I was in Brisbane last week as part of the process of building an advisory board for small to medium-sized businesses, a passion of mine for over a decade, and one that has become more important over the past six months. So I had the opportunity to walk stores in downtown Brisbane. Something I haven’t done for about a year.
Now from a retailing perspective I do like walking stores in and around south-east Queensland. Brisbane and its surrounds always remind me of new US cities in the sun belt, cities like Phoenix, Tucson, Frisco and Plano – new open space that is under constant development. Green fields becoming mini malls; outer city suburbs becoming high quality strip malls or major new multi retailer shopping malls.
Wherever you have retailer-friendly zoning, you end up with domestic and international chain retail brands popping up in every sector; from clothing to restaurants to homewares, all new and shiny. All providing new stores to younger, more family-focused shoppers, often with higher disposable incomes than you would traditionally find in the older cities of New York or Boston, Sydney or Melbourne.
However, this time I was walking the Brisbane CBD malls including Queens Plaza and the new MacArthur Central, home to one of the prettiest Apple stores I’ve seen in a long time. In Queens Street the thing that struck me was the dominance of international brands such as Mimco, Bally, Chanel, Tiffany and a Bulgari store being refurbished.
On the top floor of Queens Plaza there was not one private retailer. Amusingly – and truly uniquely Australian – there is a Coles underneath a Salvatore Ferragamo. A market dynamic that blows US retail execs’ minds every time they see luxury stores mixed with grocery stores in the same mall. It really does reflect the corporatisation of retail that has happened around the rest of the world and is happening here. I did manage to find one local private company in the shape of TB’s Liquor outside Coles. Oh and the Professional Nail Bar.
Walking over to MacArthur Central it was again good to see our eclectic retail brand mix in play. Apple, Ralph Lauren, TAG Heuer…and a Woolworths! But back to the corporatisation of Australian retail.
We have our home-grown and traditional retailers, but the real growth is coming from international retailers. “Very new” and entering the market for the first time, or “quite new” and expanding. This week we saw the announcement of the expansion of IKEA, and the arrival of the Williams-Sonoma house of brands that include Pottery Barn and West Elm.
It’s likely that places like south-east Queensland, with welcoming local and state governments, will be a target growth area for these new arrivals.
Kevin Moore is a retail expert and the chairman of Crossmark Asia Pacific Holdings.