Retail Real Estate Experts talk about their life and career on Bayfield Training Blog.

Chris Igwe

Entrepreneur, Visionary, Retail Advisor and Thought Leader



SANDRA: You have studied Civil Engineering, and moved to Retail in 1993. What has triggered your interest in retail?

CHRIS: Actually, nothing triggered me! I knew I wanted a change, but I did not know what I wanted to do next. I then was offered a position in the Netherlands in a company that was looking for someone to manage the Real Estate, Construction and Design department, where I learned about Real Estate industry. Then began my retail journey and it was Foot Locker that trusted me enough and launched me. Retail became a real passion for me, trying to understand what made a successful retailer or brand; why some locations worked and others did not and so on. It has been a life long journey, rendered more complicated but hugely fascinating by the challenges of today, from consumer to technology, financial pressures to cross border or global expansion, and everything in between.

SANDRA: During your years at CBRE, you were highly involved in consultancy services in France. Could you note some of the main differences compared to other European countries?

CHRIS: Focusing on retail and real estate, the biggest challenges, and differences are lack of transparency and bureaucracy. For these, shopping centres are notoriously long to develop, averaging about 10 years from conception to opening. I know of a handful that have taken 15 years or more. In reality few new shopping centre players enter the French market and therefore seek such advice, so by nature there are few sales of shopping centres.

“I do believe that Sub Saharan Africa will become the next great frontier from traditional retailing point of view”


SANDRA: On our Shopping Centre Investment course, you have noted the importance of store design. Do you have any good examples of innovation?

CHRIS: France is known for its flagship stores – in Paris for great design you can select from Louis Vuitton or the renovated Nespresso both on the Avenue des Champs Elysées, Hermes or Berluti both on the left bank (rue de Sèvres) to Bucherer, “the House of Watches”, rue Scribe near the Opéra, Uniqlo in the Marais area, or Tommy Hilfiger at Boulevard des Capucines.
In terms of innovation, you could look at the car manufacturers – Peugeot, Renault and Citroen all on the Champs Elysées have interesting and interactive features (often seasonal) to attract or interest/engage the client. Otherwise, McDonalds and their largest restaurant in the world – the one renovated and recently reopened on the Champs Elysées. In France they introduced and perfected what is now their remote and on-site ordering system using interactive kiosks that others have now copied.

SANDRA: F&B has become a very important component of high street and shopping centres. What type of brands should landlords be looking to attract?

CHRIS: The danger of any ‘fad’ is separating the newbees and those that are likely to stand the test of time, and in particular the changing consumer habits, but also a fast changing pallet. I cannot guess which one’s landlords should attract, but they are most likely to favour brands which are part of a large groups (or who have a large number of stores already) for the sake of covenant and risk management. I am focusing here on those new (arrived in the last 5 years) brands very active in the market and which I believe have a strong future. These include: Pret A Manger, Vapiano, Five Guys, Burger King, Marks & Spencer Simply Food; I am not sure about the longevity of the following: Chipotle, Steak and Shake. While KFC, Pizza Hut, McDonald’s and others are still growing successfully.

SANDRA: What are your predictions for the future of retail?

CHRIS: A hard question to respond to but I will try:

  • We will no longer see retailers or brands opting to open a large number of stores as in the past. Focusing on corporate/wholly-owned stores (not franchises or partner stores) I imagine the majority of retailers will open fewer than 10-15 stores a year, compared to 25-40 stores, across all their current markets.
  • I do believe that Sub Saharan Africa will become the next great frontier from a traditional retailing point of view – building of shopping centres and expansion of stores (probably via franchising).
  • Generally, there will probably be more stores where you can just browse, away from the pressure to buy, or to sell. Rather like the bookstores and coffee shops started their journey. A place where you can just ’be’.
  • Professionals in the industry will stop talking about shopping centre densities (the number of people per m²) to justify the building of a new shopping centre in a given city or catchment. It seems people have forgotten that internet has modified the pertinence of that barometer – you do not physically need to travel to shop; it is a choice!
  • Pop Up stores will become main stream – as if to personify what is already happening today. The consumer is looking for change, evolution and revolution, all at the same time! He wants to be surprised and taken into a theatre of dreams that pop up stores can certainly help provide.
  • There will be more and more new concepts seeing the light of day – one store at a time. Instead cautious, profitable growth is going to be the watch word. Concepts will be tried, tested, tweaked and only the will they be launched.
  • Digital is going to play a role beyond what we can even conceive of today. In particular, hand-held devices and paperless payment methods will be critical. The Chinese lead the way in the use of handheld devices.
  • I see more and more luxury brands seeking to enter the Outlet market as they discover that while the consumer wants to be unique, she also wants to get value for money by being able to choose to shop in an environment where she has the best of all worlds.