This post was first published by Croydon Advertiser on 17/03/2018.
We put your suggestions about how to improve Boxpark to its founder Roger Wade
A candid Roger Wade, founder and CEO Of Boxpark, has addressed the perceived shortcomings of the Croydon food mall.
The owner of Boxpark has hit back at criticisms levelled against the popular venue and sought to persuade some cynics to pay a visit.
Croydon residents have highlighted issues they have with the food mall, including over the pricing of the food on offer from tenant vendors – and the rents charged to the vendors themselves.
But Boxpark founder Roger Wade has hit back at these complaints saying that customers and tenants are listened to and supported.
He has said that Boxpark goes above and beyond to help vendors boost footfall and has even surveyed customers to see what the venue’s visitors really want from “Croydon’s Boxpark”.
Some eateries have complained that rents charged to trade in Boxpark are too high and have driven out start-ups and independents looking to do business in Croydon.
We spoke to Mr Wade about people’s concerns 18 months on from the food mall’s much heralded opening.
“We know this is not Shoreditch, things are different, customers are different. This is Croydon’s Boxpark,” he said.
“There are different customers in Croydon, they are more price conscious, they want value for money.
“What we’ve done is to have conversations with the vendors, passing on the message to our tenants, that the Croydon customer is looking for value for money and more choice.
“We are listening to our customers. We did a survey of 500 Boxpark customers, and we’ve taken what they have to say on board.
“For example, you can see and feel the impact of the winterisation work in the space. There are now heaters and insulation, it’s nice and warm.
“It’s also important in Croydon, I think, to make things welcoming and family friendly.”
Overhead heaters and insulation has been placed in Boxpark to keep out the winter chill, a common complaint from punters, particularly in the venue’s early days.
The venue’s revamped bar, due to be officially unveiled this week, will be expanded and more accessible – Mr Wade says this is on the back of a survey with Boxpark customers.
Some have raised concerns over the rents charged to vendors, which could potentially price-out more independent retailers.
Empty units at Boxpark have been cited as evidence of this trend.
However, Mr Wade has said Boxpark is performing well and his tenants at the venue are fully supported.
He said: “We have a long term approach. We’ve planned to break even in the first five years. After five years there will be more of a return.
“We’ve planned for no more than a 20% vacancy. That’s what we have, we planned for this.
“Because of this, there is little wiggle room in terms of what we can offer for our rents.
“But if someone was really struggling they can come to us, we’re not the kind of landlord that won’t listen.
“You are always going to get some tenants who leave and have a go on the way out, we understand that, that’s life.
“But we’re always looking to see what people’s concerns are and work with that to help them out.
“We’re trying to be here for our tenants. We had 256 events in the first year. We’re going to have more. That helps our tenants.
“We’re creating publicity for our tenants, we’re creating events, free events – which we don’t have to do – to produce more footfall for our tenants. We are doing everything in our power to help our tenants.”
If a business is struggling, they can opt out of the lease. This leaves, for a short time Mr Wade insists, a noticeable vacancy in units while they wait to be filled.
He said: “Because we work on five-year leases, we have break clauses. Some of our tenants might come to us and activate that break if it’s not working for them, then there is a little delay while we consider who could come in.”
Mr Wade has admitted that there is serious thought behind which vendors will be considered to take up units at Boxpark, with a balance of different businesses the key.
He has conceded that some businesses simply will not make it in the long term, and that they are free to activate break clauses and leave the venue if things are becoming a struggle financially.
Mr Wade has said this is the accepted risk of trying to support independents and star-ups.
The Boxpark owner also added that businesses have to be more savvy in serving the Corydon market.
He said: “We do look at the getting a balance, and seeing which places are working and which are not working.
“Sometimes you really can’t please everyone. People complain about vacancies and businesses leaving, but they also want – as we do – to see support for independents and start-ups.
“Well, when you have start-ups, the flips-side is they lack the financial power of more established tenants, so you are bound to have more instability and people moving on.
“We actually accept that, we’re happy to have change. For example in Shoreditch after the Olympics, half of the independents left
“But they also have to help themselves, making sure they are smarter in terms of pricing.”