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An experience beyond shopping by rory coen
hen Sylvie Freund-Pickavance was recently asked to explain why people go shopping on vacation, you could sense the palpitating interest among the men present. Terry Daly, a divisional SVP at Emirates Airlines, perked a little in his seat and Hassan Al Hashemi, External Relations Director at the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry – who had earlier claimed that it was becoming a real challenge to keep tabs on his wife’s credit card – became as keen as a lighthouse. Allow me to switch gears here. At the tail-end of a recent citybreak in Tallinn, Estonia, a quartet of men were wasting the afternoon in a local cafe until their 6 o’clock departure time - they were tired, spent and desperate to board their plane and return home. However one of them sheepishly departed the cafe unnoticed but was later found in a quaint, little souvenir shop on a blind-sided street. He seemed to be in a dilemma as he stood in front of a host of colorful Matryoshka doll sets – those nested wooden figurines which were born in Russia in the nineteenth century – debating with himself which set to purchase. He suddenly turned coy once his agenda became apparent to his friend, and he immediately turned into his shell and pretended to care less. “Look, I don’t think your mother will mind which set you bring her back,” his friend advised, detecting his obvious conundrum. “She will be delighted with the thought. It’s a nice thing to do you really can’t go wrong.” Suddenly his demeanour changed and he turned to his friend, with a set of red and pink dolls in his left hand, and replied with a loaded answer “Yes, my mother!” he announced, adding“she will be so happy,” and he continued his search with renewed confidence. Sylvie explained that people, when they are away, appreciate or perceive things differently. They are taken out of their comfortzone and operate in a culture with which they are not familiar, but which they, nevertheless, like to adapt. Two contrasting cultures in juxtaposition form intriguing possibilities. “Traveling isn’t about flying, as such,” she explained. “It’s about ‘going somewhere’, doing something different, getting out of your comfort-zone and cultivating an extraordinary experience. People like to bring home tangible memories of their vacation
– things they wouldn’t necessarily see or experience at home.” THE CHIC OuTLET SHOPPIngVILLAgES Sylvie is the Business Director of Value Retail Management, the company that manages the collection of nine Chic Outlet Shopping® Villages across Europe. Her own responsibility lies with overseeing operations at Bicester Village and Kildare Village, two of the nine Chic Outlet Shopping® Villages. Sylvie recognised that there are two different types of shopping tourist. The first is only interested in well-known and ubiquitous brands, such as Burberry, gucci and Prada. They need to be seen wearing these brands and wouldn’t typically deviate. Then there is the shopping tourist who trusts and appreciates their own taste and wouldn’t necessarily mind what organisation is behind a product. Our friend in Tallinn can probably be classed in the latter group, notwithstanding the fact that he was a little bashful about being seen to be procuring such an item for his own nostalgic reference. He did however trust his own taste and instinct, in spite of what his friends may have thought of his selection. There’s no accounting for taste, they say, and this is something that Value Retail Management is all about. Sarah Bartlett, Head of PR and Communications, Chic Outlet Shopping®, Value Retail Management, said that each of the nine Chic Outlet Shopping® Villages evokes its own unique personality, which is anchored in the region’s own cultural attributes. They try to breed a seamless transition between the shopping village and its immediate hinterland. “Bicester Village outside London is designed as a typical Cotswold village,” she explained. “La Vallee Village, close to Paris, is very, very chic, as you might expect; while Ingolstadt Village, in proximity to Munich, has Bavarian castles without it being very ‘Disneyesque’ – they’re all similar to the locality in which they reside. “We have 900 boutiques across our entire collection. We offer primarily the luxury or ‘aspirational’ brands at knockdown prices, but we also stock local brands that one might not be so aware of. For example, we have the only Alexander McQueen outlet worldwide. Then we have some quirky and niche brands such as Smythsons and Alice Temperley. “Eighty percent of our brand mix across Europe is the big global brands that everyone will recognize, while 17% of it is what we call niche European, but it obviously changes from country to country. If you go to La Roca Village in Barcelona, you will find the big, colorful Catalan brands for example – it’s about tapping into a different personality and that authentic
(L-R)Mansour Hajjar, Terry Daly, Sylvie Freund-Pickavance, Hassan Al Hashemi and Piers Schmidt at the recent "Blue Sky Luxury"Roundtable at the Armani Hotel in Dubai.
European experience within each location,” she added. SHOPCATIOn – CREATIng A DESTInATIOn Value Retail Management employs an interesting tourism strategy to get shoppers through their gates. The group exceeded $2 billion in sales in 2011 and has grown by 20% year-on-year since 2005. Thirty million people visited the nine shopping outlets last year, 40% of whom were tourists. They chalk down this remarkable success to the concept of “shopcation”, where they encourage their shoppers to also enjoy what the local culture has to offer – to gain a holistic appreciation of where they are shopping. This might even help them to discover the kind of purchases they wish to make in the village. “We are trying to curate a destination,” said Sylvie, “where we can create an experience and attract the savvy, sophisticated and discerning customer, not just to our outlets, but to the regions that host them. All of our locations are in a place of great touristic interest so we are just adding to this experience.” For instance, Fidenza Village, one of the nine Chic Outlet Shopping® Villages, is set in the Emilia-Romagna region in north Italy, close to Milan and Bologna, where tiny hamlets and ancient castles pepper the craggy countryside. Visitors come to enjoy the La Scala and Teatro Regio opera houses in Milan and Parma, where the sounds of giuseppi Verdi have for so long sweetened the walls. Close to the village is the
town of Parma, which is a “dangerous place if you enjoy fine cuisine”, said Sylvie. guests to the village are conveniently transported to it from the towns of Bologna and Milan. In Catalonia, on the Mediterranean coast, dwells La Roca Village, another of the nine Chic Outlet Shopping® Villages. Barcelona is home to the major collections of Picasso and Salvador Dali, and the supreme architecture of Antoni gaudi. The area also promotes a seductive flock of leisure beaches along the Costa Brava. There’s not much more that needs to be said about Paris. It’s everybody’s dream to visit the city at some corner of their life - be it for its glorious history, its unique allure or its efficiency for fashion. ECOSYSTEM So it’s all about defining an ecosystem, where multiple parties can work off each other to grow their respective businesses. Value Retail Management couldn’t possibly make its model work without the help of tourist agencies, airlines and hospitality sectors. “We have a tourism team which works very hard in 24 different markets,” said Sarah. “We have a multi-pronged approach direct to consumers. We work with trade partners to really focus on our target customers to make sure they include us in their travel itinerary. We sell packages which include all there is to do in the customer’s ‘shopcation’ of choice. We are marketing an experience, an experience beyond shopping.”
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