For everyone in the built environment, sustainability has become a top priority. We’re all talking about it and we’re all trying to be better at it. But what does it really mean for retail? And how should we go about creating a sustainable retail strategy? 

James Rayner

James Rayner

Economic uncertainty, trading headwinds and the pandemic hangover have forced us to look beyond profit growth as the sole measure of success. As stewards of spaces and places, we have been re-evaluating the landlord-occupier relationship, prioritising longevity and durability and championing change.

Having a truly varied selection of occupiers is the first step to sustainability – although this is easier said than done. Data and insights enable a deeper understanding of the consumer, and this has allowed King’s Cross to cultivate a broad appeal through household names, independent retailers and world-class F&B, alongside the thrill of experiencing something unique through pop-ups, events, art installations and activations in the public realm.

A sustainable retail strategy also means making space for the community. The link between retail and community has never been more pertinent and we place significant value on this at King’s Cross. It is our residents, occupiers, workers and visitors that make the neighbourhood what it is.

A retail strategy is not just about leasing: it’s about creating a platform from which people can access a broad range of experiences and brands. At King’s Cross, markets like The Drops – which gives up-and-coming fashion and lifestyle brands a chance to showcase their designs – as well as the Lower Stable Street market, established in summer 2020 to support small businesses through tough times, are fantastic examples of this.

Tenant evolution

We all know we succeed when our tenants succeed, and as a destination we know a big part of that is providing a space in which they can grow and evolve. This can mean progressing from smaller incubation spaces to larger units, but also, building flexibility into the design of retail units will reduce waste on fit-out materials and enable spaces to be repurposed quickly.

At King’s Cross, a typical evolution would see a retailer moving from a unit on Lower Stable Street to the centre of Coal Drops Yard. Indeed, brands such as Botanical Boys and Vermuteria have already secured their second sites in the neighbourhood.

Material interventions can also give tenants the best shot at success. Lowering barriers to entry for start-ups through ‘plug-and-play’ fit-outs means tenants can quickly move in. This has a big impact on reducing cost and shortening the time frame within which they can start trading.

As a destination full of independent retailers, lowering the barriers to entry has been essential for our tenants. Pop-ups from NLA, vegan health and beauty specialist Blomma Beauty and cycling apparel brand Attaquer, were only possible because the units were set up and ready for them. Interestingly, at King’s Cross, demand for these spaces has never been stronger.

There’s a sense of ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’ for many in retail. However, we’re looking forward to creating opportunities with a flexible and progressive mindset.

At the beginning of Covid, there was a lot of noise around contactless and frictionless retail. The same needs to apply to retail real estate – the pace of change demands it. To create sustainable retail districts for the future, we must move away from traditional business models and devise strategies that suit both parties.

James Rayner is retail lead at King’s Cross