Free Space+ could accelerate your business!

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Last modified on 22/12/2017



A competition supporting budding businesses and those ready for the next step. We are looking for businesses that 
are small, hungry and ultimately, have potential for longevity. Are you up for it? Find out more



David O'Neil

Head of Commercialisation, Hammerson plc

T: +44 (0)20 7887 1875



When I joined Hammerson’s commercialisation team in 2010, I had a lightbulb moment.

“Why didn’t I think of doing this?” was my main thought, as I began to understand the huge range of brand experiential, mall retail and media opportunities Hammerson centres such as Bullring, Brent Cross, Highcross and Silverburn could offer.

I’d come to Hammerson having built, run and sold a small business – a business dependent on word-of-mouth and a self-designed marketing strategy, but I’d never considered approaching a shopping centre owner seeking retail space as part of that. 


I’d always reasoned my business was “too small” – a notion dismissed when I was presented with a retailer who had simply bought a VW camper van, converted it for retail use and operated single-handedly selling milkshakes (amongst lots of other unique start-ups in the centres).

I’d told myself that the presence of the big retail names in such centres would mean my business wouldn’t be allowed space – far from it, I was to discover. Seeing Hammerson’s vibrant range of products available on the mall, often in the same category as in major stores but with a unique niche in the market.

Despite multinationals offering jewellery, clothing, gifts, cards and tempting treats in every centre I visited – these products were also on offer from retailers situated in the malls. But surely huge regional centres would have been too expensive for my small business, too big a commitment?

Whilst I’d secretly be delighted to say that thought was vindicated, I’d be bending the truth more than a little – retailers and brands were in occupation on trial launch programmes, month-to-month terms and several had used this as an incubator to become long-term tenants.


The flexibility and support around the mall offering, helping brands to develop, really impressed me, and has kept me in that sector of the business ever since.

I still work with tenants we introduced back in 2010 in several centres, some committing initially for just one week.

I’d encourage every business looking at Free Space+ not to make the mistaken assumptions that I did seven years ago – our centres are for you, our customers want to learn about your business and buy your products and we want to help make your business the best it can be, so an application could be the first step to something that truly accelerates your retail idea.

Small businesses provide a unique point of difference to shopping centres and retail destinations, and are integral to a great customer experience. That’s crucial for us at Hammerson, and is why we’re proud to be involved in Free Space+.


Tags: Commercialisation, Customer Experience, Investment & Finance, Marketing & Consumer Trends, Retail Place Management, Sustainability & Community Engagement , Technology & Innovation