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A Rebranding in Northern Ireland

September 13, 2018

Shoppers strolled a store-lined cobblestone crescent corridor, sheltered by a new translucent roof that welcomes natural light. An eight-screen, state-of-the-art Omniplex cinema is drawing movie buffs with blockbuster releases, while sports fans gathered around a big-screen TV to watch tennis and the World Cup football match in an indoor pop-up garden. Customers clutched takeaway bags from McDonald’s while browsing for a bargain.

This vibrant scheme, which originally opened as The Outlet at Banbridge in 2007, celebrated its grand rebranding and relaunch in March 2018. It was a rebirth for a center that had floundered before April 2016, when Lotus Property acquired it and resuscitated it with £7 million in improvements.

“It had been run by a bank for the last five or six years, and they were taking a typical banker’s approach—cut marketing spend, cut costs, limit everything,” said Alastair Coulson, managing director at Lotus Property. Footfall had dropped, and tenants were starting to abandon ship.

But Lotus recognized the outlet’s potential and strategic location on the A1 motorway between Belfast and Dublin. “Within an hour’s drive, you’ve got 1.5 million people, including all of Northern Ireland and several major towns north of Dublin,” Coulson said. “Within 90 minutes, we have three million people, which is half the population of the whole of Ireland. It’s also the only pure factory outlet center in Northern Ireland and within all of Ireland, Kildare Village will be its only competition.”

Lotus took a phased approach to revitalizing the scheme. “Our first port of call was to retain all of our existing tenants,” Coulson said. “So we spoke to every single one of them, told them about our enthusiasm and our investment plans. We said, ‘Stay with us, and we’ll turn it around.’”

The second step was investing in physical improvements. These include McDonald’s, the Omniplex (which features a giant Maxx screen), improved landscaping and outdoor furniture, and the addition of a roof to what was previously an open-air scheme.   

While the main purpose of the roof is to shield shoppers from the elements, this retail topper does more than that. “The roof may sound boring, but it’s not,” said Chris Nelmes, who has served as center manager since 2009. “It’s an ETFE roof, which is like a plastic pillow. We can illuminate the roof in different colors, which bounce back and light up the whole center. We can change it to green on St. Patrick’s Day, or Christmas colors in December, and we can create waves of color from one end of the scheme to the other. So that alone had a big impact. Our customers could see there were changes happening.”

The third step was encouraging key tenants like Gap, Paul Costelloe, Calvin Klein and Timberland to refit their stores. According to Nelmes, more than 40 percent of tenants have now refitted, inspired, perhaps, by Timberland, which has seen a 40 percent increase in sales since its refresh. 

The fourth step was securing new tenants in the 204,000-square-foot, 55-shop center. New tenants include Jack and Jones, The Beauty Outlet, Smyth and Gibson, and Ulster Weavers, which chose this outlet as its first ever brick-and-mortar store.