Rewriting Leisure

Retail Destination speaks to Stuart Burdon-Bailey about his new venture as a leisure advisory consultant

Stuart Burdon-Bailey, former Head of Leisure at Curson Sowerby Partners, recently launched Edit Leisure, a new leisure advisory business specialising in leasing, development, consultancy, asset management and tenant representation. With over 20 years of experience in the property and leisure industry, Burdon-Bailey’s new venture offers landlords strategic development and leasing advice. 

The business, which will be based in Manchester and work nationwide, will also support regional and national occupiers by providing expertise in a wide scope of areas, ranging from site acquisitions and disposals to leasebacks and lettings.

Burdon-Bailey’s career has involved working within global consultancy firms such as CBRE and JLL, and has acted for some of the most respected leisure brands[IH1] , investment funds and developers in the UK. He is also one of only a handful of experts in the country that understands in depth the operational dynamics of the cinema sector, a specialism that Edit Leisure will offer to clients. Retail Destination spoke to the man behind the business about its aims, the state of the leisure sector, and the future of the industry.

Q&A with Stuart Burdon-Bailey

What was the idea behind Edit Leisure and why have you decided to launch now? 

I started my career working in the retail and leisure sector, and from that moment I fell in love with leisure – everything from service-based activities, exclusive restaurants to fast food takeaways, along with entertainment-based concepts like cinemas and bowling. It is perhaps the most diverse area in the commercial property market. It is constantly reinventing itself, changing customer expectations, challenging entrants, and offering new business models.

Although it experienced huge disruption during the pandemic, it highlighted leisure is a vital part of our social fabric. More opportunities will arise as the sector opens up, and with my strong track record of converting business objectives into tangible results, my aim to is create value and optimise business opportunities as the sector recovers.

Within this cluttered marketplace, I felt it was important to stand out with clear brand messaging and communication, and my thinking behind the Edit Leisure name is surmised by the verb itself – ED-IT: to revise, check, improve, correct, polish, adapt, rewrite, alter, change, modify – all of which can be applied to aspects of the leisure real estate industry.

What kind of impact do you envisage the company having on the sector?

I understand every side to the leisure market – I know how to be successful, and I know how to learn from failure, and this experience allows me to bring an informed and open-minded approach to each client and project. I operate as a niche practice within a niche sector, with the ability to develop strong relationships with clients that enable me to work effectively, both individually and as a part of a team.

How has the leisure sector changed from the years leading up to the pandemic to today? Where do you see it going from here?

The pandemic accelerated many operational changes that have been anticipated in the UK leisure industry over the last few years, but despite this challenging backdrop, it has encouraged business to look ahead. For example, within the fast casual dining and grab and go markets, there has been significant expansion, with many operators focused on city suburbs and regional towns to take advantage of the booming delivery and local markets.

However, we need to be mindful of challenges. For example, inflationary pressures remain a concern, as well as rising costs, staff shortages and energy prices. As a result, I think we are likely to see an increase in franchises and acquisition activity from private equity investors in the sector as it recovers into 2023.

For the wider leisure sector, we have seen a growing consumer demand for experience-led activities which center around competitive socialising such as bowling, indoor golf, darts, and pool. Businesses have been able to take advantage of these trends, and we’ve already seen a wave of new operators and concepts entering the market.

In the cinema sector, we have seen a greater emphasis on the importance of blockbuster films, together with a strong drive from consumers requiring that experiential touch – larger and comfortable recliner seats, enhanced sound systems, larger screens, and better selections of F&B are the key drivers.

Are there any leisure brands/concepts you see as being particularly robust or exemplary to the rest of the industry? Any new concepts that stand out as disruptive?

The effect of Covid-19 on the leisure and hospitality industry has been profound and will have a lasting impact on the sector. The businesses that have evolved to meet these challenges head on by adapting to consumer tastes and behaviors will inevitably be more robust.

There are always disruptive concepts in any business sector, up to a point where they become mainstream. Restaurants such as Taco Bell, Popeyes and Franco Manca, and destinations like Boxpark, are definitely ones to watch, as well as Boom: Battle Bar, Everyman Cinema, Puttshack and Level X.

What kind of business model do you think leisure brands should adopt?

Experience is everything in the leisure sector; whether that’s enhanced customer service levels, new innovative concepts or the use of technology in booking, ordering and payment. The willingness to adapt to consumer needs and other external influences will no doubt impact the customer experience.  Consumer demands have evolved quickly over the past two years and businesses have had to change accordingly to encourage a swift return of business, and providing that enhanced customer experience is key.

Finally: any further thoughts on the leisure sector as a whole?

I love it! It’s my passion. It’s one of the most interesting, dynamic, challenging and rewarding sectors to be involved in, and I can’t wait for this next stage in my career and to bring some fascinating concepts to the forefront of the leisure scene.

This was first published in Retail Destination Fortnightly. Click here to subscribe.

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