DISCOVERING HOW VALUE RETAIL’S CHAIR AND CHIEF MERCHANT, DESIRÉE BOLLIER, HAS BEEN REDEFINING THE CONCEPT OF DISCOUNT OUTLETS.
Pioneer of new retail experience, Value Retail, has redefined outlet shopping for leading designer brands and savvy shoppers who understand the meaning of luxury. The aim was to create an escape and a place to enjoy all day, alongside discovering amazing deals.
Founded in 1992, Value Retail now has 11 villages worldwide, including La Vallée near Paris, two latest destinations in China, and further plans to expand in Europe as well as the USA. But the crowning glory, or mothership as Desirée Bollier likes to refer to it, is Bicester Village in Oxfordshire, England that has recently added an extra 25,000 square-foot of space, with labels like Roksanda, Dunhill, and Charlotte Tilbury, to be enjoyed by around 6.4 million visitors each year.
We caught up with Bollier to find out what makes Value Retail unique, and how it has elevated its villages into luxury shopping experiences.
Tell us a little bit about your background?
Originally Lebanese, I grew up in Paris, went to law school, and then worked in the States which included a position at Ralph Lauren for 14 years. I’m slightly OCD, very detail oriented, passionate for the arts, and fashion for me is very personal. I don’t view my work as work, and I don’t view my personal life as personal life, it’s an ecosystem. I love travel and am an extremely curious, adventurous person.
What has been your vision for Value Retail?
We never thought of ourselves as an outlet, and always wanted to convey that we are a destination. Emotionally, the guests are investing time to come to us, and we are not a bargain basement. That dictated a lot of the decisions we made, for example it being a village in the form of an outdoor avenue with specific architecture, and then we started to add all the layers to make it magical. We chose table food restaurants, keeping in mind the authenticity. We wanted a stress escapism. We have gorgeous landscapes, great pop-ups, and improved food offers. Hospitality is the ultimate indulgence, so we added valet parking, personal shopping, and styling, and opened the apartment for VIP clients to look through private sales or trunk shows.
Which features would specifically appeal to a Middle Eastern shopper?
Our goal is to make sure that a Middle Eastern customer feels as welcome and comfortable as though they would be shopping in their home country. When we opened our own train station, we made sure that the announcements were very inclusive, and it is the only one in the UK that does that. We also have Arabic fluent hostesses, and all the services that we’ve added are with the most demanding customer in mind. I come from the Middle East, so I know the level expected. The Middle Eastern customer drove us to expand lifestyle, especially with unique candle brands.
How have you embraced the digital age?
We embrace digital, it is a means to engage with a customer. If you’re selling the experience and the memories, it is not possible to achieve that online, but you are going to get the convenience. Its knowing how to use digital to ease your journey, and make it part of the journey.
How do you cater to a millennial shopper?
The millennial Middle Eastern shoppers are smart, fashion aware, and are curious to discover new designers. I don’t think they have a pattern and that’s what I love. It’s about. ‘is this going to be something that belongs to my tribe,’ and if it does, then its adopted and adapted.
How has Value Retail supported the fashion industry?
The crisis in 2008 forced us into thinking differently. How do you support talent when they are crushed? So, we created a platform and partnered with the British Fashion Council to support that, and it worked. The money could be given back to them, so they could finance their next collection. We did that across all the other villages, each one is in a location that breeds talent, be it in fashion, art, or food, and our duty is to support. Our goal is for designers to trust that we are an environment that is safe for their brand, that we’re not going to dilute their creation by being cheap.
What has been key to the success of villages like Bicester?
We have two customers, the brand, and our guests. Both must be happy. Balance and harmony must co-exist.
What’s your secret weapon?
Listening to my instinct.
Who do you turn to for advice?
This is not a silver bullet answer. Depending on the advice I am seeking I will turn to a handful of trusted friends, colleagues, and family members, relying on each to be my sounding board depending on the situation that I need advice on.
Where is your favourite city?
Right now, it is Shanghai and the energy it is exuding, the speed it is evolving, and the hunger for newness, making it a high voltage city.
Which women inspire you?
Women who in the face of adversity never lose sight of their priorities and values. Women who view their role to support the development and success of other women. My grandmother was someone who I admired greatly for her generosity and empathy, yet with a real firm handle on running her family.
What is your life motto?
I love life, embrace it, engage with it. Having a passion and vision, and being able to communicate and motivate my teams to see it this way. I love curious minds and that’s what keeps you young. The day you stop being curious, you die.
Tell us your resolutions for the year ahead?
My children have come up with the most insane and generous gift for my 60th which consists of a surprise every 4th day of each month, somewhere on this planet. My resolution is to enjoy every minute of such marvelous experiences yet to come. I have experienced 3 so far with 9 to go, and if they are as high voltage as the last, survival will be one of the resolutions.