Milford Centre: The shopping centre that dares to be different
New Zealand Retail Property Group is revamping its boutique fashion offering, the Milford Centre, as part of a $180 million development due to start this year. The changes include an extra 2,000 square metres of retail space, and 115 luxury apartments in a residential block situated at the centre.
The Milford Centre is located on Auckland’s North Shore. It prides itself on fashion and homewares, with an existing offering of around 70 retail, food and beverage and service businesses.
Paul Tanday, NZRPG’s general manager revenue, says the Milford Centre was developed as a boutique shopping destination after the group bought it in 2006. Aware of a competitor’s plans to launch a significant project nearby, NZRPG fitted out what was then an “average neighbourhood mall” into something completely different.
“We knew if we did the same thing at Milford as we’d always done, it would have suffered under the competition,” Tanday says.
He explains NZRPG had two choices with the Milford Centre: it could go downmarket, and create an outlet shopping centre; or it could go upmarket and aim for the well-heeled boutique shopper. Tanday’s team went up.
A boutique-style experience
NZRPG’s mission for the Milford Centre was to create a shopping environment on the North Shore which would act as an alternative for central-city fashion centres like Newmarket and Ponsonby.
The centre is a unique environment which turned heads when it was first re-launched. It was one of the first shopping centres in New Zealand to sport residential-style decorative touches: “Chandeliers and wallpaper was then actually unheard-of in malls.”
The unusual interior emphasised to shoppers that NZRPG dared to do things differently, Tanday says, although the market took some persuading.
“We had a devil of a time convincing some fashion retailers to come on board at the beginning,” Tanday says.
The Milford Centre now boasts a number of fashion retailers which wouldn’t normally be caught dead in a mall. Tanday highlights Moochi and Storm.
“They were initially a little bit concerned about the possibility of brand damage, but it was completely the opposite.”
Creating a sense of discovery
Boutique fashion, homewares and giftware is at the heart of the Milford Centre’s offering. It carries a mixture of independent retailers like Flo & Frankie, an Auckland-based multi-category retailer with four stores; and recognised brands such as Australian label Witchery.
“We’re very, very, very focused on not creating a bland offer… but we’re also cognisant that if we don’t have some established brands, there’s no interest for people,” Tanday says.
Giving shoppers a sense of discovery by leading them to new, independent fashion labels they wouldn’t otherwise encounter is an important part of the Milford Centre’s proposition.
Continuing to offer key services
The Milford Centre isn’t all boutique fashion. The Countdown supermarket, The Warehouse and services like Mister Minit attract repeat custom from shoppers looking for convenience.
“That part of the centre continues to trade well, and always will.”
Unlike many other shopping centres, NZRPG does not have contractual limitations prohibiting similar offerings to its grocery tenants in place. This means it can accommodate retailers like Greens, a thriving independent grocery store.
Only the best
NZRPG spends a lot of time vetting retail applicants for the Milford Centre to make sure each retailer adds variety, quality and colour to the mix, Tanday says.
“The key driver for Milford is and always will be the point-of-difference retailer.”
The Milford Centre doesn’t target value-driven retailers, but it offers a return on retailers’ investment by being relatively easy for customers to get to; offering free carparking; and creating a special environment that’s home to high-quality neighbouring retailers. It can also offer more flexibility on leases than the average shopping centre, Tanday says.
“We’re not interested in retailers being with us and struggling because that means they’re not providing our customers with what they want.”
Where necessary, NZRPG is amenable to helping retailers changing out their leases if the location isn’t working.
“If it’s not working for the retailer then, ultimately, we’re getting hurt too.”
Retailers benefit from NZRPG being New Zealand-owned and operated, says Tanday. The property management company has a lengthy investment horizon, and genuinely believes in creating a true partnership between its retailers and centre management.
Tanday says the fashion category at the Milford Centre is currently overtrading, hence the need for the centre’s expansion.
An exciting new direction
NZRPG continues its path of innovation with the new mixed-use development that’s currently underway at the Milford Centre. The company plans to replace the existing carpark at the eastern end of the complex with around 20 new shops, and will dig down to create a new underground parking area beneath it.
A residential area called The Milford will be installed on the second floor above the 20 new shops, and a second new residential area called Omana North is to be built on the Milford Centre’s northern side off Omana Rd. A tower containing 12 top-end penthouse apartments will complete the residential complex.
A new all-weather outdoor dining area is also on the cards. The Milford Centre has five heritage pohutakawa trees off Milford Rd, and it’s these which will form the heart of the new dining area.
Tanday says the planned dining area will bear little resemblance to a traditional food court – “Those things, as far as I’m concerned, are dead and buried,” – instead likening it to an evolution of the successful Ponsonby Central complex and The Brickworks at LynnMall. NZRPG is seeking diversity of cusine and of price points from food operators for this space.
“As part of this offer we are looking at creating a unique curated experience to provide quick and easy fresh, quality food. This will compliment the larger food and beverage operators,” Tanday says. “It’s more than just saying, ‘Here’s a box, start selling.’”
He says the residential complex created critical mass for the dining revamp, saying it would be reasonable to expect the inhabitants of the 115 planned apartments to dine out at least once each week.
To avoid creating an effect where customers flock to the newer areas and neglect pre-existing retail stores, NZRPG will embark on an ambitious “ambience upgrade” in excess of $10 million throughout the entire Milford Centre. It will include lots of emphasis on flooring and ceiling treatments, with natural stone floors and timber accents.
Greenery will also be introduced into the centre, echoing the effect of the pohutakawas outside.
Construction has already begun at the north end of the building, but significant work will be underway from June or July onwards. The new retail section is to open during quarter three or four in 2018, to coincide with the spring fashion season; and the new food and beverage development will be open in quarter two, 2019.
All design work has been handled in-house, with Dominion Constructors brought in as head contractor.
NZRPG expects to conclude negotiations with an anchor tenant for the new retail section shortly. Once this is completed, it can provide more detail about the flavour and feel of this new development.
“The feedback has been very good from our retailers, who are never shy about telling us what they want,” Tanday says. “We’re champing at the bit to get into the market.”
Milford Centre’s upgrade by the numbers
2,000 sqm of retail space to be added to the current 14,051 sqm.
115 luxury apartments to be built.
20 new stores to be added.
$180 million cost.