Broadening Horizons

Opened to the public in December 2007, Designer Outlets Wolfsburg is Germany’s first purpose-built, city-centre outlet centre which in the past year has seen the opening of the third phase of the project. Here, RLI speaks with Outlet Centres International Managing Director Stephan Schäfer about the centre and how it continues to reinvent itself 12 years after opening.

The first phase of Designer Outlets Wolfsburg was launched over a decade ago in the heart of a city famous for the iconic VW Beetle and it was Germany’s first outlet centre located in a city centre. Positioned opposite the Autostadt theme park and the Volkswagen manufacturing factory, the Designer Outlets Wolfsburg (DOW) serves as a connecting element between the Autostadt and the city centre high street shopping.

“Over the last year we have opened the third phase of the project, which brings the centre’s overall GLA to 22,000sq m and makes it one of the five largest outlet centres in Germany,” explains Stephan Schäfer, Managing Director of Outlet Centres International. “In addition to Dean & David and Starbucks, the catering offer has been enlarged with the first Frittenwerk restaurant in an outlet centre. Not only did we manage with the opening of phase 3 to attract fine new brands such as Scotch & Soda and Guess, but we also opened a brand new Polo Ralph Lauren store and Germany´s largest Rituals Cosmetics outlet, while Nike, Puma and several other stores have undergone a full store re-fit.”

Anchor tenants on-site now include Abercrombie & Fitch, Adidas, Calvin Klein, Coach, Michael Kors and Tommy Hilfiger, an impressive list for a centre positioned in a city that was previously best known for Volkswagen and its car manufacturing. The launch and continued improvement of the outlet scheme has helped to broaden the city’s non-industrial aspects. “Designer Outlets Wolfsburg truly deserves to be referred to as an urban outlet centre. In addition to the unique and modern shopping- and catering-experience we offer, our guests also have access to an unparalleled mix of leisure and entertainment venues – all in walking distance from our centre,” Schäfer explains. Within walking distance to the outlet, DOW offers access to the Volkswagen Autostadt (Germany´s second largest visitor attraction), the Volkswagen Arena, which is home to top Bundesliga football club VfL Wolfsburg, a ten-screen multiplex cinema, five hotels (including a five-star Ritz-Carlton hotel), the Eis Arena Wolfsburg, home to professional ice hockey team Grizzlys Wolfsburg, the internationally renowned Kunstmuseum art gallery, northern Germany’s largest indoor water fun park, a 20-lane bowling centre and a Zaha-Hadid designed Phaeno experience centre.

The urban location of the BREEAM “good” standard certified centre is conveniently accessible by all means of transportation, may it be car, coach or high-speed train. The centre is located just under 15 minutes off the A2 motorway, which is the main east-west traffic-artery connecting Germany to central Europe. With e-commerce and social media clearly now a huge part of the retail and leisure experience, how does the project continue to engage its customers across channels such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter? “We have to be there, where our guests are, and we find our guests online and especially on social media platforms. There we can interact with our urban customers and get real-time feedback. These channels are very important, but we do not see “online” as the enemy because of e-commerce etc. Instead we try to utilise these channels for us and ensure we have personal contact with our guests and deliver a unique and urban shopping experience,” explains Michael Ernst, Centre Manager of Designer Outlets Wolfsburg.

When discussing how the centre will remain innovative and relevant, Schäfer feels that providing a unique guest experience that connects seamlessly the shopping, dining and entertainment offers will attract guests from a further catchment and will also set the centre apart from other online and brick-and-mortar shopping venues. “We are asking our guests to allow for us a share of something that in today´s world is the most precious for a lot of people – time. Guests will only allocate time in their busy, multi-optional schedules for our centre if we manage to add an additional, special value to their time spent with us. A great day out (or even a long weekend) with friends or family is what serves this additional value and we are in an exceptional position to offer this to our guests – shopping, dining, entertainment, hospitality, sports and events – it’s all here,” says Schäfer.

Looking ahead, what does Schäfer feel are the key priorities for Designer Outlets Wolfsburg? Is it increasing the catchment area of the centre? Is it a renewed focus on national tourism? Finally, what challenges lie ahead? “With our catchment area including cities like Hanover, Brunswick, Magdeburg, Goettingen (which is known for its university) and Kassel (which is known for Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site), we are working towards motivating our guests to visit the centre more often, as both seasonal and promotional events are gaining importance in attracting guests several times during a year,” explains Michael Ernst. “We are working together with local partners like Autostadt and Phaeno to attract more national and international tourists to the centre and we are excited about the future ahead,” concludes Schäfer.