From desolate to destination

The Boulevard in Banbridge marks its five year anniversary

From a desolate outlet on the periphery of a small Northern Irish town to Ireland’s most exciting retail and leisure destination, Lotus Property and partners Tristan Capital have significantly and successfully developed The Boulevard and the surrounding Outlet Park development since acquiring it in 2016, creating sustained economic growth for the local area.

The once all-but-abandoned scheme now attracts upwards of 4.5m in footfall annually, employs more than 500 people, and has established a sense of place that has helped put Northern Ireland on an international map as a thriving retail and leisure destination.

Housing more than 50 globally recognised designer retail brands, Northern Ireland’s premier outlet centre is situated close to the Republic of Ireland border, benefitting from shopper footfall from capital cities both north and south of the border, Belfast and Dublin.

The outlet’s already strong roster of retail brands is soon to be bolstered by the arrival of a 3000 sq m M&S Simply Food, a 4518 sq m The Range, and perhaps most excitingly, a Park’N’Ride facility which will shepherd shoppers to the hotly anticipated HBO Game of Thrones Studio Tour and visitor attraction, which is expected to bring more than 650,000 international tourists to The Boulevard annually when it opens in Banbridge later this year.

Five years ago

The empty scheme was far from a thriving retail and leisure destination when first acquired by Lotus Property. Visitors to the outlet centre located on the periphery of the Small Northern Ireland town of Banbridge described it as a ‘cold, empty wind tunnel’ and ‘the coldest place on earth’. The new landlords, however, saw the potential in the scheme, and so a team of specialists was recruited to deliver Lotus Property’s vision of creating an internationally competitive retail scheme.

This vision included dramatically reshaping the mall, creating an enhanced sense of arrival on-site, improved landscaping, a rebrand, the appointment of a dedicated centre management team, an events programme to draw family and fashion focused shoppers alike and an enviable portfolio of the hottest retail, F&B and leisure names.

An ambitious plan by any measure, but for a destination perfectly positioned in between two of Ireland’s most populous cities, one which seemed destined to succeed.

A carefully crafted rebranding campaign said goodbye to ‘The Outlet’ as it was formerly known and hello to ‘The Boulevard’ with a major investment and a first for Northern Ireland – the installation an ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) illuminated roof – to promote a more comfortable environment for visitors, allowing for all-weather ‘outdoor’ shopping – something which soared in popularity during the pandemic.

In five years, the further development of Outlet Park, which The Boulevard is situated in, has seen the scheme’s footprint widen, its offering to customers both sides of the border and beyond growing exponentially. The landmark Game of Thrones Studio Tour attraction, for which there is already on-site signage and through-the-line marketing activity, is currently in development to position The Boulevard as a gateway destination for the anticipated 650,000 international tourists expected per year.

Fashion Forward

With longstanding anchor tenants Gap, Nike, M&S and Timberland since opening day, The Boulevard has continued on a positive growth trajectory since being acquired by Lotus Property, continuing to add brands including Dune London, Molton Brown and Joules in 2020, and Crew Clothing, Levi’s and Guess in 2019.

Its outdoor shopping environment enabled it to buck the national downturn trend during the 2020 pandemic, seeing a 3% rise in footfall and a 7% increase in turnover. More recently it has enjoyed a record first week of trading following the hugely anticipated easing of local lockdown restrictions in Ireland in May 2021.

The outlet welcomed the largest number of visitors to the scheme in its entire trading history, with turnover taken ranking among the top five trading weeks since the scheme opened, representing the highest turnover achieved outside of a Christmas trading period.

Sales were up a 108% year-on-year and footfall up 73%, compared like-for-like to the same week in 2019, success which ran on through the May Bank holiday weekend and the week following.

Several brands have reported that The Boulevard stores were among the best performing in the district, country and even Europe – with many trading top in their region comparable on the same May Bank Holiday period in 2019.

A leisure destination

The ever-changing retail landscape of today demands more of our outlets than simply a retail offering. In today’s world, it is more about the customer’s overall experience and turning the scheme into a retail and leisure destination.

Lotus Property’s investment in The Boulevard brought this to light when a need to improve dwell time and become a family inclusive leisure destination was recognised.

Anchor leisure tenant Omniplex was secured and brought their state of the art 8 screen maxx cinema to The Boulevard along with the build of McDonalds drive thru, catering for customers as well bringing the A1 traffic to the scheme.

The overall customer experience has been a priority since the scheme was acquired by Lotus Property and continues to reap the benefits in its customer satisfaction, continually proven by ever-growing footfall and sales figures.

The Boulevard at Outlet Park is an example of an exciting retail destination that is making a lasting economic and social impact on its local area and putting Northern Ireland on the map as home to some of the most successful stores in many brands’ European portfolio – pointing at a confident Irish consumer and a fruitful and thriving retail market as we emerge from the Covid-19 Pandemic.

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