THE owner of the North East’s main shopping centres is hoping a £25m investment will lead a revival for the hard-pressed high street.
Capital Shopping Centres, which owns Eldon Square in Newcastle and the Metrocentre in Gateshead, is renaming itself and investing millions in its website to help its shops appeal more to the smartphone generation.
The business – which includes a number of other major shopping malls including the Trafford Centre in Manchester and Lakeside in Essex – attracts around half the UK’s population with more than 30 million unique visitors annually, and is hoping to use that reach to boost its retailers.
It announced the rebranding yesterday, calling itself Intu, the same day that music retailer HMV called in the administrators.
HMV is the second high-profile retail casualty this year following camera shop Jessops and the collapse of names including Comet, Game Group, JJB Sports and Clinton Cards last year.
The group is spending £7m on the rebranding, plus £8m on its digital infrastructure – including its own new fibre optic network in every centre to provide free wi-fi for shoppers using their smartphones. Eldon Square will be one of the first in the free wi-fi roll-out.
A further £10m is being invested on the creation of intu.co.uk, a single website linked to the shops in CSC’s malls that aims to provide a boost to the ailing high street.
He said: “All the retailers’ websites will be incorporated into it. You log in once and you can buy from all the shops. We’ve got 15 centres but very few people appreciate they are all owned by the same company.”
CSC has been working on the rebrand and a major digital revamp of the business for around a year.
It will start to roll out the changes in the next couple of months, with Eldon Square among the first to see the benefits.
CSC chief operating officer Mike Butterworth said: “We were particularly keen on a short name that could be used as a pre-fix.
“In the case of the North East, it will be Intu Eldon Square and Intu Metrocentre. The company has to change its name next month, then there will be our annual report and accounts as Intu Property at the end of February.
“You will start to see branding rolling out thereafter, probably from about May. But it’s not just a name change.”
Mr Butterworth said the Intu brand would also be important in attracting new tenants, such as US retailers looking to move into the UK.
Once the Intu name becomes established, it is hoped that people will realise that all 15 centres are part of the same chain.
CSC says the investment will result in a better customer experience and higher spending and footfall for retailers.
There are currently 12 HMV stores in CSC centres, including one in the Metrocentre.
Mr Butterworth said: “Obviously, we’re disappointed, but it’s been generally expected for some time. We’d be disappointed to lose them.
“But they have good-sized shops and you end up getting someone who is a better retailer. When they are failing, their contribution to the centre as a whole weakens.”
CSC says the investment will result in a better customer experience and higher spending and footfall for retailers