Posts Tagged ‘Westfield’

Join my conversation about Uniqlo

October 10, 2013

Hi patient blog readers,

I’ve been making noise over at The Conversation again, this time about the arrival of various international retailers to Australia, including one of Japan’s finest: Uniqlo.

“Japanese fashion label Uniqlo and homeware store Muji will enter the Australian market next year, following other recent arrivals H&M, Topshop and Zara. Despite the purported decline of brick and mortar stores, Australian shoppers will finally be able to shop at stores they’d once only encountered overseas. It seems a far cry from only a few years ago…”

Read more here, make comments, tell you friends etc…

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Westfield gets a Brazilian… and goes Italiano

August 12, 2011

It is rare to see an Australian multinational announce two international expansion moves in the same week. And it’s even rarer when said moves are to two different continents.

Shopping centre giant Westfield made two such announcements this week, with joint ventures signed in firstly, Brazil, and today, Italy.

As I wrote about in a book chapter on Westfield a few years ago, the firm has typically been reluctant to seek opportunities beyond the English-speaking world.  The firm entered the US way back in 1977, with a portfolio of properties slowly emerging over the coming two decades.

Westfield succeeded in the US by buying run-down malls that no one visited anymore and turning them around through innovative redevelopment projects.  Most competitors in the industry preferred building new malls.

By the late 1990s Westfield had emerged as the dominant player on the US scene, and continued to grow right through to the global financial crisis.

In the broader world, they have been more cautious.  As we argued in the chapter:

“Westfield’s internationalisation was never a story of extreme risk-taking.  Frank Lowy saw little value in acting as the pioneer in environments where the payoffs were too low.  As long as there were opportunities to be had in the US, then Europe, Asia and New Zealand could wait. Eventually in 1997 the group took over the management of ten St Luke shopping centres in New Zealand. In 2000 Westfield Trust and St Lukes Group merged and the New Zealand centres were re-branded as Westfield centres. Attempts to enter the UK market in the 1970s and 1980s were unsuccessful. Lowy expressed considerable frustration with the lack of dynamism in the UK investment houses and lack of planning enthusiasm (Margo, 2000). Not until early 2000 did Westfield finally obtain access with a 75 per cent stake in a centre at Broadmarsh, Nottingham. The firm has made considerable headway since, with seven centres on the books, and is set to open the largest centre in Greater London in early 2008. Westfield briefly entered Asia in 1998 with a ten per cent share of Suria Kuala Lumpur City Centre in Malaysia.  This investment was short-lived, however, with the company withdrawing in 2000 after the Asian currency crisis.”

So why has the firm moved now?

On the Brazil front, the firm is tapping into one of the most exciting and fast-growing large economies in the world.  The firm may see some useful urban similarities to Australia and tthe US (i.e. more ‘wide, open spaces’ in the ‘burbs), and Brazil may also be seen as far less challenging than China and India for example (with much less government intrusion likely).

At the same time the firm may see far fewer prospects in the moribund US economy and its close-to-saturated Aussie home.

Bringing a local, experienced joint venture partner is a very sensible move for a multinational with no experience in the market. While Westfield hasn’t typically hooked up with shopping centre management firms before (preferring instead to court construction firm and funds management partners – i.e. in essence, supply partners), local adaptation is clearly front of mind here. There should also be an appetite for knowledge acquisition on both sides of this equation.

The Italian move looks a little riskier, with patchier economic conditions and a reputation for bureaucratic randomness.  There may be an argument for very localised attractiveness here, as the firm is targeting one of the wealthier and more retail-savvy parts of the nation – Milan (also home to some of the oldest shopping arcades in the world). Indeed, this could also be a brand-building exercise in a city/region with no shortage of brand champions, especially in the luxury and masstige segments Westfield is keen to attract across its empire.

The final piece of this strategic puzzle might well rest on the role of individuals in both constraining and driving choices.

Firm founder Frank Lowy finally handed over the reins to his baby about five months ago (stepping down as Executive Chairman).  His sons appear to stamping their mark on the firm’s future with these two bold (but tentative) moves.

I’m clicking to Westfield

June 17, 2010

Aussie shopping centre powerhouse Westfield (the world’s biggest shopping centre operator) announced a curious brand extension last week. The firm is reportedly planning to use its website as a virtual shopping mall, hosting e-commerce interfaces for a variety of retailers (with fashion being the rumoured kick-off).

So, is this a good move for Westfield?

As I’ve argued elsewhere, Westfield has five particularly powerful competencies: (i) property selection; (ii) redevelopment; (iii) financing; (iv) retailer relations; and (v) branding and marketing . The first three have no relevance to this venture, so the firm is only left with retailer relations and branding/marketing.

Source: Daniel Austin (d)Not

The retailer relations is partially about Westfield’s capacity to offer a more extensive suite of locations relative to rivals and the resultant bargaining power they wield as a landlord. It is also about Westfield’s extensive monitoring of tenant sales and sophisticated contracting processes.

Westfield already carries some information about tenants on their website, and because of their prominent landlord status can certainly attract the attention of these firms. I would be stunned if any of the retailers would grant Westfield exclusive rights to host/direct traffic to their e-commerce portal. Indeed, e-commerce is a substitute to the physical interface, and a mechanism these retailers can use to more effectively negotiate with Westfield as a landlord. Westfield will need to tread much more carefully in these e-relationships.

The counterbalancing angle may spring from the final competency – branding/marketing. Westfield was a global pioneer of using a common brand for their malls (indeed, my post title reflects the reported source of this brainwave – a founder heard a shopper saying they were “heading to Westfields”, and saw the scope for differentiation).

It may well be the case that online shoppers welcome the ‘browsing’ capacity of a virtual Westfield mall. New/small retailers with limited capital to expand their bricks and mortar footprint across Westfield’s 119 malls, may relish being next door to Zara, The Gap and Gucci on the Westfield website. It may also be a mechanism for virtual internationalisation. This could be a chance for Aussie retailers to test the waters in the US, UK and NZ without crossing an ocean. Presumably solely e-commerce retailers could also tap into this spillover effect. Getting this right could also extend consumer awareness of Westfield beyond their current whitebread Anglo markets.

The big challenge is making the site sticky enough. Westfield will need to fill the competency gap in build a user interface that is engaging, exciting and innovative. If they don’t get it right quickly someone could easily build a rival (Google perhaps?).

The uspide for Westfield is that there isn’t much downside here. I wouldn’t think there is an enormous investment required here. It is just a mechanism to augment an already profitable business (and perhaps distract some investors from the firm’s exposure to property price and finance risk).

Verdict? Interesting experiment that could conceivably secure some first mover/network effect advantage.

Bye bye barrier

September 18, 2009

Today’s announcement that the two big Aussie supermarkets can no longer negotiate exclusive or restrictive tenancy agreements with shopping centres is long overdue.

barriers entry fall jenga stackSo many shopping centres being locked up by Woolworths or Coles has previously served as a very considerable barrier to new entrants in this market. It has helped to protect the profits of these two giants and limited consumer choices.

Greater access should assist German entrant Aldi considerably, and may lure other international players down under. Of course, there will be considerable late mover disadvantages to overcome in terms of economies of scale etc.

One interested aspect will be to see how the dominant mall operator Westfield deals with all this.

Will it reduce their revenues from the supermarket chains? Presumably there was some premium for exclusivity, but this may have been traded off against the certainty of income streams from long-term anchor tenant agreements (with said income used to fund expansions and upgrades of the centres).

Or will they now be able to ratchet up supermarket rents on the threat of offering spaces to rivals (incumbent or new)?

Retail reflections from the Road – part one

June 24, 2009

Blogging hasn’t been front of mind for me over the past 10 days of so.  Indeed, I have been fixated on consuming burgers, seeing sights, reading roadsigns and booking hotel/motel rooms as I traipse down through California towards San Diego.

Nevertheless, I thought I’d take this opportunity to relate my an early experience in my travels to previous posts on this here Blog.

In San Francisco I had the opportunity to experience Aussie shopping centre giant Westfield‘s US expansion.  They had done a fine job of branding and delivering a suitably slick real estate and retail offering.

There were a couple of Aussie retailers on display (Napoleon Perdis and courier-bagsters Crumpler), as well as the expected mix of US and international chains.  I was disappointed by Zara and H&M‘s offerings (their clothes didn’t seem quite as flashy yet utilitarian as they do in Europe).

I was more impressed by the offerings of Martin+Osa, a fashion house that it turns out is a brand extension from the more ubiquitous and mainstream American Eagle Outfitters.  These two brands serve as a strong reminder of the sheer size and scale of the US market and the limited need for US retailers to internationalise.  American Eagle is yet to spread its wings beyond Canada, while Martin+Osa only has stores in 17 states.  Nevertheless they are able to offer decent quality clothing at their respective (surprisingly low) price points.  Australia-only fashion retailers would simply not be able to compete at that level.

The presence of Perdis and Crumpler remind us that Aussie retailers really do need a neat point of difference to justify tackling the US scene (and beyond).

More on retail in the coming days…