John Hoyle. Founder & CEO of SOOK
Retail has been hit hard by the pandemic for 2 years now. 2022 must be a year of recovery. How do you think the retail landscape will evolve this year?
The retail landscape is looking a lot brighter this year with the easing of Omicron fears and Covid restrictions in the UK. In January, retail sales rose by 1.9% which was 3.6% above pre-pandemic levels. In addition to sales bouncing back, a significant shift in the retail landscape will be the optimisation of in-store experience to draw in customers. This optimisation includes elements such as digital walls, sophisticated consumer analytics, personalised shopping experiences and other interactive features.
One positive take away from the pandemic has been the light shed on the value of shopping small and local: the importance of community in our town and city centres is something that retailers recognise and traditional landlords are beginning to acknowledge and act on too. The newly opened Livat Hammersmith shopping centre – in which Sook has just opened its third London space – has been built with the purpose of serving the local community. The centre has plenty of space and opportunity for local creatives, start-ups and entrepreneurs to thrive while also hosting some of the UK’s biggest retailers. We’re excited to take our place in such an exciting new concept.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing retailers and brands?
One of the biggest challenges facing retailers is exposure at the right place and time. The online marketplace can be extremely saturated, so if brands are able to dip into a physical space now and again this issue can be addressed. However, the obstacle that retailers often experience with operating from bricks and mortar is affordability. But that’s where Sook comes in: we exist to democratise access to retail space through a sustainable solution that allows occupiers and landlords to cooperate on fair and beneficial terms. Sook offers space that is flexible, affordable, and digitally connected, bookable by the hour.
The SOOK retail concept is unique in so many ways, it feels like 2022 is going to be a huge year for SOOK as prospective retail partners develop more confidence post pandemic and want to ‘try’ physical retail. How are you set-up to meet high demand?
2022 will be Sook’s biggest year yet and we have numerous plans and exciting avenues to explore. We are set to open a new store each month and this week we are opening our fourth London store, and our second store in Mayfair – on South Molton Street.
It will be interesting to see how the two Sook spaces side-by-side complement each other and, if brands choose to take both spaces, how that could drive success. Sook is also expanding internationally with a number of overseas spaces in the pipeline.
The Sook team is also constantly growing and I feel that we are well equipped to meet the growing demand for adaptable retail space.
The UK high street is in decline due to countless challenges and record vacancy levels. Sook can be an important part of the solution, do you see SOOK as a key space on the majority of high streets and malls or just key cities?
I think any place where there is community and empty retail space is a good location for a Sook. Sook’s purpose is to provide a flexible solution for landlords and retailers and there are plenty of those in smaller cities and towns too. Each Sook space has its own feel and character whilst maintaining a sense of unity and so I think Sook’s adaptability will be the key factor in facilitating its success across a variety of different high streets.
Which new or existing retailers excite you? What are these brands getting right?
Timpson: a brand that is ubiquitous to the British high street with an authentic social mission embedded at its core delivering not only retail but amenity crucial to the communities that it sits within. Timpson is playing the infinite game delivering a sustainable business model that can stand the test of time.