A look at the Derby retail destination and the general manager at its helm
Derbion shopping centre in Derby was officially rebranded in 2021, but there has been a retail centre on this site since 1975, originally known as The Eagle Centre. The intu group purchased the destination in 2014 when it was known as into Derby, before the property owner collapsed and the Derby site was bought by new retail investors, Cale Street, in 2021. Today, Derbion operates as an independent centre.
The new name was, according to the centre’s general manager Adam Tamsett, a result of months of customer engagement, research and working with key regional stakeholders: “We wanted a name that was compelling and distinctive to Derby, reflecting the pride that we have in the city,” he tells. “Derbion brings together the centre’s geographical location and a sense of motion, inspired by Derby’s history of ingenuity and innovation, coupled with an ambition to continually move forward and evolve.”
Westfield bought the centre in 2007, doubling its footprint and adding 587,000 sq ft of floorspace, as well as bringing a flood of new tenants. Under Cale Street’s ownership, Tamsett says there are ambitious plans to build on the existing offer, creating new and exciting experiences for visitors to enjoy across retail, food and leisure, with Derbion offering people everything they need for a vibrant day out in the heart of the city.
Derbion is known, says Tamsett, for its strong line up of retail, F&B, and leisure brands, including a 12-screen Showcase Cinema De Lux, Hollywood Bowl, Paradise Island Adventure Golf and the 640 seat Derby Theatre. Since becoming Derbion and operating independently, however, he says the team has taken a much more community-led approach.
“The centre sits in the heart of the city so it’s important that we support our community, especially as we’re one of Derby’s biggest employers,” he explains, noting the recent announcement the centre will be sponsoring the Ramathon – the city’s half marathon – in June, and that the team are working with other key stakeholders on the City of Culture 2025 bid, with Derbion pledging £50,000 per year to the project, if Derby is successful in its bid.
Earlier this year, the centre also launched a new initiative called Derbion Cares, inviting local charities to be one of three chosen organisations to receive support from the scheme over the next 12 months, which he says could include lending space for fundraising activities and volunteer support from the team.
Looking ahead, Tamsett says the main aim is to build on the momentum of several major leasing deals last year, which include a 200,000 sq ft deal with the Frasers Group, with more new names set to join the scheme in 2022. Flannels and Mango also recently opened their doors and he says both are enjoying ‘real success’, also noting the newly announced Jack Wills which will join the scheme in the months ahead. “We are continually seeking to broaden our retail and leisure mix to firmly position Derbion as the go-to leisure and retail destination in the Midlands,” Tamsett says.
Following the pandemic, he believes consumer demands have shifted towards wanting more than just fantastic places to shop and eat, but there’s now a desire to have a strong experience-led offer too, and so Derbion is looking at expanding its operator mix in this sector even further and is in conversations with several new brands.
On the biggest challenges facing the retail industry, he says the pandemic has had lasting implications on the Derby centre, with non-essential stores remaining closed for months and prominent brands ceasing to trade on a national level. He does, however, recognise the silver lining of freed-up space, as the scheme’s Debenhams closed its doors, the centre was able to offer Frasers 127,000 sq ft of retail space.
He adds that while online shopping is likely here to stay, there is still plenty of appetite to visit shopping centres such as Derbion: “Our long term goal is to create a fantastic day out for the whole family, so not only are we bringing in new fashion operators, we’re also in advanced discussions with new F&B providers and looking at how to refresh our leisure offer to ensure that the centre will continue to appeal to a broad range of visitors.”
Interview with Adam Tamsett
What has been your career progression to becoming a centre manager?
I started working in retail after university, where I’d studied journalism. I wanted a career in PR and marketing and had two job offers on the same day – one from a tech PR firm and the other from Westfield to be a PR assistant for a shopping centre in Derby. I took the job with Westfield Derby a few months before it opened in 2007, which gave me the chance to work as part of an incredible team that delivered a project that was transformational for the city.
During my career I’ve moved around within Westfield and intu on different development projects and working on the intu brand launch in 2012. This increased my profile within the business and as a result, I was offered the role of centre manager at intu Broadmarsh in Nottingham.
During my time at intu Broadmarsh, I wanted to inject a real sense of energy into the role and make it the best place it could be. We developed an award-winning campaign called Pop-Up Broadmarsh which brought independent retailers into the vacant area of the upper mall and it was great to work first hand with these businesses. When the opportunity arose to come back to Derby as the centre manager in 2016, I couldn’t pass it up, so I made my move back over the M1 and have been here ever since.
Why did you want to be a centre manager?
The more time I’ve spent working in retail, the more I realised the important role that shopping centres play in every town and city across the UK. They are at the heart of the community and often are where people choose to spend their free time. Our goal is to create an amazing destination with exciting things to do and see.
I have a strong connection with Derby, having helped launch the centre back in 2007. I am particularly proud to be part of Team Derby and I’m a non-executive director at Marketing Derby. The city has an impressive core connection of businesspeople who are genuinely passionate about Derby and want it to move forward.
What is the most challenging part about being centre manager?
Part of being a centre manager is being a bit of a jack of all trades. You can’t become complacent and you’re continually assessing which areas needs the most attention. The positive of this is that you get to meet so many people and genuinely create compelling opportunities for the centre.
After the pandemic, I think there’s an even greater need to keep innovating, keep bringing new and exciting things into the centre in order to tempt people out of their homes. This is definitely a key focus for us and our leasing team, however these conversations take time. I think one of the biggest challenges is to keep our visitors engaged and interested, while lots of things are happening in the background, and when the deals are done, it’s a whole-team effort to get the stores open as quickly as possible.
What about your job do you love the most?
The variety – no two days are ever the same and you can never stand still. I am also privileged to lead a team of 140 people who work incredibly hard to keep the centre running smoothly. People are often surprised at the different careers available in shopping centres as we have talented teams across operations, finance, marketing, commercial, security, cleaning, waste management, maintenance and administration.
One of the elements that is most satisfying with the job is seeing your projects come to life and customers enjoy them. We’ve delivered some amazing things over the years with some brilliant events and new store openings. One of the first areas of focus when I came back to Derby was to launch the new Hollywood Bowl and Paradise Island Adventure Golf. This was a key development for the centre, building out our leisure offer and creating a compelling ‘day out’ message for us.
Flannels had a similar impact when they opened their store in December – I was thrilled when I saw how busy it was and how it brought a different demographic of customers into the centre.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
I love innovating and trying new ideas so I’d like to work with a small businesses, helping them to grow. I have met some amazing entrepreneurs through our Hatch programme, which we’ve just launched for the third year, offering six weeks of retail space for free within the centre. Failing that, I’m a real sun worshipper and I’ve been learning Spanish for the last three years so I’d maybe take the plunge and head for sunnier climates and put the language skills to the test.
This was first published in Retail Destination Fortnightly. Click here to subscribe.