomes important in all senses, as we see successful consumer brands drive the success of The Shoreline; and success breeds success.
There are numerous successful destinations where strong Placebrands have only recently been developed to enhance something that has been there forever. One example is the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland – the world’s longest continuous tourism driving route at 2,500km – established through a comprehensive destination brand and marketing strategy developed by Allan for Failte Ireland, the Irish tourism development agency.
In that case, are there any particular strengths that could be marketed to build up the identity of The Shoreline?
As consultants, this is one of the key issues that we will focus on in one of the next phases of our brief. With much of urban Malta densely developed, SmartCity offers The Shoreline an excellent physical platform to create something really special, in terms of the retail as well as the residential proposals. From a retail perspective, The Shoreline offers residents in the south of the island facilities that to date have not been available without travelling to the north into Sliema. Most of all the strengths that will form a key part of the brand identity for The Shoreline will be the diverse and unique consumer brands that it will be attracting.
How do you intend to add value to the development through branding?
As noted above, branding, done well, reduces development risk and boosts profitability through faster and higher rates of occupancy, visitation and spend by people. Branding is absolutely critical to any destination; particularly a retail destination. Oxford Street (where we have advised), Regent Street, Manhattan’s 5th Avenue or Avenue des Champs Elysée in Paris, all invest heavily in the management and development of their brand on an ongoing basis.
What are the challenges for The Shoreline Shopping Mall?
It would be unfair to imply that The Shoreline faces any greater challenge than any other retail development currently proposed in Malta. Over the years, we have seen a range of new retail proposals come forward; some have gone ahead, whilst others have dropped from sight without even a whimper. We are well aware of the sort of challenges that can be faced: The Point presented a number as did other schemes such as Pama.
Possibly the greatest challenge that will be faced is the sheer number of retail schemes and the quantum of space that could be delivered by current retail development proposals in Malta. The Shoreline has the potential to transcend all of these, partly because it is to be developed on the least constrained of all the sites being brought forward, and partly also because the location at SmartCity presents something of a blank canvas on which can be “painted” a distinctive and compelling image of a great place to live, work and visit. In this way, a perceived disadvantage of location can be turned around into being its greatest advantage. A key challenge will be to attract customers to The Shoreline. We hope to achieve this with a unique range of retail occupiers and by creating Malta’s first Experience Retail Destination.
But The Shoreline Shopping Mall is not in Valletta, Sliema or in one of the major retailing localities. How do you intend to attract the right type of users?
Looking at retail development in the UK, it is interesting to observe that the biggest and most successful regional shopping centres have been built, not in town centres, but in remote locations, quarries and industrial estates. See Meadowhall, Cribbs Causeway, Metro Centre, Lakeside and Bluewater (which is in an old quarry and only given consent because it was below ground and out of sight.
The fact that The Shoreline is not Valetta or Sliema or St Julian’s should prove to be an advantage rather than an impediment. In creating a unique destination to sit at the heart of SmartCity, around which will be an exciting mix of employment, education and technical establishments, supported by residential apartments, we will be able to attract the most diverse range of both retailers and customers. It will help make SmartCity become Malta’s only true mixed-use destination development.
So this should increase a brand desire to be at The Shoreline? … and the projected developments in the coming few years?
Correct. SmartCity will be Malta’s only true mixed use destination development, and The Shoreline will sit at its heart. It will be the “town square” for SmartCity where residents, workers, students, other Maltese and tourists will congregate. We often refer to the key ingredients that define a destination as being the ability to live, work, shop and play. Only SmartCity and The Shoreline will offer this in Malta.
The aim is to create a rich mix of quality retail, leisure and food operators, many of which we believe will be new to Malta. Many will come under their own steam; others will seek to partner with a Maltese operator. But above all, they will respond to the confidence they will feel about the brand for The Shoreline which the consultant team will engender, and will respond to the unique combination of global and local market knowledge, coupled with our ability to broker new relationships between the leading global brand owners and local partners.
We aim to create a retail experience where the “dwell factor” exceeds anywhere else in Malta by making available to residents and visitors alike the ability to combine their shopping needs with their relaxation and recreational aspirations, and this is what we define as Experience Retail. Thus we seek to make The Shoreline the first Experience Retail destination in Malta where aspirational brands will be determined to be represented alongside household names; where people can find pleasure in visiting, not occasionally, but every week; where people of all age groups and backgrounds can relax and be entertained – for breakfast, lunch and dinner.