The right moves: Will Ireland go to Iceland?
One man with wide experience of the retail market is Chris Bogle, who has operated in the business as an estate agent, a developer and now as an occupier.
A year into his role as Head of Property here for Iceland, the frozen food retailer, he is spearheading an aggressive expansion plan throughout the Republic. We met for a chat about his plans and his views on the market:
Mr Bogle's early years in the business were as an estate agent in Manchester with firms such as Donaldson's, with a growing specialism in retail property. He was tempted to Ireland by HOK (now Savills) who were targeting the retail park market, then in its infancy here. Another string to his bow, courtesy of his experience in England, was a useful "red book" of contacts with UK retailers. As those brands expanded here, he found that he was being recommended among them as the man to contact for acquisitions in Ireland.
In the wave of retail park development from the late 1990's, Chris Bogle negotiated most of the acquisitions here on behalf of B & Q, Harvey Norman, Halfords, JD Sports and others. He puts his success as an acquiring agent down to "doing absolutely everything they needed in Ireland" and it was that "handholding" which he believes saw him recommended from one retailer to another, even among competitors.
From 2000, Mr Bogle worked with Scottish developers Morrisons, where he was involved in schemes such as Santry Demesne, and with retail specialists Fisher Wilson, before returning to his agency routes when establishing the niche retail practice Bogle Estates. Early last year he was persuaded to lead Iceland's expansion here and he has been rapidly adding to the retail giant's portfolio.
Iceland has over 900 stores throughout Europe and their target is to open over 50 stores in the Republic. They currently have 10 stores trading in locations throughout Dublin, in Waterford, Longford, Tralee, Carlow and Midleton, Co. Cork. Four of these stores were added in the last year and Chris Bogle told me that a further seven deals have recently been agreed, including taking part of the former Tesco store in Gorey, Co. Wexford.
Whilst Iceland will happily locate on retail parks, and do so in many schemes in Europe, the "bulky goods" and "non-food use" restrictions in most retail park planning permissions here, make that unlikely. Iceland will happily locate on "High Streets," in shopping centres and in "stand alone" developments on main roads. The retailer typically takes 10 year, full repairing and insuring leases.
A frustrating problem which Iceland share with many retailers on the acquisition trail is that whilst there are lots of vacant shops on main streets in good provincial towns, the buildings are usually much smaller than the retailer needs. Given the loss of business in many town centres, it occurs that a tax incentive for developing adjoining buildings into larger modern premises, could help to put a lot more activity back into the hearts of our towns.
On retail parks, Chris Bogle points to the very low vacancy rates on the good Dublin schemes and he regards The Park Carrickmines, Airside in Swords, Liffey Valley and Blanchardstown as some of the best developments. "There is only one vacant unit at both The Park and Airside," he pointed out "and they usually only come vacant when a tenant is moving to a larger unit." In the provinces he says the best schemes are Mahon Point Cork, Headford Road in Galway and Childers Road, Limerick but he points to "lots of vacant units on many other provincial schemes."
He believes that there may be room for another one or two retail parks in Dublin, in prime locations such as Cherrywood, but adds that another wave of demand from UK retailers could spark another burst of activity. Examples are homestore retailer "The Range", who are rumoured to have agreed three deals here and brands like Dunelm Mill, Decathlon and Oak Furniture.
Mr Bogle is pleased to see the reversal in the fortunes of Grafton Street, which was suffering from "too many phone shops" and lower quality retailers and he believes that the addition of brands like Massimo Dutti and Victoria's Secret will see the street "go from strength to strength."
Top priority for Iceland are more stores in Dublin city centre, Galway and Limerick but he welcomes proposals from agents, developers and property owners throughout Ireland