The Interview: Janine Constantin-Russell, Managing Director, Icon Outlet at The O2
Janine Constantin-Russell is the Managing Director of Icon Outlet at The O2. The location is one of London’s busiest shopping destinations and is anchored by brands including Adidas, Calvin Klein, Nike, Superdry, Ted Baker, and Tommy Hilfiger.
Constantin-Russell has worked at some of London's most known brands and locations. Before joining Icon Outlet in November 2018, she was General Manager at Liberty for two years. She also worked as Head of Retail at Whistles; Senior Retail Director at Bicester Village; Head Of Retail, Luxury Jewellery and Accessories at Harrods; Retail Director at Browns; and Divisional Manager, Luxury Accessories and Fine Jewellery at Selfridges.
She talks to TheIndustry.fashion about the last four years at Icon Outlet, the impact of COVID-19, the destruction of the buildings roof earlier this year, the developing retail landscape, and why outlet shopping continues to grow.
Tell me about your role at Icon Outlet, how it has developed since you joined in 2018?
I look after everything here at The O2 except for the arena, which covers retail, marketing, and leasing. My role basically sees me be the ambassador for everything we do here!
I would say that my experience in retail has allowed me to really understand the market and secondary-price proposition, so when I initially came to Icon Outlet I was working with a lot of the big retail brands I'd worked with before and was able to talk to them about what really helps an outlet destination succeed - the best product, exclusives, special products. And of course, to succeed you've got to have a customer who enjoys spending.
My job also sees me deal with a lot of independent brands - I help with them with their initial move and shop fit into the destination, visit them weekly, chat about what's selling, new product mix, how customers are behaving, and so on!
In the last four years my team has also grown - I now have a Retail Director, an Operations Director, a Leasing Director for Icon Outlet, as well as an Asset Manager for F&B. We've developed and grown but still have the same vision we had when we opened - growing a team simply means I now have a lot more time to think strategically and look towards the future of the destination.
Looking at the last four years, what changes have you seen at the destination?
I have definitely seen our consumer grow as we've grown and developed. We are now really focusing on the message that we're a destination with lots of things to do 'under one tent', as opposed to when we opened where we talked about all of our aspects differently and separately.
We've also grown, which is difficult in a space that has a specific amount of sq ft! We're expanding into spaces actually outside of the dome structure, which is very exciting to us.
Over the last four years, what have you done here that really stands out at Icon-ic?
It's really hard to not be proud of everything that happens here and we're really lucky that we employ incredible people!
On the flip side, tough stuff has happened to us - the pandemic and our roof breaking apart during a storm. We actually started the year really strongly and delivered numbers in excess of 35% against pre-pandemic numbers. Overnight that changed and that success came to a half - we stopped, we looked at what we could deliver given the circumstances and we did it. Everyone here came together and really showed us how resilient and incredible they are.
We're a community here and it's almost impossible to tear us apart. That doesn't happen everywhere and our little microenvironment is what I'm most proud of.
With these challenges mostly in the past, do you feel like you've come out stronger?
Definitely! I've helped re-open this place four times and it's a skill I never expected to have.
As an independent venture we are able to sit back and look at how to improve things and react quickly to situations as they unfold. We could look at things and ask "Can we do this fix this?" or we could ask "What if we went crazy and did this instead?" - we've got to future-proof our location on the Thames.
We've really thought about things like sustainability and legacy too. If we fix something, change something, or even just improve something at The O2, we need to look at the potential problems or issues we may face in the future and how that impacts it.
We always try to deliver what the consumer wants...but we also look at how they are behaving to predict what they will want in the future and offer it to them as soon as possible. Data and information about demographics are incredibly important to helping us understand what the future of our destination looks like. The challenges we've faced in the past help us tailor those trends and decisions. We don't look towards tomorrow, we look towards the next 30 years.
How has Icon Outlet developed in response to its consumer since 2018?
We've welcomed some incredible retail partners and offices nearby. The local population has also continued to grow with some incredible residential developments. We really created this space with the knowledge that these developments would happen and we could attract new people to spend with us.
I've occasionally found it difficult to communicate our diverse demographic to our retail partners but every single one has eventually understood that our appeal is continuously growing and developing.
If our demographic pivots and is looking for a category or retailer we don't yet offer, we'll task our leasing team to solving it!
We also now offer pop-up spaces for brands to test how they sell in the destination, which also allows us to test how these categories sell and helps us decide if we should engage with a brand more deeply. It's a testing bed for both the destination and the brands.
How do you plan to continue to elevate the offering at Icon Outlet?
We are still relatively new - we've barely had a year to fully trade since opening in 2018. The area continues to grow and we've got to stay relevant to the consumer. The minute we get something right we've got to look at how to evolve it and remain relevant. If one brand leaves the venue, such as when Gap left the UK retail market completely last year, we then have an opportunity to look at a space and re-evaluate what it's used for. Evolution and being flexible is most important.