Reopening The Boulevard: Q&A with Chris Nelmes, Retail Director

A1 Retail speaks to Chris Nelmes, Retail Director at Northern Ireland’s designer outlet, The Boulevard, ahead of their planned reopening later this month.

How is The Boulevard preparing for the planned reopening of non-essential retail and the predicted surge in shoppers?

With Northern Ireland’s roadmap of easing restrictions behind the rest of GB, we have been able to keep a close eye on shopper behaviour there, preparing for our own cited opening date of 30th April.

Being an outdoor shopping centre means we can offer desired outdoor spaces, seating areas, planting and fresh air all whilst social distancing. This was a huge appeal to shoppers in 2020 where we saw a +7.3% growth and +2.95% rise in footfall for The Boulevard in the months it was open, compared to 2019. With shoppers’ priorities changing, we understand that people want to feel safe while they shop, eat and play at The Boulevard.

After what has been an extremely challenging time for everyone, we are preparing to reopen The Boulevard for a summer of colour and hope. We have a bright and bold new marketing campaign ready to be launched alongside the reopening. We will welcome back customers into our outdoor spaces and stores with bright and bold colours, photo opportunities and beautiful foliage around the outlet along with additional safety measures as well.

Through our social media we will communicate with customers and explain what safety measures have been put in place in the scheme, whilst showing the fresh new summer stock arriving at discounted prices. Ultimately, we want our customers to enjoy their shopping in the summer sun and fresh air at The Boulevard.

Can you tell us more about the measures that will be put in place to keep shoppers and staff safe?

The safety of our customers and retailers is our number one priority and we want everyone to feel safe and secure when shopping at The Boulevard. We will continue to implement all safety measures in the shopping environment and will have ‘Welcome back’ staff members on each entrance to advise customers of the safety measures they should follow.

To ensure the two-metre social distancing rule can be followed we implement a one-way system around the outlet, controlling the flow of customer traffic. Each entrance will have a sanitising station along with all retail units and throughout the mall itself.

In line with government rules, technical control measures for occupancy levels in store will remain, social distancing markers are placed along the ground and in-store capacity limits will be followed to ensure everyone can enjoy a safe and relaxing shopping experience.

What lessons have you learnt from previous lockdowns and reopenings? Is there anything different you are doing this time around?

The first lockdown provided an investment in all safety measures at The Boulevard, following on from this we have maintained and refreshed all areas to continue with an excellent shopping experience for all. The Boulevard’s open spaces, sanitising stations, social distancing, one-way traffic and onsite staff have ensured that people can enjoy a safe shopping experience that isn’t clinical but refreshing.

What support are you offering to your tenants during the lockdown, and for the planned reopening?

Communication with tenants has been a top priority throughout lockdown, ensuring everyone is aware and up to date with the latest Government messaging and information. The Boulevard has engaged on a regular basis with tenants to also provide reassurance of our safety measures and protocols. We are keeping our retailers in the loop regarding the placement of external sanitising stations, how queuing systems outside their store will work and in store capacity signage.

We also arranged virtual events for our tenants where they could reconnect with landlord and onsite teams, as well as each other. It was important to us that we kept spirits up during lockdown and lay out our reopening plans each time, gaining support and buy-in and showing tenants that we have plans in place to drive customer footfall, improve dwell time and increase spend per visit once we welcome customers back.

Headshot: photo by Philip Magowan/Press Eye.

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