Businessmk.co.uk editor Andrew Gibbs talks to Shelley Peppard, general manager of Midsummer Place shopping centre in Milton Keynes, about the current state of the UK’s retail sector, about Midsummer Place and its plans for the future, what motivates her… and where she likes to go shopping.
What’s your view on the state of the retail sector generally in the UK?
We’re living through challenging times in all sectors, not just retail, and so much uncertainty for us all. Retail is facing the constant battle with online purchasing and the current cost of living crisis but – and it’s a significant ‘but’ – people are still spending.
While online purchasing is convenient and the process is easy to purchase or return an item, there is a shadow of unreliability. Postal strikes, lost packages, undeliverable items and incorrect sizing are huge barriers that people are experiencing and helping to drive people back to more conventional methods of buying. Plus, there is the thrill of going into a shop, looking around, touching the fabric and trying it on.
Naturally we’re going to lose some big names such as TopShop and Topman but this isn’t because people aren’t buying clothing – you only have the look at the success of Zara. It’s down to a stagnant business that hasn’t evolved with the times.
And of Midsummer Place in particular?
Midsummer Place is facing its own challenges and has lost several key retailers but there are some very exciting times ahead of the centre as investment is being put into the look and feel of The Boulevard.
We’re close to signing off some major new retailers and we will see the introduction of new leisure facilities that will change the dynamics of the centre significantly. Shopping centres have to evolve and, while the loss of retailers can be frustrating, it allows us to rethink our tenant mix and improve it for today’s consumers requirements.
2022 saw a healthy increase in footfall, and it really gave us confidence that, post pandemic, people still wanted to come out and shop. It is not all about online – in fact, if anything we saw a strong reversal in the number of online sales from many of our retailers.
What’s your view on the prospects for UK retail in 2023?
Retailers have got off to a fairly good start in 2023 – that’s a positive for us all. But I do think its likely we will see some High Street brands face challenges so I don’t think we are out of the woods yet.
And for Midsummer Place in particular?
2023 for Midsummer Place will start with the completion of The Boulevard pictured below that includes eight new luxury cabins designed specifically for independent street food operators. We welcome national food brand Tortilla to this area plus another name that will be announced in due course. This will become the hub for people to eat, relax and be entertained during their visit.
We also hope to announce new major deals for the centre this year that will bring a fantastic new retail offering to Midsummer Place and further cement our position as the premium destination for shopping.
Tell me about the challenges of keeping pace with changes in shopping habits – the move to more online shopping and the challenges that creates, for example.
It has certainly been an unprecedented few years in terms of consumer shopping habits – how could anyone have predicted a pandemic and explosion of online shopping?
On the flip side, the online shopping boom has ended for many – including some of the big names – so the key thing is all of us have to be adaptable because things can change very quickly. I always say ‘Focus on your brand, your customer and what they want’. We have some great examples of retailers who absolutely do that and continue to be successful despite any change in the economic climates.
What’s the latest on the expansion plans for Midsummer Place?
Well, we are not expanding but we are evolving and changing – that’s healthy. We are changing our retail mix to make it more balanced between fashion, food, leisure and speciality brands.
“It’s the shopping centre
with the ‘new bit’,
at the end of the day.”
Tell me about centre:mk, its effect on Midsummer Place, your relationship with centre:mk. Do you collaborate or work as separate entities?
I don’t think our customers see any real difference. It’s the shopping centre with the ‘new bit’, at the end of the day.
There is a place for both and always has been. Yes, we work as separate entities and that’s challenging as we sometimes compete for the same brands but we feel we offer something very different and as long as we stay that way the two can happily coexist.
How much does Midsummer Place put into its community involvement?
We have always prided ourselves on working with the local community. Some great examples of this are our ‘Hatch’ competition, where we give small business the chance to win a free shop for six weeks. This has already proven to be a great success in giving exposure to small brands and helping them decide whether a place on the High Street should form part of their future growth.
We love having independent retailers and these entrants could be the big success stories in future years.
We will also continue and strengthen our partnership with Walnuts School for Autistic children. We are providing more space for them to bring in their ‘pop-up’ shop, which has proved very popular with our visitors and helps these talented young adults to develop their social skills by selling their beautiful wood creations.
Shelley admits she is a retailer at heart. She began her career on the shop floor working for a fashion brand while deciding what she wanted as a career. “I am a retailer at heart and I am passionate about it,” she says. “Retail affords you great opportunities if you are prepared to work hard.”
Her CV includes senior leadership roles at Mothercare, Ernest Jones, T-Mobile and EE. Shelley was head of retail operations for EE before moving to her current role at Midsummer Place.
“I joined the shopping centre industry because it was related to retail but a new challenge with lots of learn.”
Why did you choose to join the board of MyMiltonKeynes BID?
MyMiltonKeynes is a fantastic organisation with a passion to make Milton Keynes a success. To be part of that and have the opportunity to work together with all sorts of business representatives from Milton Keynes was my motivation. I love the passion that everyone has for this city.
What other community organisations are you involved with?
In the past I have worked with the Bus Shelter, a charity that is still very close to my heart and the team led by Pam Williams have made the most amazing difference to the homeless in Milton Keynes.
As I mentioned above, we are now working with Walnuts School and I am really excited about that. Outside of the centre, I do a fair bit of fundraising for an animal shelter in Morocco that does amazing work.
Where do you like to shop?
Antiques, vintage, handmade and home shops are my personal passion. You can’t get me out of those online or in store.
What’s your favourite type of shopping? Favourite stores?
I love Home Sense for home stuff, Etsy for handmade and I mix it up with online and physical shopping
Clicks or bricks?
Bricks. I want to appraise, touch and feel. I HATE having to return stuff! It’s just not the same.
What do you do away from the office?
I have two rescue dogs who keep me very busy. My latest is a street dog from Russia and she needs a lot of training. Walking and being in nature are the things that make me want to get up at the weekend.
My partner and I are also converting a Mercedes van into a camper van at the moment so we can do more travelling in Europe. I am also a frustrated interior designer so I always have a project on the go at home.
What’s your business ethos?
Always concentrate on being the best version of you and don’t ever compare yourself to anyone else.
Lead your teams with love – it works.
Be authentic – don’t be afraid to be you but also don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself.