“Diversify or die” is the business mantra of Tom Blencowe, CEO of RLUK group. He believes in today’s fast-moving world of retail, being quick off the block with new ideas and having a flexible approach is the key to long term success. Labels Shopping is certainly in a challenging marketplace, with the toll of failures in big name, big brand high street retailers happening at almost frightening speed. “It’s become almost impossible to predict future retail trends,” says Tom, “which is proving difficult even for even the bigger retailers to do; we’ve always focused on moving forwards rather than staying still, reacting quickly and flexibly to changing market and local conditions”.
I met up with Tom and Imogen Heath, Commercial Director, in their impressive Labels shopping outlet at Ross on Wye. The business has changed over the years, outgrowing the original country store, developing new business models and adding new attractions to make Labels Shopping a better experience. The shopping centre has a enticing mix of outlets – over 50 brands of clothing, plus accessories,shoes, luggage, home furnishings, furniture and giftware.
It’s also a real foodies’s paradise, with a tempting array of brands and lots of local produce in the Food Emporium, Farm shop and local butcher. Fruit, vegetables and free-range eggs for the shop comes from their own local farm, as well as meat from the small numbers of sheep, Tamworth and Welsh pigs. Eating out options onsite include the café, with lovely views of the Herefordshire countryside and the Seafood bar.
The latest addition is the Gateway – a 50-seater cinema with comfy Anemone red leather sofas, where you can watch a movie, a streamlined live opera, pop concert or ballet or enjoy live theatre. You can tuck into a meal before a matinee or evening performance or just relax in the bar beforehand. The business plans on having more comedy nights and foreign films into the future, building up new audiences. Much of the upper ground floor of the building is being developed to be an entertainment and leisure space and there are exciting plans in the pipeline to add more health and wellness options – a hair and beauty salon, a health foods store plus physio and therapy space.
Tom has seen many changes to the site over the years, from the original purchase of the site and developing a purpose-built building to developing the office block. Originally the offices were going to be run as a hot desking/flexible working option, but a couple of organisations snapped up the site for new offices, so the plan was changed, and this now provides the group with rental income. It’s this ability of the management team to adapt and offer something new and exciting at the park that has underpinned their success.
Imogen explained how the shopping business had changed in the 5 years she’s been working there. “We moved from a concession model to a tenant basis in 2015 on the lower ground floor, which gives a more stable income and have retained some space for our own brands, as with, for example, the Food Emporium.” The cinema has a superb state of the art sound system and Tom designed the space. “The popularity of the opera and ballet performances are due to the quality of the sound” she says “and the events sell out really fast, so you have to be quick to get tickets”. She’s also a believer is surrounding herself with a strong team and the group employ an expert from the film industry to plan the diverse events calendar. The July and August programme includes magic, puppet theatre, vintage cars, craft workshops, or you could try the story time and illustration workshop with children’s’ author Hannah Shaw.
Tom and Mark Smith go back many years and they have developed a strong partnership based on mutual respect. “I really enjoy working with Mark” says Tom, “as we can have a chat about life as well as talk business”. We’re pleased to be supporting Mark in raising money for Mental Health, which Tom knows from experience of working as an architect in hospitals, has been a poor relation to physical illness in the health service for years. On 2nd October Labels are generously hosting a Mental Health– Practical Help For You & Your Business seminar in the cinema. The business is also involved in fundraising for a local charity as Teenagers In Crisis are their chosen charity of for 2019. On 9th October, they will be hosting two fashion shows, with some of the teenagers who have used the helpline becoming their models for the day.
Naturally, I couldn’t leave Labels without indulging in a little retail therapy involving clothes and puddings and I’m sure every visitor will feel the same about this treasure trove on our doorsteps!