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Q&A: Stephanie Glendinning of Centre:mk

Here we catch up with Stephanie Glendinning, one of the few retail relations managers at a retail destination in the UK, to find out how her… View Article


Q&A: Stephanie Glendinning of Centre:mk

Here we catch up with Stephanie Glendinning, one of the few retail relations managers at a retail destination in the UK, to find out how her retail background gives her a unique insight into a shopping centre’s challenges and needs.

Tell us about your background prior to joining Centre:mk

I started out in Topshop when I was 18, where I worked in six different Topshop stores across the country while completing my university degree. I then ended up in Selfridges London as concession manager of the Topshop there which I absolutely loved. following a move to River Island I decided to go back to Milton Keynes, which is where I grew up, and I became the store manager for White Stuff in the city centre. Three years later I was headhunted for the Joules store which had just opened in Centre:mk. Once at Joules I was promoted to satellite and then area manager which was where I started my relationship more closely with Centre:mk.

You are one of a small number of people who hold the position of retail relations manager at a UK shopping destination. Can you tell us about your roles and responsibilities?

I would describe my role as being the retailers’ sounding board as well as well as a key point of support. From their perspective, I am their go-to person but from a Centre:mk standpoint, and my role is therefore very broad; from helping them drive sales, resolving any operational challenges they may have , establishing the most effective way for brands to engage in marketing strategies, campaigns and events, and heighten awareness with the likes of pop-ups and activations just to name a few. I am there to help them drive turnover, by supporting the store managers and working with them on activations to push sales and store profile.

I work closely with Centre:mk’s marketing team regarding the retailer strategy, driving the brands’ agendas, so that the retailers feel supported. There are over 150 stores, each with their own retail teams that we meet and engage with at least once a month. The fundamental element of this role is the relationship part. We at Centre:mk work really hard to ensure the retailers are engaged, supported and performing in line with expectations.

How does your background in retail help you in your day-to-day work?

My predecessor recommended me for the role as he felt I could really make a difference at Centre:mk due to my retailer background. I speak their language, understand their pressures and challenges and know the practical daily challenges they face. My background gives me a unique insight and means I can provide a tailored approach to supporting their brand needs. By going that extra mile and ensuring I help them drive sales is quite unique for retail destinations.

How has the introduction of your role benefited Centre:mk and its tenants?

In challenging circumstances over the past few years, Centre:mk has continually outperformed benchmarks for both sales and footfall. I believe that this has been supported to a large part by helping retailers understand the catchment so they can maximise sales while providing accurate anecdotal feedback to the teams to ensure that we are representing the full depth and breadth of offer to the catchment.

Why is it important that other retail destinations invest in employing a Retail Relations Manager? 

The more reasons to visit a centre that can be generated will only improve the performance. Brand performance and category performance can vary across the year due to seasonal patterns but also due to other nuances that are not clearly visible without an open dialogue with your retailers. From the retailers perspective, stock, staffing and head office initiatives all matter. I firmly believe the same level of success is available to other destinations if they invest in understanding these issues and create a strong relationship with their retailers.

What does it take to be successful in the role?

This role is all about relationships, you need to be confident when you are talking to people and having empathy is a must. Retail is a really hard job, and you need to have that understanding of what they are going through. Retailers aren’t always able to meet consumers’ needs and expectations, and that can reflect on the store manager, or a particular member of staff. Anything we can do to take away that pressure is huge for them!

A retail relations manager needs to be personable and able to speak with management teams of all levels, whether they work in an anchor brand or an independent business, big or small stores and across all categories, regions and head offices. The skill is in being able to clearly discuss their challenges and identify a resolution.

What do you see as the challenges and opportunities for the shopping centre sector in the next few years?

In terms of store-specific challenges, brands need to place a bigger focus on investing in the quality of service they deliver in store. With widespread recruitment challenges, the lack of service can very much impact the in-store experience and sales.

Simple initiatives that are focused on exceptional customer experiences themselves offer big opportunities for both brands and shopping centres. I have seen many brands in Centre:mk make the most of these and deliver high-quality, unique experiences for visitors, which not only help generate impressive results for the retailer but also help place Centre:mk as the top destination in their portfolios. Loyalty has become undervalued and is something that we at Centre:mk are specifically investing our time in for both customers and retailers

Key opportunities for shopping centres from my perspective, include thinking creatively to increase spend and conversion and catering to the modern hybrid worker.

How has Centre:mk responded to the challenges currently faced by retailers?

One of retailers’ biggest challenges continues to be recruiting suitable staff. Directly responding to this, we organise a destination-wide recruitment drive each year and provide the retailers with all the tools they needed. This includes window decals which featured QR codes that take you straight to the website for that specific vacancy and ensured our Centre:mk website listed every single vacancy that was available in the centre (about 300 jobs) and transformed our guest services lounge into a recruitment hub. I’m proud to say we have been able to support in the recruiting of over 400 vacancies since we started the initiative.

Centre:mk has attracted a number of new tenants over the last year or so. Recent arrivals have included Mango, REISS, and Hbeauty. Can you tell us about any other new developments at the destination?

We have one of the lowest void rates in the country and are in a very strong position as a result. We also are lucky enough to attract some highly unusual events and attractions to the centre.

We are about to open one of the UK’s largest indoor Grottos’s which includes an exclusive performance of the Snowman and is part of an ongoing relationship with Penguin Books.

We will also be building on other unique initiatives. One of our most recent yet innovative event was the Milton Keynes Smart City Robotics Competition, a partnership with the European Robotics League, Centre:mk and Milton Keynes Council, to showcase a variety of robots designed to take on challenges that support everyday human life. Top teams from universities, laboratories, and companies from across Europe came to compete and inspire the next generation. Robot trials continue in the centre and we hope to be announcing more digital initiatives over the coming weeks.

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