THE South East could become the designer outlet capital of the UK,according to bosses at McArthurGlen, Europe's largest designer outlet owner and operator.
The company, which launched its centre in Ashford, in March 2000,says its success proved a catalyst for further outlet centres in the South East. The latest is set to open in the region is the Dockside Outlet in Chatham.
David Norris, McArthurGlen retail operations director, said: "Ashford is the largest designer outlet centre in the South East.
"With three top industry awards under its belt, including Retail Destination of the year and Best Shopping Venue, McArthurGlen Ashford leads the way in designer outlet shopping in the region, paving the path for other similar ventures.
"There are now five designer outlet centres in the region, including ours.
With the impending opening of Chatham Dockside Outlet, we believe that designer outlet shoppers will be hard-pushed to find a region that matches the South East in terms of variety and the quality of designer outlet centres it now has."
The Ashford outlet has created over 800 jobs in the region and attracted nearly 12 million visitors since its opening.
Many big name brands have chosen the centre to launch their first outlet stores in the UK, including Marks and Spencer and high street fashion chain Oasis. Other top names open at McArthurGlen Ashford, which is fully let, include Polo Jeans Factory Store, Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, Nike and Clarks.
Nicky Lovell, retail development manager, said: "We continue to have a high level of interest in the centre and we're in talks with a number of high street brands that are keen to come to Ashford. There's currently more interest than space.”
Ross MacCulloch, chief executive of Kent Tourism Alliance, said: "Designer outlets, such as McArthurGlen Ashford, are a big additional attraction for people considering a visit to Kent.
"Outlets attract people, with disposable income, to shop -- and in turn these shoppers also bring additional income to the economy through other leisure pursuits whilst they are here.
"A close partnership is now developing between all retailers, pubs, hotels and restaurants in the region, which will strengthen Kent's attraction and help boost tourism."
Customer research in Ashford has shown that over 15 per cent of its annual four million shoppers are visiting the centre for the first time, with many travelling from throughout the UK.
Ashford Council Leader, Paul Clokie, says that the designer outlet has helped identify the town as an area of investment opportunity.
"McArthurGlen has certainly raised the profile of Ashford," he said.
"The centre is one of the prestige developments that has helped put Ashford on the map and I am sure it will help to inspire and enthuse other national and independent retailers to open in Ashford."
Denise Boyer, centre manager of McArthurGlen Ashford, added: "Year on year exceeds our expectations, which clearly demonstrates just how popular designer outlet shopping now is amongst consumers.
"This year alone our traffic is up five per cent on last year and sales have increased by 11 per cent against last year.
"As other outlet centres open throughout the South East, they too should contribute to the success of their relevant local economies, and other towns will benefit as Ashford has. This will result in a very prosperous and successful region."
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