"An experience that goes beyond mere shopping"

Interview with Ulrich Wölfer, Chief Development Officer, mfi management für immobilien GmbH


mfi GmbH wants to turn shopping into an experience in their centers by offering a variety of gastronomic options, comprehensive services and consistent customer focus. One example is the Palais Vest in Recklinghausen, which opened last year. In this interview, Ulrich Wölfer explains why each shopping mall should have its own individual design today.

Image: Ulrich Wölfe; Copyright: mfi

Ulrich Wölfer: "The individual offering of a shopping center is crucial"; © mfi

Mr. Wölfer, many of your new shopping centers are being built in town centers, like the "Palais Vest" in Recklinghausen and the "Minto" in Mönchengladbach, for example. What is the advantage of these prime locations in the city versus locations in the suburbs?

For our projects, we keep looking for integrated sites. The idea behind this is that the customer foot traffic generated by the shopping center also has positive effects for the rest of the town center, of course. Conversely, the Center itself also benefits from customers who visit the other parts of town. Both need the respective customer foot traffic to be successful, so why not take advantage of this opportunity?

The Palais Vest is a shopping center with an integrated design concept. How is the idea behind this reflected in the architectural design?

Shopping malls are constantly changing, and with the Palais Vest, we wanted to implement a new idea, namely to create more than “just” a mere shopping Mecca. Unlike with traditional department store architectural design, which seems more shut off to the outside, here we emphasized an open and inviting effect. This is why the Center has a generous courtyard and several entryways from the city.

We view the Center as more of an experience, which is why the interior design, in particular, is more sophisticated than we all remember it from previous structures. Today’s architecture should also include artistic elements and a variety of entertainment, that “certain something” that excites and impresses visitors and garners the city as well as the shopping center the corresponding foot traffic.
Image: Kids area in shopping mall; Copyright: mfi

The integration of children’s play areas or the organization of different events and art exhibitions is an important factor; © mfi

The "Palais Vest" opened in the fall of 2014, the "Minto" in the spring of 2015. Are you satisfied with the development in the new Centers and the number of visitors?

We reached the two million visitor mark after a short amount of time both at the Palais Vest and the Minto. Of course, we are delighted with their immense popularity. For us, the number of visitors is an indication that we have chosen the right path for the respective site, that being our service-oriented approach in the Palais Vest and the marketing of the Minto as a "home of indulgence".
Image: food court; Copyright: mfi

Gastronomy is an important factor that contributes to increasing customer foot traffic; © mfi

As a shopping mall operator today, do you have to customize the selection of every new mall for the respective location?

The individual selection at each location is an immensely important topic, especially in times of increasingly successful online retail; it is also essential for the success of a center. At the Palais Vest, for example, we tried to attract retailers that were previously not represented in Recklinghausen and the surrounding area. That means, there is no market cannibalization but an additive effect. This is why we have 76 retailers in this Center that were not represented with their stores in the city until now.

As an operator, we also try to offer a platform for those retailers that are not represented in Germany yet. This includes the fashion retailer Reserved, for instance, which opened its first German store at the Palais Vest. We want to support these retailers in rolling out their stores nationwide.

The Palais Vest features a customized shopping center development, which is not just geared towards the location but also follows its own idea in terms of design and architecture. Is this individuality vital for the success of shopping centers today?

Today, an operator needs to approach the location individually and must not neglect the general conditions such as the type of customer, competitive environment and urban themes. An operator today must no longer make the mistake of placing shopping centers as isolated elements in a town and needs to focus on strong integration.

This is also an essential topic for mfi. The Minto Center we opened in Mönchengladbach is directly integrated into the cityscape like few others. This also has a positive impact on the rest of the town center: many local retailers adapt to this and conduct extensive renovations. They take the opportunity offered by the new Center to reinvent themselves and present themselves in a better light. In doing so, these retailers can also benefit from the increased customer foot traffic.
Image: People at rolling stairs; Copyright: mfi

Today’s architecture should also include artistic elements and a variety of entertainment, that "certain something"; © mfi

Your Centers offer a very extensive gastronomic selection. What role does the integration of gastronomy play today for a shopping mall?

Gastronomy is an important component of the experience, of course. When a customer visits a shopping center today, he or she demands a high-quality restaurant selection and a certain variety. This is a part of the amenity value in shopping centers and has actually no longer anything to do with the classic food courts and their typical fast food selection. The first reactions to this variety are often somewhat subdued since German customers are still not used to going to a shopping mall to eat. Yet this is changing right now and the range of services is being accepted more and more. This is why gastronomy is an important factor that contributes to increasing customer foot traffic just like the integration of children’s play areas or the organization of different events and art exhibitions. All of these aspects contribute to turning a shopping center visit into an experience that goes beyond mere shopping.

Author: Daniel Stöter; EuroShop
First publication at iXtenso.com