Lone Design Club: Attracting Gen Z “biggest challenge” for landlords

23rd November 2023 | Jack Oliver

Getting Gen Z consumers to spend time and money at retail destinations is the “biggest challenge” facing landlords, says Rebecca Morter, founder and CEO of Lone Design Club (LDC).

“The data on shopping behaviours – especially from the Gen Z audiences – show that they need discovery and freshness from their physical retail and shopping”, she tells Completely Retail News.

Launched in 2018, Lone Design Club – which opened its latest location at One New Change in London on Monday – utilises a pop-up format to bring online brands into physical spaces.

Morter says the retail platform offers a chance for young consumers who interested in digital and social media-led brands to get away from “copy-and-paste high streets”. She cites brands such as Spanx, Charlotte Tilbury, and ASOS as part of a long list of retailers which are looking for a home on the high street.

“Omnichannel is the future”, Morter explains, stating that some customers prefer to look online but convert in-store, whilst others prefer to browse on the high street but then actually purchase online.

“Now what we’re seeing with these trends emerging is that brands have to be online and offline to have a proper relationship with the consumer.”

Right: Rebecca Morter, founder and CEO of Lone Design Club

The pop-up formula is proving increasingly popular, with a recent survey by Google finding that of retailers that had experimented with the format, 51% reported increased market visibility, 46% saw higher sales, and 46% saw higher levels of social media engagement.

Lone Design Club’s latest pop-up at One New Change is its third this year in collaboration with Landsec, following successful activations in Victoria and Trinity Leeds.

The services LDC offers for landlords are three-fold, including brand introductions and incubations, consumer insights, and ESG (environmental, social, and corporate governance) strategy.

These brand introductions see Lone Design Club help landlords find up-and-coming brands, says Morter.

She adds: “The reason they [employ us] is they’re creating incubation spaces that brands can plug into to trial, test, and access consumers in all different locations across their retail portfolio.

“They’re doing it to allow social media and digital-first brands to build confidence in retail, they’re also doing it as a way to identify which brands work in which locations and why. Because at the moment there’s not enough data and insight to tell them exactly why a particular brand will work in one location and why it won’t work in another.”

Lone Design Club’s One New Change pop-up

This lack of data is the reason why some online brands fail in their first forays into the world of physical retail, she says:

“Time and time again we’ve seen mistakes being made where very cool, amazing digital brands are put into physical spaces that would never work.”

Morter says LDC operates by taking general, high-level data reports, such as those from CACI or Acorn, and creating activations which test those theories on a more granular level:

“It’s about populating a space and finding the relevant brands to fit the relevant units, and ensuring that they’re not just looking at retail transactionally, but it’s experiential”, she says, “it’s about community, it’s about storytelling, it’s about what can’t be done online.”

Morter also describes the steps LDC takes to ensure that its brands meet ESG guidelines, with all tenants vetted to ensure that they meet one of three sustainability pillars: the use of assembled materials; ethical production; and social responsibility.

“We use that as part of the communications to customers, but we also use it as a way to show the landlord what younger, smaller, and newer brands are doing when it comes to a sustainability approach”, she adds.

These sustainability targets are becoming increasingly important to landlords, with 97% of real estate companies stating that net zero is commercially important to their business. There are also legal requirements landlords must meet, such as a minimum efficiency standard of EPC Band B for privately rented commercial buildings in England and Wales by 2030.

However, Morter says that many still struggle with sustainability due to a lack of set guidelines or compliance rules:

“Things are getting better with new government compliances, it’s moving in the right direction, but it’s not enough yet. And it’s not audited enough. I think the biggest challenge is that asset managers are still trying to understand what it means and what those processes should look like so they can feel confident.”

The interior of LDC’s One New Change pop-up

As well as the Landsec collaboration, LDC is also running a programme with Fenwick department stores. Opening two pop-ups in Canterbury and Colchester in the run-up to Christmas, LDC is looking to help bring digital-led brands to Fenwick department stores.

“We’re able to create a platform in the Fenwick location to allow brands to trial, test, and attempt to build relationships with those Fenwick consumers, says Morter, “they’re able to access that customer and see how the location works, learn about the location, and really build their confidence in that space.

“At the same time, Fenwicks can see that sales report, they can see what brands and categories are performing, what is the customer demographic?”

LDC’s One New Change pop-up will run until Christmas Eve, whilst its activations in Colchester and Canterbury will be open from 24 November until 21 December.


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