LONDON — Cadogan Group, the family-owned property company and the main landlord in Chelsea and Knightsbridge, is watching profits grow as it pushes ahead with luxury retail development.
The Cadogans, one of Britain’s richest families, have owned the same vast swathes of central London for more than 300 years, with their estate spanning 93 acres. They are undeterred by Britain’s vote to exit the European Union. Crises? Uncertainty? They’ve seen it — and survived it — all before.
In the year ended Dec. 31, 2015, the group’s operating profit (before returns on capital) rose 14.4 percent, to 82.8 million pounds, or $110 million. The profit spike was largely due to the growth of the area’s retail and office values, which have increased more than 20 percent. Residential values remained flat due to a weaker market that has seen little capital growth since 2014.
The estate said it managed to sustain growth despite an unstable environment, especially during the second half of the year when terrorist threats on the Continent impacted tourism and consumer spending.
Hugh Seaborn, the group’s chief executive officer, said Chelsea is more dependent on locals than it is on tourists.
“In the context of a luxury shopping street, Sloane Street is fortunate because of the residential hinterland around it,” Seaborn told WWD. “The analogy I’ve heard often is that Sloane Street is rather like Avenue Montaigne when compared to the Champs Elysées or like Madison Avenue when compared to Fifth Avenue.”
He said residents are “particularly affluent” and are drawn to the street, so the estate relies more on them. “This means we’ve weathered the past year when certain nationalities have faced adversity and there’s been less traveling.”
Seaborn added that Chelsea and Knightsbridge are known to be safe areas and retailers are encouraged to maintain a close relationship with the police force to improve security.
Cadogan aims to invest 40 million pounds, or $53 million, in the area’s public spaces program, which by 2017 plans to improve footpaths, highways and “everything the eye rests on outside the buildings,” he said.
A number of Cadogan’s redevelopment projects also boosted profits last year. In 2011, the group pushed forward projects to improve several of its office buildings. They were brought back onto the market in 2015.
George House, at 127 to 135 Sloane Street, was completed in February and its retail space was filled by three international brands entering the U.K. as stand-alone stores for the first time: Red Valentino, Delpozo and Boutique 1.
As a result, Cadogan’s gross rents increased by 6.5 percent to 71.3 million pounds, or $94 million.
“There is no doubt that retail is undergoing radical change, with digital forces transforming the way consumers shop. However, our experience is that demand remains healthy for retail space, with luxury brands seeking larger shops, which they transform creatively to deliver an exceptional experience that cannot be replicated online. This has manifested itself most particularly at the north end of Sloane Street,” Seaborn said.
He added that one of the group’s strategies is to work with top international brands that have limited exposure in London and looking to open their first U.K. flagships. They are also seeking original, independent boutiques. Some 45 percent of the stores on the street are independent.
Seaborn isn’t interested in luxury retail alone: He pointed to other brands in the neighborhood, such as Club Monaco, Hugo Boss and Rag & Bone, and said Cadogan plans to increase its lifestyle offer, too.
A space is being created by the south end of Sloane Street — nearer the newly opened Delpozo and Boutique 1 — that will resemble Milan’s 10 Corso Como, offering a courtyard café for customers. Near the new piazza a series of artisan shops including a butcher, baker, greengrocer and a wine store will add to the street’s food offer, in a bid to satisfy the local residents.
“The butcher paying next to no rent matters just as much as Tom Ford who pays a lot more,” he said.
Indeed, while the neighborhood is packed with wealthy foreigners — French, Italians, Germans, Americans, Middle Easterners and Asians — many of them are settled with young families, and need to be able to walk to local shops.
Asked about Brexit, and how Britain’s vote to the leave the EU will impact plans and future investment, Seaborn said the group is able to draw on centuries of political and social ups and downs. “We have been here 300 years and we’ve adapted and responded over the years to a range of things and I’m very confident we’ll adapt again,” said Seaborn.
He pointed to the 2008 banking crisis and the leasehold reform acts in the late Nineties that forced the group to sell some of its residential property. He said the latter urged it to adapt its approach to business by placing more focus on retail property — and being more in touch with occupiers.
With regard to Britain’s future exit from the EU, Seaborn said it might be difficult to maintain the same level of growth until a new leader is elected, although he added that it’s impossible to make any predictions. He does however, foresee a slight increase in interest rates as economic growth slows and believes that will mitigate against the upward movement of property yields.