That’s #RevoLiverpool2019 wrapped up

The stands are packed away.  The business cards are all exchanged. The great and the good in property and retail have left Liverpool and returned to normality. Revo 2019 is over. It’s not all just branded yo-yos and free chocolate. Year-on-year there is a surfeit of insightful content in the conference programme with topics ranging from technology, through to distribution and logistics, and to the halo effect interaction between physical stores and online retail channels. So, aside from new friends and, perhaps, a slight hangover, what will we take away from Revo 2019?


We learned that having a digital presence and a physical store is an absolute must for retail players. It could be argued that the most dominant retail narrative of our time is that of a struggling high street and its supposedly doomed population of bricks and mortar shops.

Reports, articles and studies announced the death of the traditional retail store as a victim of progress. However, this well-worn narrative misunderstands the complex relationship between on and offline retailing. Market analysis from CACI, released during Revo, showed us that online sales are 106% higher within a store catchment. It means for every £1 spent online outside the store’s catchment there is just over £2 spent online inside it. Click and collect services and digital returns via shops further deepen the symbiosis. It would seem that stores have become an essential showroom for a digital purchase. This marriage of convenience set tongues wagging in Liverpool this week.


We learned of the rapid growth in the importance of tech. Walking around the hall you couldn’t fail to notice the prominence of innovating and exciting technology. Holographic billboards, customer banking analytics, and mobile monitoring of maintenance staff were all being demonstrated at this year’s Revo. Car park monitoring software seemed to be a hot topic, with several stands dedicated to data streamlining solutions for retailers and occupiers. The hypervision technology company, Encore Motions, caused a stir with its vivid examples of holographic product marketing for shops and shopping centres in a similar vein to billboards. The products are realised in 3D holograms, which are spun to give a 360-degree view of the item, and is managed through Encore Motions’ platform which then schedules media campaigns for the client. The mood at Revo was one of innovation and optimism. Where might retail as a sector be heading next?


We were also excited to be supporting Capital & Regional this year, who’s community strategy – operating assets as community hubs rather than mere shopping centres – signified a shift away from arbitrary asset management strategies towards a hyper-localised and customer-centric approach. Industry leaders were excited to get involved in the community movement, offering their heartfelt views on what community means to them. Check out @CapRegPLC’s social channels for key insights.


Also at Revo and supported by Innesco was Hines Ireland, showcasing its Cherrywood project, currently being developed in south Dublin and hailed as Ireland’s Future of Retail. Make sure to follow @CherrywoodTC on Twitter and LinkedIn for updates on


We were reminded that location and community are central to what we do. Revo itself underscores the importance of a sector coming together under one room to reflect on its course and what the horizon holds. The changing retail environment is driving and challenging us to be more creative, more considered, and to actively seek out innovative ways to deliver value for landlords, retailers and consumers. From Innesco’s experience at Revo Liverpool 2019, the future is a bright one.


After the Afterparty – Revo, Liverpool.

What happens next for Retail? Bankers, Analysts, Fund managers and Landlords are all scratching their heads, juggling yields, bond markets, and of course the dreaded political risk – as general global economic “disappointment” has caused something of a paralysis across markets. However, interest rates are causing something of a cause of hope, and opening new lines of investment which could see movement in the market. And there is light at the end of the Mersey Tunnel this week, as the Revo conference gathers the industry’s best thinkers and most proactive players in Liverpool to mull over what some describe as “blood in the streets” – whilst optimists describe it in Star Trek fashion as “It’s still retail, just not as we know it”.


There is a full programme of seminars, roundtables and keynotes covering the current malaise, and how market leaders see a way through to brighter skies and calmer waters. As an agency, we see the future belonging to the bold and the brave. It is possible to take a pragmatic view of the “uncontrollables” such as politics and economics, but to position your project or business for growth. Working smart is a frequent topic, and we are collaborating with some exceptional businesses and advisors in this space, not least Maybe*, CACI, LDC, Retail Trust, Insite Food, and eLocations – all looking at the industry with fresh eyes and with new perspectives on our direction, and where opportunity, growth and value lies.


There are five of us from Innesco attending Revo this year, covering off client work for the likes for Capital & Regional and Hines, as well as exploring new avenues to support new town/city masterplans, leasing and investment campaigns for growing projects, scheme launches and management of existing shopping places. We see the event as an excellent opportunity away from London to promote and debate key corporate and project themes, such as innovation and the future of retail – embodied in projects such as Hines’ Cherrywood town centre in Dublin. To cap it all, we are co-hosting a private Afterparty with our friends at CACI – so hopefully you’ll sport one of our wristbands tonight! It’s what happens after the Afterparty that counts of course!


Investors looking to add value through service as much as space

The emergence of @WeWork as one of the world’s leading real estate brands has had a seismic impact on the sector as a whole.  Although the landlord/tenant relationship was beginning to evolve across all sectors, the arrival of challenger businesses has accelerated this process and changed the status quo for good. Even the most conservative investors have woken up to the concept of space as a service.  As such, real estate owners can no longer simply offer bricks and mortar in exchange for regular rental income – they need to offer a service that is genuinely collaborative, innovative and genuinely dial-shifting in terms of their occupiers’ businesses.

The latest example of this is @ThorEquities recent launch a new life sciences platform, as reported via @PropertyEU.  This move will see the investor move away from pure real estate investment and become an incubator of nascent life sciences businesses.  Having just acquired a $150m life sciences centre in New Jersey comprising laboratory space, research & development facilities and specialist life sciences equipment, Thor will also invest in start-ups and existing businesses as a way of diversifying its interest above and beyond real estate.

“We are pleased to announce the launch of Thor Sciences as well as the acquisition of The Center of Excellence,” Thor Equities Chairman and CEO Joseph Sitt said in a release. “We have been an early advocate for the sector, having previously acquired assets in Berkeley and Boston, and are now ready to advance our global platform.”


This is a clearly a forward-thinking business model and it will be interesting to see if it gains traction elsewhere.  Could we see shopping centre owners investing in fledgeling retail businesses or office landlords off-setting rental income in favour of an equity stake in new ventures?


Boris Johnson: what are his key pledges for the real estate industry?

And so, after two months of debates and speculation, Boris Johnson decisively won the Conservative leadership contest this week, making him the UK’s Prime Minister. Without a doubt, the first and most complex item on Boris’ agenda will be dealing with Brexit. As he delivered his first speech as PM on the steps of Downing Street, he vowed that the country will leave EU on 31 October “no ifs, no buts” – declaring that “the buck stops here”. Of course, the EU’s chief negotiator swiftly dismissed his plans, deeming the proposal presented to MPs “unacceptable”, while Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Boris’ comments were “not in the real world” and that a new Brexit deal was “not going to happen”.


The run-up to Brexit is already having a tremendous impact on the real estate market with figures from Lambert Smith Hampton showing that UK property investment in H1 2019 was down 30 per cent compared to last year amid increased Brexit uncertainty. The big question of course is: what will Boris as PM mean for the industry?


According to Steven Norris, Soho Estates Chairman and former UK Transport Minister, he will bring “certainty to an industry that sorely lacks it”, which in turn will release built-up energy for the commercial property sector. Furthermore, Norris believes that a Boris-led government will benefit the commercial real estate industry by implementing “business-friendly policies” to increase the UK’s attractiveness in the global market, by investing and infrastructure and reducing tax rates, for example. The latter would especially benefit the under-pressure retail industry – The British Retail Consortium reacted to Boris’ appointment as PM by urging him to “rethink the high street strategy” and claiming that business rates “pose an unsustainable burden on shops and jobs”.


Not everyone is positive about the prospects of Boris in No. 10, however, with some foreseeing potential ‘chaos’ in the event of a no-deal Brexit. One analyst said that a crash out of EU would negatively impact London’s office market, which has already seen a slow-down of foreign investment, while the industrial and logistics sectors would be hurt by potential trade barriers. The British Property Federation stressed the need for the UK to “remain open, with the right conditions for investment and trade”.


As for the residential market, Boris has promised stamp duty reforms in a bid to reinvigorate the housing market and help first-time buyers get onto the housing ladder, but according to Lucian Cook, head of residential research at Savills, the improvements would likely only result in a moderate and short-lived boost in activity and price growth.


The true implications of Boris’ appointment– for the property sector and beyond – are, for now, unclear. One thing is certain: BoJo means Brexit, and his Cabinet of Brexiteers have a busy time ahead if they are to deliver on their proposed deadline.


What if the best property investment was PBSA?

Nothing to do with anxiety disorders, PBSA – more commonly known as Purpose Built Student Accommodation  – is basically the new student halls of today. And despite Brexit and fears of other political uncertainties, global investors are continuing to invest in PBSA in the UK. Why? Mostly because it offers stable income with strong year-on-year rental growth prospects. Especially when you consider that the more mature asset categories, such as offices, commercial assets or properties no longer are. @PuiGuanM from @estatesgazette even pinpointed earlier this week that the student accommodation market is shedding its alternative class label to become [an attractive?] market on its own. Here are a few reasons that may explain why:


à While students tend to prolong their studies in economic downturns – they prefer to wait for the job market to improve – which helps the student housing market gets stronger.


à Also creating stronger demand for student housing is the international education strategy proposed by the government which aims to boost overseas student numbers by 30% to 600,000 per year by 2030.


à  Given that student accommodation to this date remains largely under-supplied at a national level, more projects – and opportunities to invest – will be set into motion within the next couple of years.


But generating the optimal level of returns is not necessary as easy as building then renting an asset. More than any other categories of consumers, students have growing expectations – and their mental health is one of them – that need constant management and could lead to significant investments. It is then no surprise to see that a whole category of them are looking to rent higher quality student accommodation. And the good thing is that studies now indicate that price may not be a determining factor with, in many cases, students being eager to pay a higher rent in exchange for better living standards. A dynamism that is worth looking into.



Occupying the centre ground



Remember the Kirkcaldy shopping centre that was being auctioned off for £1? While this might be most notable as an excellent piece of marketing by the auctioneers – the eventual sale price was £310,000 – those with keener memories will recall that many of those parties interested in bidding saw it as a residential development opportunity.


The Postings – struggling in a changing consumer environment and losing £200,000 a year – came to mind this week after a couple of corporate announcements were made to the press. On Monday, shopping centre owner intu revealed plans to replace car parks and a House of Fraser store with 1,000 homes at its Lakeside scheme in Thurrock, Essex; this was followed on Thursday by Patrizia marketing The Walnuts in Orpington as a residential redevelopment play.


While intu’s plans are larger-scale, what happens at The Walnuts could in time be more significant. Fronting onto Orpington High Street, and woven into the fabric of surrounding buildings, what happens here could become a model for town centres across the country. Orpington’s town centre vacancy rate is below the national average at around 6.5%, but residential conversion is still an attractive option; if it can work somewhere where town centre remains relatively strong, it can surely work in places that have seen shops decimated in recent times.


For intu, it’s a similar story but with some crucial differences. With voids rising and falling valuations putting pressure on loan covenants, intu has seen an opportunity to diversify its portfolio and create some assets that will either generate a better return, or create value and provide some useful capital to work with. Without knowing the full ins-and-outs of the decision, it seems likely that new homes will be more useful than surplus car parking.


At a time when many (most?) of the UK towns are over-shopped, and many local authorities are struggling to hit housebuilding targets, conversion of retail space into homes – returning to their historic use in older communities – makes a lot of sense. And as both current investors and private equity spy some opportunities, we can expect there to be more of this sort of thing.


This is not to say it will be easy. Retail locations will have to consolidate and coalesce around a new, smaller commercial centres, and there will surely be missteps on the way. The solution is unlikely to be widescale permitted development rights for shops-to-resi, following the problems that have been seen with similar policies for redundant office space. But the local authorities that manage this process best have a genuine opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.


There remains a need for physical retail space – both in and out of town – but the requirements are less than they used to be. The internet and other changing dynamics have seen to that. But if high streets can be sensibly re-sized and helped through this shift, they may yet thrive once more.


Andrew Jefford, Account Director, Innesco 


Could Swedish robots be the answer to the housing crisis?

This week we were given a glimpse into the technological (very near) future thanks to #IKEA’s latest product innovation: #robotic furniture. The Swedish #retail giant has announced the launch of a new robotic system called Rognan, developed in collaboration with American furniture start-up Ori Living.


As #cities are becoming more and more crowded, we’re already seeing significant demand for housing rapidly surpassing supply. Ikea believes it offers part of the solution by introducing Rognan for small space living “where people will be able to turn small spaces into #smartspaces that have all the comfort and convenience of a home”. It sounds like science fiction, but it will be some a consumer reality soon.


This is not IKEA’s only initiative to help tackle the housing crisis. BoKlok, a Swedish housing developer jointly owned by Skanska and IKEA, is currently in the process of establishing a UK presence to make home ownership more widely available to those with average incomes. They have already built more than 11,000 homes in Sweden, Finland and Norway, using off-site manufacturing methods that give more people the opportunity to own a quality, #sustainablehome, at a lower price than the current market value.


At the same time, according to #WorldEconomicForum, cities around the world are demonstrating great resourcefulness to create more affordable housing. #LA has adopted a law allowing motels to be converted into permanent housing. #Bristol is building homes on a former primary school site. #Copenhagen is pooling publicly owned assets into an “Urban Wealth Fund” that partners with the private sector to deliver projects. The big picture is that the world seems to be taking the housing challenge seriously.


In the UK, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government says that London needs to deliver 100,000 homes. The #NLA reports that for the first time in 40 years the UK capital is seeing substantial numbers of homes being delivered directly by councils, aided by the recent pledge by Mayor Sadiq Khan of £10million to help councils boost their housing design and planning teams.


There is no doubt that the housing challenge is complex and its solution requires an orchestrated effort from all parties involved in the housing market, including the public and private sector. There is still a long way to go, but seeing serious effort across the globe restores hope in creating affordable housing for more people living in the world’s biggest and most densely populated cities.



These words were the response of real estate journalist David Hatcher, tweeted out on Wednesday, to the news that three shopping centres owned by Oaktree Capital had breached their loan-to-value covenants.


The Kingsgate Shopping Centre in Dunfermline, The Rushes in Loughborough and The Vancouver Centre in King’s Lynn have between them lost £19 million in value – down 18% in the past 18 months – and as a result the LTV on the assets has risen to 78%, against a covenant of 75%. At the time of Paperclip going to press, no resolution had yet been found.


This wasn’t the first such breach this cycle – New Frontier Properties and RDI REIT have both battled with similar issues in recent months – but David was right to point to the start of something. Each week brings news of yet another CVA (Arcadia) or portfolio downsizing (M&S), and these will only see valuations fall further, especially for secondary assets. We can expect many more LTV covenant breaches in the coming months, and losses that have up until now been on paper are about to be crystallised.


Make no mistake: this will be a painful process, but it is a necessary one. It is also long overdue. Remarkably, given the extent of the downturn, some of the pain of the financial crisis was deferred. Newly-nationalised banks, faced with distressed loans wherever they looked, often chose to ‘extend and pretend’ – that is, roll over the debt and hope that valuations would in time rise again. To be fair most valuations did indeed return, but the attitude of hoping-over-expectation has never really gone away.


There can be no such wilful blindness this time, and the economic gravity is surely now inescapable, especially for secondary assets such as those owned by Oaktree Capital. And with valuations in other sectors such as offices, industrial and residential continuing to hold up, lenders will be that much more inclined to grasp the nettle as and when loans default and retail assets come under their control.


This might sound a touch bleak, but the situation demands honesty rather than crossing of fingers. But long-term there will be considerable upside. Accepting the reality of a situation, even if that means deeper falls and greater losses in the short term, means that any recovery can start that much sooner. When the bottom of the market has been found, we can once again consider growth.


Realistic valuations of retail space will enable landlords to accept more realistic rents rather than hold on for a higher-paying tenant that never quite arrives. Lower rents might just be the difference between a shop being a viable business or not, and if so this should feed through to greater occupancy rates. For towns that have been blighted by voids, simply having occupied properties – even at rock bottom rents – will be transformational.


For what it’s worth, it seems that larger, prime shopping centres and major city centres retain a relevance and value to retailers that has seen rents and values remain much more stable. But for older, secondary space it’s far from clear what the prospects are. And if the future isn’t in retail, alternative uses will need to be embraced.


Nobody knows whether the UK is truly ‘overshopped’, or whether substantially lower rents will help make high street shops viable again, but the sooner we find out the better. Because once we know how big a problem we’re dealing with, the quicker we can get working on a solution.


Sustainability firmly on the menu across industries

In the world outside property – what some might call the real world – Greta Thunberg, a sixteen-year-old environmental activist from Sweden, was this week celebrated on the cover of TIME Magazine, who named her one of ten Next Generation Leaders. This comes after the same magazine named her one of the most influential people of 2019, and a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. Sustainability is, without a doubt, as relevant as ever. Our industry is, of course, not isolated from this – and, in particular, this week, sustainability has been a central theme.


In a bid to help diminish food waste, all major British supermarkets have pledged to adopt a series of actions that will contribute to the UN’s goal of halving food waste by 2030. The food retail sector has previously been criticised for not doing enough to stop food waste, which amounts to 10.2 million tonnes in the UK every year. Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose are all amongst the retailers that have signed the pledge.


Reports also surfaced this week that Pret a Manger is in advanced talks to buy rival Eat, with alleged plans to turn the competitor’s 94 stores into vegetarian outlets – joining the existing four ‘Veggie Pret’ outlets in the UK. Pret currently owns some 400 stores, and the move would mean that a significant part of the company’s business would be completely meat-free. Also on this bandwagon is Greggs, which this week announced that it expects “materially higher” annual sales and profits as its newly launched vegan sausage roll was ‘flying off the shelves’. Overall sales rose by 15 per cent in the first quarter, proving once again that consumers’ appetite for vegan is by all means on the rise. With the meat industry responsible for significant portions of total greenhouse gas emissions, this is good news not only for health-conscious consumers, but for our planet’s natural world.


Finally, Farfetch, the online luxury retailer, this week announced a new initiative as part of its sustainability strategy ‘Positively Farfetch’. In a pilot project, customers will be able to resell unwanted designer handbags in return for Farfetch credit, which can then be used to shop for new items on the site. The news comes amid the online platform recording a 39 per cent increase in revenues in the first quarter of the year. The company’s chief executive said that it was well-positioned to continue gaining share of the growing online personal luxury goods market.


Sustainability is now arguably a KPI for large corporations, and they provide strong benefits for the companies themselves in the form of good PR and CSR. We live in a world where the effects of climate change are becoming more and more strikingly evident – and yet there are naysayers that claim climate change is a myth. It is important that the retail industry, which is worth over £20 trillion globally, fights the cause of planet earth and does all it can to oppose the effects of climate change and conserve resources. After all, as the saying goes: no one can do everything, but everyone can do something.


Fortwell Capital up for ‘Deal of the Year’ at 2019 RESI Awards

Fortwell Capital, a client of Innesco, is one of the shortlisted entrants at tonight’s 2019 RESI Awards.

The firm – principal lender to developers and investors within the UK real estate sector – is a finalist in the ‘Deal of the Year’ category following @Cain_Int’s £400 million investment in Fortwell Capital in 2018. The investment represented a step-change in the firm’s lending capabilities across the loan spectrum.


The RESI Awards, organised by Property Week, celebrate the residential property sector and its successes of the past year. The awards bring together the key players in the residential markets, including lenders, developers, landlords, housebuilders, operators, investors, agencies and local authorities.


Innesco wishes Fortwell Capital the best of luck tonight, and hopes everyone has a fantastic evening.