Sheila King’s work in connecting some of the world’s biggest mall developers with each other and with many ‘star’ brands is hugely influential.
Sheila King is a one-off. She doesn’t fit into the regular categories of people who shape prime shopping environments. She’s not an investor or developer and she’s not a property agent, but she is by far one of the best connected advisors in retail property.
In 2014 – after 19 years at Hammerson where she rose to become Group Director of Retail Leasing she left behind all the trappings of a major propco and set up her own consultancy, Sheila King International, the first of its kind in the UK, with individuals drawn from landlord, only backgrounds.
Today, four years on the business is hugely influential in the prime shopping centre sector.
So what does her business do? The SKI website simply states that the consultancy “helps owners of prime retail destinations to formulate innovative and sustainable strategies and achieve higher values” and also “provides its landlord clients with a visionary approach to destinations, which is supported by a global network of retailer relationships and insight on the latest trends and innovation”.
When you peruse the list of those landlord clients, you begin to get a feel for the clout of the business.
Blackstone Real Estate, Unibail-Rodamco, Value Retail, Cadillac Fairview, Triple Five and Macerich are its core clients but it also occasionally undertakes projects such as working for HS2 to present the future vision and travel retail strategy for the proposed Curzon Street Station in Birmingham. King was also appointed by The Mercers’ Company to create an overall retail strategy for The Covent Garden Estate.
Six months after the company was created she was asked to join the Supervisory Board of Multi Corporation, Blackstone’s European retail platform. Today King is a retail advisor to both Blackstone and Multi.
In a sector where there is often mutual suspicion between landlords and brands, King has the trust of both. During her time at Hammerson, she was passionate about searching out new brands and introducing them to a new consumer audience. She was instrumental in bringing Hollister to the UK and also in Apple taking its first shopping centre store.
Reflecting on her departure from Hammerson, she recalls: “I just felt that as retail was becoming more global I needed to do more international work to better understand the wider market. I think when you work for a company in a senior position you do get tied up with a lot of processes and managing people and all the detail so I thought the only way to do it was to release myself completely”.
Her first approach was from Value Retail, the owners of Bicester Village which kick-started her consultancy: “I received a message from Scott Malkin to ask if I would join them as a consultant.
At Hammerson, I had worked as the relationship contact with Value Retail for over 10 years and I always thought they really understood the direction in which retail destinations needed to head”.
The stable of landlord clients has grown in the intervening period but it has always stayed as a very select group which complement each other. As part of its consultancy to landlords, SKI also facilitates and directs interaction between some of the biggest names/entities in the shopping centre sector.
“CEOs respect my independence and value my ability to get like-minded opposite numbers to meet and share their experiences in confidence. They gain incredible insight and create lasting relationships.
“As an example we took the Unibail-Rodamco Board to meet the Cadillac Fairview Board in Toronto. We had a breakfast meeting with the CEO, took a tour of their centres, and debated a variety of topics. It means everyone can learn from each other on a global basis.”
The other dimension to SKI’s consultancy is building relationships with new retailers: “The group of retailers we focus on are international and aspirational. They are ‘travelling’ brands so are active on a global basis and they respect our independence. We often work alongside agents and facilitate lettings”.
In this context, King talks about ‘star brands’ which she characterises as “something that’s going to add a point of dfference to the centre. A retailer who really understands what’s happening in the marketplace”.
Identifying these ‘star brands’ takes patience, experience and time: “You have to spend time with them but they know that we can connect them with the type of landlords who can help them deliver their strategies. Having respect in the industry does help me a lot”.
For shopping centre landlords, understanding what’s happening in the international market has become increasingly challenging in the past few years with the impact of online retailing and a more diverse shopping landscape.
However, King believes that prime centres will continue to thrive: “It’s the prime centres which have the flagship stores, they have a great food mix and an attractive overall offer. If a prime centre offers the right design, the right environment, the right experience, then they’re very well placed”.
Asked to cite shopping centres that she really admires, King names three: Unibail’s Forum des Halles in Paris and its Mall of Scandinavia outside of Stockholm; and Triple Five’s project, American Dream.
“Unibail has done a fantastic extension project in Paris at Forum Des Halles – it was previously a shopping centre over a train station with 40m people passing through it each year. Now they’ve opened it up and integrated it into the surrounding streets, broadened the customer base by changing the environment, and calmed the rush of people through the station which ultimately captures more spend.
“At the Mall of Scandinavia they’ve added a designer gallery which has changed the environment and, again, broadened the appeal. “The space at the 2.9m sq ft American Dream project in New Jersey is 55% entertainment and 45% retail; that’s the way the world’s going. They’re integrating retail and leisure with a focus on tourism.
They expect 50% of visitors to be tourists.”
King’s multi-dimensional role in the market is seeing her involved in projects far beyond the shopping centre sector. When Blackstone bought 20% of Versace, they sought her opinion on their proposed strategy for the brand. Additionally, she often gets called in by City analysts acting for global funds wanting to better understand the markets and trends of the moment.
“I’m doing what I love doing: which is relationship building and connecting people,” she reports.
“We’re totally involved with current trends and innovation whilst the world is in a race to go digital. The outlook for retail is very exciting. There are certainly some challenges ahead but I believe that the overall shopping experience of the future will be greatly enhanced.”
For our photo shoot, Sheila wore a made-to-measure suit by the young British fashion designer, Joshua Kane.
Sheila comments: “Joshua is a fabulous designer of both men and women’s tailoring. He’s trained at some of the best fashion houses and is one of the most exciting British designers we have ”
Go to: JoshuaKaneStore.com
The Chess Club
[Different] Editor, Duncan Lamb, interviewed Sheila King at The Chess Club – a members club with private dining under the direction of chef, Jackson Boxer. It is located at Chesterfield Street in London’s Mayfair.