It’s official – Birmingham is booming. According to internal migration statistics, over 6,000 people left London for Birmingham in 2015, making the city the most popular destination in the UK for those looking to move out of the capital. And it’s not difficult to understand the reasons why: over the past decade, the city has benefited from a great deal of inward investment, underpinning Birmingham’s role as the cultural and social hub for the Midlands with its compelling blend of retail, entertainment and leisure attractions.
From a business perspective, Birmingham has successfully wooed a number of big corporates, with the likes of HSBC and Deutsche Bank choosing to open offices in the city to benefit from its cost effective commercial terms and skilled workforce. The Birmingham crane survey published by Deloitte said that in 2015 alone close to a million sq ft of office space was being built, with the amount of investment into offices tripling between 2013 and 2015. And with an influx of young professionals arriving from the capital, the city has grown significantly as a hub for financial and professional services, placing it firmly on the international business map.
An important driver for those flocking to Birmingham is the reasonable cost of living, which compares favourably to London. With the average rent in the city at three times lower than London, it is a particularly enticing location for Millennials in their twenties and thirties looking to enjoy more of their disposable income. But these young discerning consumers are increasingly looking for more than pure transactional value as they consider parting with their hard earned cash; they are looking for experiences. Our own research, undertaken in conjunction with Global Data, demonstrates that Millennials in the West Midlands are more likely to prioritise spending money on experiences such as eating out and other leisure activities than their national counterparts (69% vs. 62%). They are also more likely to choose where they shop based on the presence of restaurants or cafes that they like (36% vs. 34%). When it comes to shopping, the in-store experience is still the preference for the younger generation, with 53% of Millennials surveyed in the West Midlands confirming that they always prefer to shop in a physical store.
So it is logical that major brands continue to prioritise a flagship presence in the city, creating exciting challenges for established premier retail destinations such as Bullring, where physical spaces are constantly remodelled in the race to create the most exciting and innovative retail experience. Topshop, for example, took the opportunity to upsize its store in 2015. That same year, River Island launched its new Style Studio concept next door, a personal shopping service in a private in-store studio where shoppers can treat themselves to an indulgent glass of Prosecco. And retailers such as Russell & Bromley and Coach have recently signed up to open new stores in Bullring, joining other luxury brands including Lacoste, Michael Kors and Diesel. Bullring’s LinkStreet has successfully attracted a range of niche, urban brands, some of which were previously only found in London, such as Cereal Killer Café, Barber Barber, Irregular Choice and Pretty Green. Others are local independent names such as Vincent Van Doodle and Not Dogs, all of which come together to bring a Carnaby Street style retail experience to Birmingham in what is now Bullring’s second busiest entrance. The diverse range of retail and leisure brands now found in the city includes everything from independent start-ups, to established retailers, to global names, providing an offer that truly has something for everyone.
And with the recent opening of Grand Central, Birmingham has gained another landmark retail destination with a distinct twist. Beneath its distinctive retail architecture lies New Street Station, the busiest urban mainline rail facility in the UK outside of London. Offering a host of retail and dining brands including the likes of The White Company, Cath Kidston, MAC and Pho, the aspirational offer is complementary to the international flagships of Bullring and the city retail landscape in its widest sense – and yet equally it succeeds in delivering a highly tuned offer which acknowledges the millions of time pressed commuters for whom the building forms an essential, welcoming and convenient component of their daily working lives. Uniquely anchored by a full line John Lewis department store, Grand Central is unlike any other travel hub in the UK. But it’s not all about a new look and fresh retailers, Grand Central and New Street Station are fundamental to the connectivity of Birmingham, linking the districts to the city centre and ensuring a steady stream of commuters and visitors arrive in Grand Central every day of the week.
Topping all this off is Birmingham’s claim to be the only UK city hosting all five major UK department store operators. No Birmingham feature would be complete without mentioning the instantly recognisable iconic Selfridges building which has become a symbol of the city worldwide, reflecting its truly international retail outlook.
So, the evidence is clear – Birmingham is booming. Its economic fundamentals are compelling, a bright future is looking assured and longer term the arrival of new commercial drivers such as HS2 should cement prospects for a long time to come. As major stakeholders in the city, we look forward to the continued evolution of Birmingham as it goes from strength to strength