A leading figure in Birmingham’s retail rebirth has spoken of his excitement at seeing another piece of the city centre regeneration jigsaw slot-in to place.
The six-year project to transform Birmingham’s landmark Mailbox building has reached another milestone with the launch of a 21,000 sq ft homewares section on Level 1 of the iconic building.
Simon Samuels has been the driving force behind the project and was on site to see the new store welcome visitors for the first time and to browse brands never before seen in the city centre.
Simon is a partner at Brockton Capital who, along with Mailbox co-owners Milligan, have spent more than £50 million transforming the building after a joint purchase in 2011.
The Mailbox now has a roof and welcoming lounge area, premium office spaces and a remodelled BBC reception area.
And in 2015 the Mailbox created some of the Midlands’ largest office accommodation on a single floorplate, bringing 45,000 sq ft of contiguous Grade A space to Birmingham’s prime office market.
Office tenants include a variety of well-known companies including the BBC, Associated Architects and software provider Advanced.
The Mailbox is also home to Harvey Nichols’ 45,000 sq ft flagship store, an Everyman Cinema and Tom’s Kitchen restaurant.
This illustrious roster of businesses, restaurants and boutiques now includes homewares retailers Made.com and Heal’s.
For Heal’s this is its first opening in the Midlands in its 200-year history. As well as beautiful furniture, Heal’s is known for its lighting, decorative accessories, kitchenware and lifestyle brands including Case and Tom Dixon.
Made.com was launched in 2010 as an online retailer and describes its collections as designed to outlive trends and evolve with consumers’ changing styles.
The two showrooms connect with other new to the city homewares retailers BoConcept, Wesley Barrell, Calligaris and The Design Quarter, creating a pioneering city centre department store for design-savvy interiors shoppers.
The new stores join fashion retailers including Paul Smith, Hugo Boss, Armani, Gieves & Hawkes, Tommy Hilfiger and L.K. Bennett; Ribble Cycles’ first ever physical showroom, Castle Fine Art, Kitchen Gallery, Malmaison and AC Hotels, among many others.
And such was the significance of a rebuilt Mailbox, it featured on a Marketing Birmingham list of the 15 most important projects for 2015 alongside Grand Central, the Rugby World Cup and Midland Metro tram extension.
“We buy assets that are fundamentally great but just need more capital and a few ideas to fix them,” explained Simon, who has been with Brockton Capital since 2008 and has 24 years of retail and real estate experience.
“We literally took this building apart and put it back together again. To see this work come to fruition is a wonderful thing.
“I’ve been on this project personally for six years and this is a very exciting day.”
Simon explained how the Mailbox’s homewares section was 18 months in the making and part of a wider strategy to reposition its retail choice.
“This (Level 1) has been in the planning for quite some time with homewares at its heart,” he said.
“We found products and brands that weren’t represented in Birmingham or the Midlands and saw an opportunity there, but we also thought about how changing consumer habits and bricks and mortar competes with online retail these days.
“Having identified the gap in the market for homewares and furniture, we also realised these are very tangible products; things people want to go and see to prod and sit on.
“Ribble Cycles (also on Level 1 of the building) is a great example of this emerging theme with what started life as a 100% online business, and has now moved into bricks and mortar retail. Made.com, also entirely online until a couple of years ago, has followed a similar path and launched several physical stores.
“These are showrooms. If people convert a sale here, that’s great. But if these stores help to crystallise a decision and people buy online later, that’s a sale. Anything we can do to help facilitate that is great as all our interests are aligned.
“We are now in the experience economy. If we can make visiting the Mailbox a really great day out and a pleasant experience, I’ll be happy.
“You can enjoy the new homewares stores, you can have lunch at a choice of great restaurants, you can buy quality clothing from some of the UK’s leading fashion brands.
“We’re giving people lots of reasons to not only come here but to come here and stay.”
Simon and fellow real estate experts at Brockton Capital are embracing the new Birmingham with the high-profile relocation of HSBC UK to Arena Central just streets away, along with professional services giant PwC’s move to the Paradise regeneration scheme, both helping to attract visitors to the Mailbox.
“The city is expanding and inching westwards and everything we’ve done here is with a line of sight to what’s coming down the track in the city centre,” added Simon.
“Having put a huge amount of capital and effort into turning the Mailbox into what it is today, this asset has become a great hub for everyone who lives and works in the city.
“The Mailbox is so much more than just retail, we’re the home to the BBC in the Midlands, the regional headquarters of Advanced – one of the UK’s fastest growing tech companies – and we’ve got the only Everyman Cinema in the region.
“We have a new office tenant coming next year in the former Network Rail space and nearby you have the relocation of HSBC to Arena Central.
“I like the idea of the Mailbox becoming a ‘Design Quarter’, not just for the city centre, but the wider West Midlands region as a whole.
“With the broader investment and big corporates looking at Birmingham, this is really helping to reposition the city.
“Birmingham is having its renaissance right now.”
Interview with Simon Samuels carried out by Stacey Barnfield on behalf of Retail BID Birmingham and featured in the Birmingham Post.