Fabien Muller (L) and Milton Tan © AJ
The era of brick-and-mortar retail is here to stay, according to area retail consultant, Fabien Muller. Recent research by Sterling Economics – which predicted a “frenzy” of new retailers and space-hungry developers – has been “slightly overblown”, says Muller, who specialises in retail development in Germany.
He and his team at the Brussels-based Lemann office have invested in about 20 sites around the country, from Belgium to Spain, with a focus on the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Muller is far from alone: His clients represent the eclectic mix of likes of Alfa Romeo and Adidas – and, he adds, a small region of German retail heavyweights.
“We typically count about 11 to 12 ‘brick-and-mortar’ retailers in total, many from brands who were always destined to have a physical presence,” says Muller. “For me, people like Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Porsche always needed to have a brick-and-mortar presence, so we have to count them, too. Even InterVac, the supplier of the puffer jacket that was the biggest success of the 90s, has a giant store in London.”
Muller, an admitted “retail geek”, admits to having “clear inklings about some of the current brands that will dominate in the future,” but he can’t recall a single “rule” that he has used to fit them all in. “I never set a list of criteria for myself,” he says. “It’s always about the story. Each brand has its own personality, tastes and brands.”
For Muller, “bricks-and-mortar is evolving”, and the expansion of specialist products in online sales will have no real impact. “It’s not a new type of retailer that is emerging,” he says. “It’s a different type of consumer, who has more financial power than ever.”
What Muller can guarantee is that the internet will never replace the human touch. “Today, we need to allow for new brands and innovations by means of a retail environment,” he says. “It’s just that we have to do it in an integrated way, not separate and disconnected – as always happened before.”