Value Retail Sees Villages as Holiday Destination

The retail company, which operates nine upscale outlet shopping centers across Europe, is expecting revenue to rise at least 15 percent this year.

LONDON — The luxury sector may be losing steam, but sales of last season’s Dior furs, diamond studs and Bottega Veneta biker boots are still generating double-digit growth.

This story first appeared in the October 24, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Value Retail, which operates nine upscale outlet shopping centers across Europe, is expecting revenue to rise at least 15 percent this year above last year’s 1.5 billion euros, or $2.1 billion at average exchange, for 2011.

While that may not match last year’s 20 percent increase, growth at the Value Retail villages far outstrips market projections for luxury.

Earlier this month, the consultancy Bain & Co. said it expects the luxury-goods market to grow by 4 to 6 percent a year between 2013 and 2015, which is below the 10 percent forecast for 2012.

Although his retail villages are filled with high-end fashion and luxury brands, including Gucci, Dior Homme, Jimmy Choo and Smythson, the luxury slowdown doesn’t worry Scott Malkin, Value Retail’s chairman.

“We have a different consumer; Bain is not talking about our consumer,” said Malkin. Instead, he stressed he’s in the business of tourism — “Europe’s only growth industry,” he interjected — and of creating retail environments that encourage people to shop as if they’re on holiday.

According to the latest quarterly report from the European Travel Commission, the number of Chinese visitors to Western Europe is expected to increase 55.1 percent by 2016. By 2016, the number of Indian visitors to the region is set to increase nearly 40 percent.

That’s one reason why — in a world where nearly everything can be purchased off a computer screen, and where many of Value Retail’s direct competitors operate online — there is no e-commerce element to the business.

Once again, Malkin said it’s because Value Retail is fundamentally a tourist business. Most of Value Retail’s marketing is done in tourists’ home markets, through airlines, tour operators, credit-card companies and online travel agents.

Malkin said 26 percent of the 2012 revenue will come from sales to non-European Union customers, compared with 8 percent five years ago. At Bicester Village, Value Retail’s flagship property outside Oxford, England, 80 percent of sales come from tourists, while four out of five Chinese tourists to the U.K. make the trek to the Oxfordshire outlet.

In the nine months to September, total gross sales at Bicester have risen 17.4 percent year-on-year, compared with 14 percent across the portfolio. Bicester, which has the highest sales per square foot of any Value Retail property — $3,300 compared with the portfolio average of $1,700 to $1,800 — isn’t the only village with an international clientele.

China and Russia remain Value Retail’s two largest markets, accounting for 43 percent of all tax-refund sales. Brazil and Kuwait are also strong markets, according to the company. Total tax-free sales in the eight months to August were up nearly 50 percent to $260 million year-on-year.

Next year, Value Retail is set to take its designer village concept directly to one of its largest customer bases, with the opening of Suzhou Village, a 600,000-square-foot shopping mall not far from Shanghai, China.

Malkin said that Fidenza Village, outside Parma, sees a lot of Russians, while Kildare, near Dublin, attracts mostly U.S.- and U.K.-based customers and La Roca Village, outside Barcelona, draws the Chinese.

La Vallée Village, which is not far from Paris, is set to grow by nearly 42,000 square feet on Nov. 13 with the opening of its latest phase. Some 18 new boutiques, including Hugo Boss, Sonia Rykiel, Ermenegildo Zegna and Paul & Joe will be part of the new development.

La Vallée is currently trading at $2,000 a square foot — lower than Bicester but higher than the portfolio average — while total gross sales were up 23.5 percent in the nine months to September.

Next month at Maasmechelen Village in Belgium, Helena Christensen will unveil a limited-edition tote bag in aid of the charity (Red), with profits going toward the fight against AIDS. The bag will be for sale exclusively at the Belgian village on Nov. 6, and across the portfolio of Value Retail’s villages from Feb. 1.