Clusters – Low to Lowest Cost Solutions for the High Street

Post date: Jan 2, 2012 2:50:09 PM

Can 1+1 = > 2? 

Sometimes. By careful selection of the tenant mix, owners of modern shopping centres have understood the additional draw of grouping clusters of specific retail offerings. Although more challenging arranging retrospectively on an existing high street it is possible by close working between property owners and the wider business community. For example: 

Books – eg Hay-on-Wye

A book town is a town or village with a large number of second-hand bookshops sometimes combined with literary festivals of which Hay-on-Wye is the most famous. Hay has changed from a small market town into a mecca for second-hand book lovers and this transformed the local economy. A number of book towns are organised in the International Organisation of Book Towns. 

Fashion – Spitalfields Market and LA Fashion BID

Over the past two decades, Old Spitalfields Market has again established itself as a thriving market. A visitor to the market stalls and independent shops can find that hidden jewel, from jewel encrusted vintage boots, art deco sofas to rare vinyl for enthusiasts. At the end of 2005, after 18 years of sensitive preparation, the Spitalfields regeneration programme was completed. This regeneration has resulted in the creation of two new public spaces, Bishops Square and Crispin Place, a public art programme, an events programme, the restoration of several historic streets in E1 and a selection of carefully selected new retailers and restaurants. Spitalfields is no longer considered just a Sunday destination it has evolved into one of London's favourite and most vibrant areas. It is also a serious fashion destination.

In LA, businesses contribute over $3 million annually to support the Fashion District Business Improvement District (BID) – a non-profit organization, dedicated to making the community a clean, safe and friendly place to work, shop, do business and live through maintenance, security and marketing programs. Launched in January, 1996, the LA Fashion District BID was the first property-based BID in Los Angeles. The LA Fashion District BID covers 100-blocks in downtown Los Angeles. A small management team directs the day-to-day operation of BID programs and serves as a liaison for law enforcement, industry associations and city government.

Independent Fashion 

Closer to  home, Kingly Court is a stunning three-storey courtyard located behind Carnaby Street, London W1. The focus is on one-off creations and unique products in 30 fashion and ‘lifestyle’ shops which makes Kingly Court like no other shopping destination in the country. The shopping experience is combined with a range of cafes, restaurants and club premises and is open through breakfast lunch, dinner and beyond. 


New York is a leading example of a city that understands the art of Vintage clothing. A host of vintage and consignment stores select the best used (‘pre-loved’) clothing and sell at reasonable rates. Shops come in several varieties. Some thrift shops are run for profit and some donate proceeds to a particular charity and are run by volunteers. Then there are vintage shops, specializing in retro clothing, often from a spectrum of eras. Finally there are consignment stores, where owners drop off their unwanted clothing to be sold, sharing a percentage of the profit with the store’s proprietor.

Setting up Clusters

The guru of clusters is Michael Porter and his theories have been used the world over to support nations, regions or town and city centres to use these drivers to support economic growth. Most relevant here is his work at the Initiative for the Competitive Inner City although he tends to look at broader business sectors than just high street retail his findings are highly relevant to our high streets and town centres. ICIC recommend the use of a cluster led approach to find market opportunities and focus business attraction and retention efforts; promote anchor institutions as key economic and community drivers; and accelerate business development by improving access to captital and providing business and management education for business owners and connecting them to procurement and supply chain networks. 

In a retail context our traditional high streets could learn from modern shopping centres approach to clusters and 'tenant mix'. Research suggests that whilst modern centres have not achieved a high level of sophistication in this area they do tend to focus and shape marketing strategies with clear priority targets and are increasingly looking at ways and means that individual tenants can work with each other and the centre landlord to achieve common marketing and business development goals. An obvious way to manage this process on high streets would be through a Business Improvement District in which one of the objectives was to build a specific niche or cluster to ensure wider catchment.