Gill Buchanan at Swan Walk – Retail and Me.
Like my hundreds of shopping centre manager colleagues around the country my title often belies what I really do all day! Shopping centres and all managed shopping destinations are so much more than just retail properties and offer the most diverse opportunities to learn and grow.
It is a given that we come from a multitude of backgrounds with diverse transferable skills, are commercially astute and driven, understand the retail climate and our stores wants and needs, work to continuously enhance the customer experience, manage all risks both physical and financial and support the success of the investment for our clients. This reads like the full-time role that it could be but our centres and high streets are so much more and so are we.
We are a broad church and offer company and shelter to the elderly and vulnerable who just crave the cheery hello from our teams that could be their only human interaction that day; our stakeholder partners at local councils rely on our expertise and input to support their wider town and regional economic plans, when customers feel ill they head for the centre knowing it to be safe, secure and supportive – our security team used our PAD to save a life in May this year; we are the ambassador on site and the go to partner for our leasing and asset management colleagues when potential new retailers and their agents visit or developments are underway; we work as one with the emergency services around safety, theft reduction and managing perception – at Swan Walk we have for the last 12 years partnered with a local garage to sponsor a co-branded Police car for our colleagues in the Neighbourhood Policing team and without our support many charity and community partners would not be able to achieve the successes that we can help them deliver.
Where did I start? Just before my 16th birthday I met the personnel manager at Browns of Chester (Debenhams) during a school careers event.
All I wanted was a Saturday job to support my Chelsea Girl shopping habits and I was in luck. I started the day after my birthday and spent the following 2 years falling in love with retail and the dynamics of store life.
Post A levels I turned down my place at university to start as a junior trainee at a department store in Southampton. From there I moved to Finchley and then on to Richmond where at 21 I became their youngest store manager. Stints in Slough, Kidderminster and Crawley followed but when this store closed, after 11 years’ service and 7 different flats/houses
I decided to take my retail passion and people skills and give shopping centre management a try. 23 years on I still get itchy fingers when I see the hustle and bustle of sale preparations underway, the arrival of new season ranges or the M&S turkey queue on Christmas Eve but retail property is where I now belong.
The most surprising thing I found moving into centre management was how little I knew or understood about property management overall, the wider teams that deliver for the centre and the client, leasing strategies, asset management and the workings of the industry as a whole, all despite having managed the anchor store in many a shopping centre.
My biggest challenge was engaging with and managing with the more FM side of the business so that I could effectively manage and lead the onsite team and technical contractors.
The best things about my role in retail property is that no one day will ever be the same, that I am still learning and finding new challenges, that we are a people business and we can really can make a difference every day.
Anyone who is curious about a role in retail property should give their local shopping centre a call as I am sure, like my team at Swan Walk, they will welcome you on site for a visit to look behind the scenes and to see all the roles available from operations management to retail liaison, marketing to contract management, technical services to centre management, administration to car park management – and that is just the site based team…!
First posted Friday 13 October 2017