Can office providers save the High Street?

With existing office providers giving a facelift to stagnant developments, disused industrial estates becoming hubs of the technological future, and a demand for green solutions to design and development questions, retrofit and refurbishment has taken centre stage as the future of commercial construction. The booming London housing market saw a flurry of conversions from office into residential use. As that market slows down, but remains a premium source of investment, while the commercial sector takes it’s turn to boom, can office developers turn to a different source of real estate, a source with its own well documented struggles to survive in the digital age; the high street.

A modern co-working space already caters to the modern professional from breakfast to bed, why not fold retail into the mix. With providers offering gyms, restaurants, cafes, spas, yoga studios, kitchen facilities, some even offering places to stay overnight; it seems to make logical sense to bring the weekly shop under the umbrella. After all, with modern focus on how offices cater to worker wellbeing, it’s ironic that retail therapy hasn’t yet joined the evolution.

There will likely be resistance from an industry rarely at the front of evolutionary thinking. The High Street struggles are long, well documented, and have largely been met by stubborn resistance followed by stubborn foreclosure. On average 14 stores close a day in the UK, yet there has been very little in the way of drastic change. Large scale adaptation of the way we shop meaning integration into the office sector will be met by resistance. There will be a loss of retail space; however having a large space is no longer a requirement of a modern retailer due to advances in logistics and supply chains, and any loss of space can be offset by a guaranteed increase in footfall. Placing retail alongside, or even within, the confines of a co-working space guarantees a captive audience. The modern consumer is driven by speed and convenience, hence the overwhelming success of online providers who guarantee an easy shopping process and swift guaranteed delivery; ASOS and Amazon dominate their sectors on this very model. But what if the balance of convenience shifted back to the physical? Placing retail opportunities alongside the existing F&B offers and residential facilities which already form part of the flexible office blueprint makes shopping easier than ever.

Furthermore, with co-working and flexible office space take up on the rise and showing no signs of slowing, business spaces within these modern offices are quickly becoming the golden goose. If you’re the café provider in a large co-working building you have as close as you can get to guaranteed success. Captive audience, exclusivity and guaranteed foot traffic is the holy triumvirate of retail success. Competition for these spaces therefore is fierce. Competition drives innovation. It’s no surprise we are living in the golden age of office innovation, as many providers flood a saturated market and have to innovate to survive. Competition then to be the exclusive retail provider within or alongside a co-working space can drive a similar race to the top as seen in the co-working sector. In theory these evolutions would then bleed into the high street and revitalise that maligned space.

Aligning retail with the thriving office sector should also see a rejuvenation of high quality retail experiences. Modern consumers are clearly happy to prioritise quality and experience, modern premium co-working and flexible office providers aren’t cheap, but people are willing to pay a premium for quality. The High Street, meanwhile, seems to be in a race to the bottom as even quality brands like John Lewis struggle and bargain basement monoliths like Sports Direct thrive. Can retailers learn from the focus on the quality and experiential by aligning themselves with providers of a quality lifestyle experience. Selfridges and Fora recently announced a partnership that appears to realise this very idea.

Retail faces a surplus of stock vs. a lack of demand for new high street business as online thrives. Offices face a dearth of stock and a demand for new spaces, new providers, new innovations. The answer seems simple, will retailers be brave enough to capitalise on the opportunity.