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In Detail: How Centre:mk continues to grow its customer base and retail offering

Chloe Burney
30 March 2023

Centre:mk, situated in a grade II listed building, has doubled as both a shopping centre and community hub since its creation in 1975. It is now listed as one of the top ten shopping destinations in the UK, thanks to consistently rising footfall and sales.

Kevin Duffy, Centre Director of Centre:mk, tells about how the retail destination has became one of the UK’s top ten shopping centres, its plans to keep outperforming UK industry benchmarks, and how its leasing strategy helps ensure the centre remains appealing to consumers.

kevin duffy

Kevin Duffy

Kevin Duffy, Retail Director of Centre:mk

What are the drawbacks of operating in a grade II listed building?

We can’t change anything! But it has its benefit and challenges. The centre is on a grid system and we can only provide units of a certain size to retailers, and often can’t do some of the stuff they could in other shopping centres. We can go sideways, but it can’t pop out and can’t increase the head hight.

Has retail fully recovered since the pandemic?

I heard from other locations that they’re moving to more ‘specialist spends’ and our shopping centre isn’t doing that. We’ve got a wide, diverse catchment all the way from Milton Keynes to Coventry and Birmingham, down to Luton and Watford and across the Oxford and Cambridge.

A lot of that catchment is very affluent, which means they’re willing to travel. Centre:mk is a destination in its own right. It has got great parking and it has got a key line up. There’s not many town centre shopping locations that have John Lewis, M&S and Primark. Not to mention the next tier of retailers including NEXT, TK Max, River Island, JD sports. We’ve got a really strong retail line-up and for us, that’s really paid retail dividends - I would absolutely say we're on a positive trajectory.

Can you tell me more about your beauty offering, including services not just retail?

We’re always looking to understand what the current consumer trends are, especially through social media and talking to our customers in person! We understand what the consumer wants and then adapt our leasing strategy to deliver it. This ensures that our set stays current to today’s consumer.

It would be quite easy to sit on our laurels and go... "we’re a top 10 shopping centre, we’re very successful, we don’t need to do anything"... but that’s not what we do. We’re a top 10 shopping centre because we stay relevant to today’s consumer.

We constantly try to bring in the best retailers that are coming into the UK. For us, we’ve got to keep on top of that, we can’t be complacent with our research on today’s retail climate.

Is there anything you’d like to improve about the shopping destination?

ESG is very high on our agenda - sustainability is a massive thing on our consumer’s minds, so we’ve got a whole ESG strategy for the building. We’ve got a really good set of sustainability credentials, but we’re also looking at what our retailers do and how can we engage them to think about sustainability.

H Beauty recycles make-up, John Lewis offers exchanges, M&S does the same. Our ESG credentials are strong, but we want to get them even stronger through working with our tenants.

What attracts shoppers to Centre:mk?

Middleton Hall is one of the biggest shopping centre event spaces. We have about 180 events per year, and we’re constantly building on that. Our events range from sustainability-focused events to commercial events including job fairs, car shows and wedding shows. We’re really trying to position the shopping centre as the heart of the city.

As a town centre, we don’t have a town square. There’s not a general meeting point where you can gather, so people meet here and this massively drives our sales. It’s really important for us to make sure that when we have events on, they really connect with our consumers. There’s a massive improvement in sales on days when we have an event on and that’s more than half of the year, which is good for us.

Have you noticed a change in consumer behaviours changing during this time of economic uncertainty?

Leasing has changed massively over the past five to ten years, but that's everywhere in the UK, not just with us.

We’re seeing improvements with some retailers, a great example is Primark - 100% up on its target last year. Then we’ve got jewellery retailers upsizing and taking up new space. So it’s across the board - it's not just one particular area of the shopping centre that’s doing well.

When we look at sales, they’re up against 2022, 2021 and 2019. We’re also up against national trends, including footfall, which has increased. Womenswear, accessories, and jewellery sales were up by as much as 32.6% from 2021 during the key Christmas period.

When leasing stores to a retailer, what do you look for?

It’s about their offer and if it meets our leasing strategy. It also depends on whether we have the right space to give them at the moment or if we can give them space in the future. We then need to decide if we make a space to bring that retailer in, or do we move others around to fit them in.

I always say a shopping centre’s leasing strategy is like a jigsaw, you’ve got lots of moving pieces in it and you’re not quite sure where the pieces fit.

A good example is our new retailer H&M and H&M Home, which needed five separate units. We created a leasing strategy around developing that space to get them in and that’s a long term plan. You can’t just create 30,000 sq ft for a shop, especially in our centre where the leasing is strong. We don’t have huge amounts of space, we have to create that space. When we’re bringing in someone like H&M... it’s years in the planning!


The centre recently added Charles Tyrwhitt to its line-up of brands after data revealed that Centre:mk's affluent customers are interested in an expanded luxury offering. also talks to Sinead Morrissey, Store Manager for Charles Tyrwhitt at Centre:mk, about its retail operations since opening and how they cater to the centre's clientele.

Sinead Morrissey, Store Manager for Charles Tyrwhitt

Does your best-selling items differ in centre:mk to other locations?

I wouldn't say that there is a big difference between our product sales and other locations - shirts have always been our bread and butter here at Charles Tyrwhitt, and for the Centre:mk store this is no different.

The demand for our smart casual offering has definitely increased over the years, and both chinos and knitwear continue to be key areas of focus for us. This is reflected in the way we have seen our customers shop, and we have built our new concept stores intentionally to make outfit-building easier, no matter the occasion.

Can you tell us about your new one-to-one styling appointments? 

Our mission at Charles Tyrwhitt is to "Make it easy for men to dress well" and what better way to do that than to offer a one-to-one appointment? Appointments allow our customers to book in a time convenient for them to visit one of our stores and a member of our team will be on hand to help. Not only can we support with measuring and finding the perfect fit, but appointments allow us to establish what our customer wants and offer styling advice to ensure they find exactly what they need. This adds a more personal touch when shopping for special occasions. We always want to create an experience that customers will remember.

Charles Tyrwhitt chose Centre:mk as its first destination to roll out its new store design, why?

Centre:mk provided the perfect location to debut our new store format, quite simply! We have great confidence that our premium menswear offering sits comfortably alongside the centre’s other reputable brands. We have a great fondness for Milton Keynes, particularly as it is home to the vital engine room of our brand, our distribution centre and customer service teams.

Why do you think customers continue to spend with you during this time of economic uncertainty?

Our customers shop with us for a number of reasons that are important to them. We offer the customer a good amount of choice, and they make decisions based on what they need, but I believe that events in people’s lives also create this demand: for work, attending a special occasion like a wedding, or even a day out at the races.

What are the benefits of an in-person experience for consumers rather than online?

We have a great online business, and we offer customers the chance to explore the full range at the click of a few buttons. In our stores, we bring that website to life - you get the full sensory experience and our teams love helping the customer select and try on before they buy. Getting to touch and feel the product in a store that looks great enhances customer experience, and our teams ensure it is a memorable one.

The interactive experience in-store allows customers to be measured, try on items and have a few laughs along the way. New tech, such as transactional tablets, allow us to combine the endless online range with the charm of a one-to-one shopping experience. It’s win win!


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