As the third-largest listed owner of commercial property in continental Europe, Carmila was founded by French grocery giant Carrefour and large institutional investors in order to increase the value of shopping centres adjoining Carrefour hypermarkets in France, Spain and Italy. Its portfolio comprises 215 shopping centres and retail spaces, mostly leaders in their catchment area, which benefit from the Carrefour brand and a regular, loyal customer base.
Despite the strong performance of the grocery sector during the COVID-19 crisis, inevitably the impact of the pandemic and the retail and leisure lockdown means the business has reassessed how it evolves its shopping mall innovation and retail experiences moving forwards.
“The health crisis is creating an unprecedented situation for all players in the profession. It leads us to be selective in our project pipeline, for example by prioritising current projects such as our extension of Nice Lingostiere or the restructuring of Cite Europe, Calais, scheduled for early this year,” says Sébastien Vanhoove, deputy CEO of Carmila.
He adds: “Above all, we are currently focusing on management of this crisis. Our priority is both to welcome our customers in the best sanitary conditions but also to support our tenants in maintaining their activity. Capitalising on the digital ecosystem created by Carmila, our local teams are mobilised on a daily basis alongside tenants – both open and closed – to develop alternative sales solutions, such as click & collect. Wherever we are established, we act as a facilitator to support the digital transformation of our tenants.”
Looking beyond the short-term response to the COVID-19 crisis, Vanhoove says of the future of shopping malls that the company is “convinced that the health crisis is accelerating the consumption trends that we have already observed”. That means that customers favour a more local, more responsible, but also more innovative and digital business and customer experience, he says.
“These challenges are fully aligned with Carmila’s strategy for shopping mall innovation, which has been deploying local retail since its creation, giving pride of place to franchisees and local independents,” adds Vanhoove of its retail spaces and the retail experience. “We are also speeding up the establishment of second-hand businesses such as Emmaus and Patatam. Finally, we innovate by supporting the development of promising retail concepts such as French hairdresser-barber concept La Barbe de Papa, or e-cigarettes brand CiGusto, by developing a health offer in our centres via dental clinic network Vertuo or by creating turnkey service Carmila Franchise & Development, a dedicated service to support talented local tenants in taking up franchises. Each time, this is with an omni-channel strategy based on the best tools and digital partners.”
While many of these retail mall trends were already progressing, Vanhoove says that the company has also experienced some business positives for its bricks and mortar retail spaces from the current situation.
“The health crisis has paradoxically highlighted the strengths of Carmila‘s positioning. Our shopping centres, of medium-size and rooted in the regions, have shown their usefulness more than ever thanks to the dynamism of Carrefour hypermarkets and the many essential shops we have,” says Vanhoove. “In terms of our portfolio, our footfall and tenant turnover indices are higher than the averages observed by the CNCC.
“The summer period  was rich in the openings of new concepts such as Patatam, a second-hand pure-player which opened its first physical store at BAB2, Biarritz, or the creation, in Labege 2, Toulouse, of Marquette, a mini-market dedicated to digital native vertical brands. These prospects are encouraging and testify both to the attachment of the French consumer to local shopping centres like ours, and to the brands’ appetite for physical retail.”
Sébastien Vanhoove participated in a special MAPIC 2020 session dedicated to the French retail market called FORUM France – Part 2 – Nouveau mix, nouveaux usages on Tuesday 17 November 2020. He was joined by Anne-Sophie Maisonrouge, Terranae; Thiery Cahierre, Redevco France; Gael Thomas, Business Immo; and Stephane Klein, Pret A Manger.