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'Online shopping changed our retail habits forever': Alana Coyle of CBRE tells us how recovery in the retail sector started with the discounters

Published 24/11/2015

Alana Coyle of CBRE with John Mulgrew at the Mac in Belfast city centre
Alana Coyle of CBRE with John Mulgrew at the Mac in Belfast city centre

The rise of the discounters provided the first signs of things picking up for retail in Northern Ireland. But it's unlikely to ever regain the buoyancy it had before the global recession, with shopping habits changing so much in the last decade, according to Alana Coyle of commercial property firm CBRE. Alana is now director of retail agency.

We chat over lunch at Native - the new Yellow Door Deli eatery at The Mac in Belfast.

As our lunch arrives, a risotto for Alana and a salmon and prawn dish for me, she said it's been a rocky road for retail here. Before the global recession, empty properties weren't empty for long, with multiple offers normally on the table.

"You considered it all, and then went with the best one," she said.

Alana said 2009 and 2010 were the toughest years for the industry here, with countless big names entering administration, leaving empty buildings in their wake.

"That was the most difficult time. Shortly after that, it was the influx of the discounters, and they started to pick up.

"But it's only in the last six to nine months that we have started to see rent increases and competitive pitching for units."

But the days of almost generational leases of 25 years are almost entirely gone.

A typical lease is now normally 10 years, often with the option of getting out earlier with sufficient notice.

"I think it's probably difficult to say we will ever be back to where we were. Retail and shopping has fundamentally changed with the rise of the internet."

Discounters have become ever more prevalent on high streets across Northern Ireland and the UK as whole, including newcomers such as Tiger and Pep&Co.

Property and investment graduate Alana - who studied at Ulster University's Jordanstown campus - had initial ideas of becoming a teacher, before moving into the world of property.

"It was at the time when I was going to university, and had been accepted to Stranmillis College, and the headline then was 'no jobs for teachers for 10 years'.

"I thought, I might need to rethink this."

And it's certainly a busy job, with Alana's husband John a surveyor for Osborne King.

"We tend to try, when we go home, to talk about other things," she said.

"Work sort of overlaps. We have such a good team, and I would socialise quite a bit with people from work, and people I have worked with in previous roles. I was in Osborne King for about 10 years and then moved to CBRE to start the Belfast arm of the retail team about two years ago."

She's also a self-proclaimed 'foodie', and enjoys cycling in her downtime.Speaking about the future of Belfast and other retail sites across Northern Ireland - over a couple of coffees - she said there's now increasingly a mixture of high-end brands, and cheaper discounters, vying for space.

"I think we will see the vacancy rate decline massively," she said. "I think we will start to see, with the demand we have and the names coming, some are a bit more upscale, some are a bit more discount - there may be a better mixture."

Native at The Mac, Belfast

John had:

Smoked salmon and prawns..................£9.00

Diet Coke........................................................£2.00

Espresso............................................................£2.10

Alana had:

Butternut squash risotto..........................£9.00

Sparkling water.............................................£2.00

Americano.......................................................£2.20

Total:................................................................£26.30

Belfast Telegraph

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