A GIANT retail and leisure destination on the south side of Glasgow reached a notable landmark at Christmas, but you will not find its most senior leader resting on his laurels.

Silverburn recorded 15 million visits for the first time in its history in 2023, underlining its recovery from the challenges of the pandemic and its ability to prosper amid the tough conditions facing the retail sector.

The number of people who passed through its doors last year was up 12.5% on 2022, as the centre bucked the trend of declining footfall blighting so many shopping destinations as the cost-of-living crisis continues to weigh on consumer confidence. It was aided by an “exceptionally” strong first 10 months, which saw consumers begin Christmas shopping earlier in a bid to spread the cost over a longer period.

David Pierotti, Silverburn’s centre director who has just worked his 40th Christmas in the retail sector, told The Herald one of the main objectives for the destination is to continually offer new services to consumers. This increasingly means adding more and new opportunities for leisure pursuits under its roof.

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The centre, which is owned by real estate players Eurofund Group and Henderson Park, revealed in January that it has struck a deal with Kingpin Bowling to open a 10-lane alley at Silverburn in late 2024. It will boost the growing leisure offer at the site, which includes a collection of major branded restaurants and a Cineworld multiplex cinema that attracts one million visits per year.

Mr Pierotti said: “What we are trying to do is diversify from traditional retail. We are not moving away from traditional retail. What we are trying to do is have a broader church of retail offers, leisure, and food and beverage and inject the evening economy a bit more and try to encourage people to come shopping in the evening, or go and play bowling, go for a meal, go to the cinema, go to the gym. What we are doing at Silverburn is to try and widen the variety of reasons to come on site.

“Post-Covid, people like to meet up with people. When we first started discussing this bowling alley I was really excited, because it is something that people like to do. They meet friends, they don’t necessarily go to the pub any longer. They will come to a shopping centre and meet friends for a coffee and a meal. So, to go ten-pin bowling or to go shopping or to go for a meal is quite an attractive option for customers, especially during the autumn [and] winter.”

Mr Pierotti added: “The ones [bowling alleys] that have closed elsewhere were generally standalone units. What we are doing in our industry is bringing them into large shopping centres. Maybe standing alone they are not as strong, but within a retail and F&B offer, it’s all part of a destination, all-in-one roof mentality, which we believe is the right way to go. And there’s free parking obviously.”

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Mr Pierotti, who began his career in retail at the age of 16 with clothing retailer Burton, said there would be other new additions to Silverburn this year, building on the 10 new arrivals it welcomed during 2023, which included food and beverage brands The Real Greek, Doner Shack, and Bread Meats Bread.

New tenants in the pipeline include fashion retailer Mango, car dealer Polestar, and Black Sheep Coffee, and the centre is fielding enquiries from other potential occupants. Mr Pierotti said the interest reflects the strong performance of the centre, although it is poised to lose one of original tenants. Pure Spa announced recently it will be closing its Silverburn outlet at the end of February after the firm said it had become challenging for its offer to be viable in shopping centre locations.

Mr Pierotti said: “We are attracting several new operators relocating to Silverburn or coming to Scotland or Glasgow for the first time.”

Work is also due begin to reshape the vast space formerly occupied by a Debenhams department store into two smaller units. The store has been closed since Debenhams was liquidated in 2021, which brought its long history as a bricks and mortar retailer in the UK to an end, though the name continues to live online under the ownership of Boohoo.

There are also plans to find new tenants for four units formerly occupied by brands traded by the now-defunct Arcadia Group: Topman, Topshop, Dorothy Perkins, and Burtons.

Mr Pierotti said: “We are going to put two large flagship units into that [Debenhams]. It will be a bit of a game-changer for us. We could have put another big department store in there but just felt it wasn’t the right way to go. We are basically going to half the unit in two and put in a beauty offer, and a large flagship retail offer as well.”

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Asked when shoppers could expect to see the arrivals, he said: “The enabling works for all of those activities have started. Cutting that unit [Debenhams] is a huge amount of work, so the plan is to have those two units open by Christmas next year, preferably around about October.

“Mango will be opening probably round about June, so we are quite excited about that. And there are about four or five other units I am desperate to talk about, but we just have to get them over the line. We are virtually there.”

WHILE Silverburn has been building footfall and attracting new brands, other shopping areas around Scotland have not been so successful. Indeed, parts of Glasgow city centre, including Sauchiehall Street, have been enduring well documented struggles since the pandemic.

Asked if retail has a future on Scotland’s city centre streets, Mr Pierotti replied: “Glasgow city centre is ranked second in the UK for retail spend after only the west end of London. Glasgow city centre has definitely got challenges, but what we do, slightly out of town is just give people reasons to come.

“We have to work harder on a marketing perspective and give people reasons to come to Silverburn, so we offer a kids’ play area, good customer care, a good range of shops, and a warm, safe, secure environment out of the elements. These are the things we focus on and that is how we compete with places like the city centre.”

But it is not just the high streets in Scotland’s major cities that have been finding the going tough since the pandemic. Some of the more traditional shopping centres in provincial towns around the country have struggled as big-name tenants have left, with the growth of online shopping often cited as a reason for declining footfall. But more recently exciting plans have emerged to revitalise locations such as East Kilbride and Cumbernauld, stirring hopes that a brighter future may lie ahead.

Asked for his thoughts on these plans, Mr Pierotti said: “I think inertia is not an option for any retail destination. You have to really move with the tide. We started that journey. It is good hear these other destinations will be starting the journey. We felt it was really important to diversify. Look at the facilities and the services you offer. We have introduced a kids’ play area, increased seating, and are refurbishing the last of our toilet blocks.

“We are also introducing a work hub that will be in the first half, where customers can come in and do a bit of work then go shopping. That’s going to be the first in Scotland to the best of my knowledge. We are also putting in another kids’ area quite close to Marks & Spencer.

“There are a lot of things going on and a lot of shopping centres are giving customers the opportunity to do different things when they come to visit. That has been our mantra now probably about the last two years, just trying to diversify post-Covid, try and broaden and give customers more choice.”

Meanwhile, at a time when so many Scottish high streets are blighted by vacant shop units, Mr Pierotti declared there was a role for the Scottish Government to play in supporting retail sector.

He said: “When you look at the number of people who are employed by retail and when you think in terms of the dormant units, it is a real opportunity or challenge for the Government to try to support retail a bit more, especially in Scotland.

“I have had a full career. That was my 40th Christmas in retail. I started as a 16-year-old with Burtons and there were numerous opportunities for young people to jump into different retail roles, and then maybe move into shopping centre management. That was the route I took, as opposed to going to university.

“I think government can always be innovative and look at ways to support retail because we are such a large employer, and we have had some major losses. Previously, I worked for Debenhams, I worked for British Home Stores. Their legacies are still much missed.

“But in retail you have to keep moving on, so any support from government to make it easier for places like Silverburn to open stores swiftly, efficiently, and safely would always be a good thing, and would be most welcome.”

A total of 2,000 people work at Silverburn, with that number rising to around 2,500 at peak periods.