Iconic Australian shopping centre brand expands to Europe


When the residents of Paris and Prague, Stockholm and Warsaw head out for some retail therapy this weekend they’ll notice a new, unfamiliar and very Australian name taking pride of place on their local shopping centre.

Westfield, a brand born in Sydney’s western suburbs, is taking over Europe.

Already a big deal in New Zealand, the US and UK, it’s now on the march to France, Sweden, the Czech Republic and Poland, as it becomes one of Australia’s most successful retail brands.

But there’s a catch — to reach this level of dominance Westfield has changed hands and is no longer Australian at all. And branding experts have told news.com.au the success of the name Westfield has very little to do with the country from which it sprung in the late 1950s.

Earlier this month, musician John Legend took to the piano in the newly rebranded Westfield Forum des Halles shopping centre in the heart of Paris, an easy walk to the Louvre even if you were laden down with shopping bags.

At the same time the famous red and white, somewhat medieval-looking logo was hoisted above Westfield Euralille in Lille, Westfield Arkadia in Warsaw and Prague’s Westfield Chodov. At the moment, the centres are combining their previous names with Westfield. Don’t be surprised, though, if Westfield Mall of Scandinavia becomes simply Westfield Stockholm in a few years.

Next year 100 or so more malls in Belgium, Austria, the Netherlands, Italy and beyond will also get their first taste of Westfield.

“The launch of the world-famous Westfield brand in Continental Europe comes at a time when consumers are expecting more from their shopping trip,” said Christophe Cuvillier, chief executive officer of Westfield’s owner.

“Westfield represents the gold standard of destinations globally with a combination of first class retail, dining and leisure with exceptional events and services.”

ALL BEGAN IN BLACKTOWN

Absent from mention is the man who created Westfield, and a big nest egg along the way, Australia’s own Frank Lowy.

He opened Westfield Plaza in 1959 in the Sydney suburb of Blacktown. It was “west” because of its location in Sydney, and “field” due to the farmland it was built on.

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Westfields then multiplied across Australia, first as suburban shopping malls, later as regional hubs and more recently as super-sized centres.

The brand expanded into the US in 1977 and the UK through the enormous Westfield London centre in 2000.

London’s 2012 Olympics were partly bankrolled by a large Westfield shopping centre next door that most spectators had to walk through to get to the stadium.

In 2016, the firm’s $A2.2 billion Westfield World Trade Centre mall opened in New York. It’s topped by the stunning Santiago Calatrava designed “Oculus” structure that looks like an eyelash blinking towards ground zero.

“Westfield is fast becoming the byword for shopping centres, like Band-Aid is for plasters. They want people to think of the brand when they refer to the category, to say ‘I’m going out to Westfield’” said Queensland University of Technology professor of marketing Gary Mortimer.

He said Westfields were known as flagship centres with big stores, posh boutiques, gyms and cinemas. They were also innovative, for instance taking mall dining from dark and cheap food courts to alfresco eateries.

Jenni Romaniuk, a research professor at Uni SA’s Ehrenberg-Bass Institute and author of Building Distinctive Brand Assets, said bringing Westfield to major centres across Europe was a smart move.

“Even the people who like online shopping also like going to a shopping centre because it’s a social event. So having a strong international brand in that space creates economies of scale,” Prof Romaniuk said.

WESTFIELD’S BIG CHANGE

But Westfield’s new found reach has only come about because of a big change — it’s no longer an Australian company.

In 2014, Westfield spilt itself into two firms. One, called Scentre Group, runs the Westfield centres in Australia and New Zealand. Another took on the centres overseas and, crucially, took ownership of the Westfield name.

In late 2017, it was this latter company that was taken over in a whopping $A33 billion deal by French mall operator Unibail-Rodamco. The strength of the Westfield brand accounted for quite a few of those billions. It also cemented Lowy’s wealth which is estimated to be around $9bn.

Now snappily rechristened Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW), it is the French company’s European malls that are taking on the Westfield brand.

While some may get wistful about another Aussie icon passing into foreign hands (although, remember, both Vegemite and Violet Crumble are back in Australia ownership), Prof Romaniuk said Westfield’s success was never down to its country of origin.

“It’s just irrelevant for this market,” she said.

“If you asked most people in London where the brand Westfield came from they would assume it was in West London where the centre is.

“County of origin perceptions are only valuable very limited circumstances and it’s of no value for Westfield to say ‘we’re Australian’ to someone looking for a place to go shopping.”

In fact, many Parisians may assume Westfield was British or American said Prof Mortimer.

“Many French travel to London and to New York and they would have encountered these big iconic flagship shopping centres like World Trade Centre,” he said.

“The reason Westfield has become a global brand is because of tourism and social media and now they can leverage that.”

SMALLER CENTRES SELL OFF

The renaming of big centres in France could have ramifications back home.

Scentre Group doesn’t own the Westfield brand. It states it has, “an exclusive, continuing and royalty free licence to use the Westfield brand in Australia and New Zealand” so long as those centres meet “certain agreed characteristics”.

One of those characteristics appears to be bigger, swankier and more central.

Some of Scentre’s smaller suburban malls are beginning to feel a long way from the likes of Westfield Sydney, Bondi Junction or Chermside, let alone Westfield Paris.

Westfield Mt Druitt in Sydney’s west, is not in a major transport hub; it has no Chanel or Fendi stores; it doesn’t boast a sun dappled outdoor area with fine dining options. It does have a Supre, Reject Shop and Best & Less.

“We’ll see a right sizing of the fleet,” said Prof Mortimer.

“We’ve already seen that with Westfield no longer owning centres in Toombul and Strathpine in Brisbane.

“As the market is shifting they are getting rid of older smaller centres and focusing their efforts on the Parramattas and Bondi Junctions.”

There’s another suburb where the Westfield brand was long ago prised from the wall of a centre — the brand’s original home of Blacktown. Westfield Plaza was demolished and the similar named Westpoint shopping centre built in its place in 1973.

But a subtle clue to its seminal role remains.

Around the back of the current centre, a single street is now known forever as Westfield Place. A reminder that what started in Blacktown is now a multi-billion dollar brand that hundreds of thousands of Londoners, New Yorkers and now Parisians pass under every week.

benedict.brook@news.com.au



Source link Finance News Australia

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