podcast-512
LATEST PODCASTS
Play Podcast

So this whole connection with the biophilic design, bringing in those layers of lighting, having beautiful colours and pops of Starlight and interesting things into spaces that would otherwise maybe be not so memorable, but through the layering of the light can create those moments and lead you and guide you to what's around that corner, or what's down that lane way, or what's upstairs.

Episode 24

On the importance of getting in early, developing a social conscience and how to procure genuine community engagement

Angela Bonnefin| Founder and Director | Retail Strategy Group

Retail Strategy Group is the culmination of many years dedication to the pursuit of world class outcomes in retail development across mixed-use projects. Their mission is simple – to create amazing places where people want to be.

Implementing game-changing ideas across three decades of development management, retail design, placemaking, curation and leasing – RSG provide seamless end to end solutions for their clients.

Angela Bonnefin has successfully earned her reputation as Australia’s leading retail strategist, author and presenter, vibrantly and authentically delivering projects which continue to shape our cities.

Collaborating with design firms across the globe, RSG continue to re-write the rules of retail design and place strategy – encouraging others to do the same.

RSG’s legacy is to continue creating meticulous, sustainable, future-focussed destinations, inspired by forward thinking, locally considered decisions. They believe our mutual responsibility is innovation – designing and curating to the desires of generations to come.

In this episode Angela explains why it’s critical to be engaged as early as possible in the planning phase, the importance of developing a social conscience and how to procure genuine community engagement and leave lasting legacies.

Transcript

Anthony Denman:
Smiley, welcome to the property marketing podcast.

Angela Bonnefin:
Thank you.

Anthony Denman:
Where did the name Smiley come from?

Angela Bonnefin:
Oh, look, I got christened that with my first job working for Girvan Brothers construction company up at Gordon. And Paul Peterson, who was the MD. He was a nice bloke. Yeah. And I think I was about 19, he christened me Smiley.

Anthony Denman:
Okay. So tell me about the time you told him that, and I love this quote, “I don’t want to be a receptionist on the switchboard. I want to go to the green gate with the boys.”

Angela Bonnefin:
At one o’clock. Yeah. Well, I mean, that’s a pretty normal sort of thing for most 19 year old girls to want to do. They don’t want to be stuck with all the old folk and the chairman drinking their cups of earl gray tea. They want to be up with the boys at the pub. So yeah. That was the start of me getting out of being a secretary, which I was absolutely hopeless with. They actually bought me a huge rubbish tin, like a big… Like a full size rubbish bin because I used to make so many mistakes and everything was typed in six different carbon copy colours, and I’d have yellow liquid paper and blue liquid paper and be typing up all the contracts. And so I was never destined to do that kind of role. So I ended up getting into property and starting the valuation course at Sydney TAFE. And yeah, the rest is history.

Anthony Denman:
So it worked?

Angela Bonnefin:
Oh, it worked.

Anthony Denman:
What did he do after you told him that?

Angela Bonnefin:
Well, what ended up happening was I met this fabulous woman, who’s still a good friend of mine today, Sue Postle. And she was 12 years older than me, so in her 30s and glamorous and had the terrace in Paddington in Hargreaves street and the BMW. And Paul Peterson said to me, “Smiley, you get up there and have a talk to Postle and find out what you’ve got to do to get out of the switch.” So I walked into her office one day and I said, “Now what do I have to do to get a job like yours with an office?” And she was gorgeous and she sat me down and talked to me about property and she was in development and it just sounded all so exciting. And, and I thought, “Yeah, no, I think I’d be really good at this.”

Anthony Denman:
That’s awesome. It’s such a good thing to have such a great mentor, right. At such a young age, starting out in your career.

Angela Bonnefin:
Yeah, yeah, no, it was, it was just funny and I was always… I was never afraid of hierarchy and CEOs and stuff because I grew up in a house where my dad was a very successful CEO and he always sort of said to me, darling like one day you’re the rooster and the next day you’re of the feather duster. So be nice to everybody through your career. Because it’ll hold you in good faith.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, dear. I can relate to that. I tell you, I have been both. Mostly, probably more the feather dust than the rooster. My time as a rooster is very short lived.

Angela Bonnefin:
Yeah, no look, it’s just one of those things. And so I used to walk around the office and I’d walk in, I’d talk to people if the CEO was there having his lunch, I’d go, “Oh hi, good morning, da la da la da,” and have a conversation. So I think that sort of inner confidence is something that you grow up in with a family where you feel you can talk to anybody and you can open doors and people are interested in what you’ve got to say and you’re interested in learning from them. And yeah, I think that’s a special kind of skill that I think I learned from my dad.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. Let’s talk about your dad. He took… I think he was working at Best and Lest when they had five stores? Is that…

Angela Bonnefin:
Yeah, there was a look… There was tiny amount and he was in his early thirties and which was the same time I started my business and yeah, no, it really sort of set me up to have a lot of good quality things about looking after people, looking after your staff, having integrity, being straightforward, the sort of fundamental sort of principles that I suppose we were raised on as kids, but that I saw very much executed in the way he ran the business and how he treated his people and how they loved him. And that was that respect and yeah, it was a good grounding and foundation for how I wanted to live my life and how I wanted to have that authentic kind of connection with people, which is what property is, property is a people business.

Angela Bonnefin:
I mean, you can give me the smartest university graduates and if they can’t talk to people and if they’re not… They haven’t been brought up with a way to be relaxed and engaging and straightforward. I think they struggle. They become the backroom analysts and do other jobs, but the best CEOs and the best property people are always good people with people, make people feel relaxed. And some of my best times have been sitting on milk crates in the back of fruit markets only to find out that the family have got 50 million bucks worth of property. And then in the next phone call is, “Yeah. Would you like to come and have a chat to us about redeveloping this particular site?” So I’ve always treated everybody with respect. And I think that’s a good thing.

Anthony Denman:
Cause he was… You mean he started out with any five stores, but he built that into something pretty significant.

Angela Bonnefin:
Yeah. Yeah. It was a pretty amazing time.

Anthony Denman:
I think you were saying one of the largest, most profitable privately held retail businesses in Australia.

Angela Bonnefin:
And yeah, so that was a nice legacy. And…

Anthony Denman:
Because I think that him being so influential in your life, and I think, I guess what I’m trying to do here is lean into the importance of that. Because, at that age, your father could have shaped your life in a very different way.

Angela Bonnefin:
That was the thing I was always so fiercely independent which is probably a reflection of my whole life of just going and doing things and making things happen. And it was never a thought to me that I would go in and do anything to do with my father or that particular business I wanted to go and forge ahead with something of my own, I was always incredibly independent. And so I think it’s been an interesting sort of journey.

Anthony Denman:
Because I mean, at that time you were either a secretary, a teacher, bookkeeper, a waitress, or a nurse. They were the career paths for most women.

Angela Bonnefin:
Yeah. No, I left school in 1991 and I went to a… I call it the sisters of no mercy, like 13 years brought up in a Catholic convent. It was just horrific. And I hated school. I hated school. I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand all the control and the rules. And I just knew that as soon as I left, I would get out into the world of business and that would be my thing.

Anthony Denman:
That’s really interesting because they say school days are the best days of your life, right? But not always the case, is it?

Angela Bonnefin:
No, no. I think not. And I was a fairly quiet sort of kid at school I wasn’t in the cool group. And I played in the orchestra and played the double bass and all these sort of quite daggy things in those days. And so it wasn’t until I really left school that I actually started to kind of feel… Get into my own group. And ended actually three of my very best friends now are three girls from the cool group at school. All connected as soon as we left and all those pretenses dropped, but they were all the sporty ones and going out to discos and doing all those things and yeah, it was funny.

Anthony Denman:
And you were, correct me if I’m wrong, so the first job was it ticketing and merchandising or were you…

Angela Bonnefin:
Well, that was at school. I mean, I was doing jobs in factories when I was 13, 14, like dad would line me up with friends and I actually just thought that was what everybody did. You know, you spent the first half of every school holidays working. I didn’t another option.

Anthony Denman:
What did you learn from that?

Angela Bonnefin:
Well, the things I didn’t want to do. I think that often your experiences in life teach you about what you don’t want to do. And I didn’t want to be in a factory and I could see all these poor people working standing up all day ticketing and couldn’t wait for the clock, the little thing to go off and they’d zoom down to the canteen and sit there and they’d all be chain smoking. Pretty awful stuff. So there’re things that just shape and inform you know, what you don’t want to do.

Anthony Denman:
Tell me about the time you got given a brand new Mercedes-Benz.

Angela Bonnefin:
Oh, that was funny. So I had a little Camry and I thought I was pretty hot stuff. I’d had velure seats and I’d saved up for it. And that was my sort of entry level of where I was at in my life. And I was working for this fabulous guy, Andrew Richardson, and this was sort of probably late eighties. And one day he said to me, “Oh, I’ve got, I’ve got a little present for you. I want you to come down and see in the car park.” And I went down and yeah, there was a gold Mercedes.

Anthony Denman:
Just a little present.

Angela Bonnefin:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Why did he give you a brand new car?

Angela Bonnefin:
I think he just… Look, he… I think he just wanted to give me something that was nice part of the package and I he was a kind, he was a good person and I think he could see the value that I brought to the team. And I suppose it was a nice way of saying thank you. I mean, I remember once we some good work on the project and he went down to Hardy brothers and brought me a beautiful gold carriage clock and engraved in the back of it, “In appreciation, Andrew R.”

Anthony Denman:
Right.

Angela Bonnefin:
I’ve still got that beautiful brass carriage clock today.

Anthony Denman:
And you’re lucky to have those.

Angela Bonnefin:
He was a very special, very kind person, the smartest person I’ve ever met in property by a country mile. I mean, he would sit there and he’d be 15 steps ahead of absolutely everybody else in the room. And he had a brain like a calculator with finance. So he was just doing numbers in his head, 20 steps ahead of everybody else. And they were in the days when people like John Roberts who owned multiplex and he would come in and pick up his project claim in a cheque every month. And so the financial control would be there writing out all the cheques and then the head of multiplex had come into the office and get the cheque.

Anthony Denman:
So I want to talk about the catalyst, I guess you’d call it, for starting your own business. Which was not such a great period of time for you, working at the real estate agency. We won’t name which one, but it had a bit of a kind of sexist… As that… I mean, property a very male orientated business, right? Even more so back then when you were working. And interestingly enough, I guess that environment, that sort of negative sexist environment, actually, in some ways, I guess, shaped who you are and helped you get on your way and start your own business.

Angela Bonnefin:
Yeah, no, look, it was the best 18 months really you could think of. Because I was coming back from maternity leave. I’d had two little boys at that point. They were like four and two and so it was tough. And I took on a role, a four day a week role just to have a bit of time to get other things done. And I performed pretty well and it was just a real boys club and unfortunately I just didn’t fit. I didn’t play golf. I didn’t go out on the piss. I just was a hard working person that left at 5:30 in the afternoon and got home to look after my babies and rocked up first thing in the morning and I did a good job, but I just didn’t fit into that corporate sort of culture. So yeah, I resigned and that was the catalyst for me starting the business with Michael Chapman, who was my business partner. And yeah, we had a great time together. He was a really good bloke.

Angela Bonnefin:
We really carved out that niche of that first sort of real boutique retail focus development consultancy in Australia. There wasn’t anybody else doing what we did. And we got very focused on the upfront planning and the design. And so a lot of our dialogue was with the architects and the development team getting in early, making sure that things were sorted, not just doing the typical real estate agent retail, leasing, delivery side of it.

Angela Bonnefin:
We really wanted to get in and focus on the planning and the upfront. And as I said, nobody else was doing it. And we made some very good, strong, lifelong connections, really with architects who are now all principles of big companies running big architectural practices around the country. And they’re all really good mates of mine because we all were in there together. They were young architects. We were in there trying to forge a difference and deliver just really good outcomes. And yeah, so it’s nice to see that those friendships and collegial kind of connections are still very strong today.

Anthony Denman:
Why is it so important to get involved very early on in a project?

Angela Bonnefin:
Well, you save so much wasted money and time and this is not the architect’s fault and it’s not the developer’s fault either in some ways, because retail’s always been a bit harder and a bit more complex when you build a resi tower or a commercial office tower, hotel, there’s a set sort of recipe to it. And it’s just a cookie cutter, boom, boom, boom. Up the floor as you go. And it’s fairly straightforward, but being able to design good retail and good public realm really requires a bottom up approach to the design. And what we were finding back then was that everything was designed from the top down.

Angela Bonnefin:
So literally you’d end up with this dog’s breakfast of columns and VT and staircases and crappy wrong shaped shops, wrong locations. No consideration of solar, where people wanted to sit where the sun was in the morning, all those sort of basic things. So yeah, we started to really be able to turn a lot of that on its head and yeah. Started to deliver some really good projects. And I think… The Wharf at Woolloomooloo was probably one of the first big ones that we did and that had a Western facing afternoon sun. And I remember people saying to me, “Angie, there’s no way that project is going work, like who is going to leave the city and go to Woolloomooloo for lunch?”

Angela Bonnefin:
I think everybody.

Anthony Denman:
Me!

Angela Bonnefin:
Sitting and go to Woolloomooloo for lunch, because you’ve got the afternoon sun you’re away from the city and you’ve got a beautiful setting, beautiful big luxury boats and the water. And I mean, the whole, thing’s just perfect. And then you look up at the city skyline and it’s a wonderful place. And that was sort of our first real kind of creative thinking, working in with the hotel and the apartments, and that was multiplex and Walker. They were JVs on that project and we had a lot of fun.

Anthony Denman:
I mean, you completely changed what Woolloomooloo meant. That project, I got plenty… Many memories of looking at that city skyline watching it change with the afternoon light. As the evening lights come on in the city. And then of course everything got a bit fuzzy after that. Much more… Massive project that one, huge. Like completely, you wouldn’t even walk past that place unless you wanted a meat pie, you know?

Angela Bonnefin:
Yeah. Well Harry’s was down the road and they always did a good job, but yeah, so that was sort of the catalyst of sort of starting some really interesting things. And then we worked on the star city casino, the first when that first came out of the ground and we got Sydney Harbour foreshore authority appointed us to the overseas passenger terminal. And that was actually like… That was a lot of fun. We put Cruise Bar in there, Doyles, Wildfire. They were the most successful, highest turnover restaurant in the country. There was Quay with Peter Gilmore and the Fink family. And I mean, that’s testament to putting some good things together, because they’re still there today.

Anthony Denman:
How do you procure those retailers? Do you just jump on the phone to them? I mean, what’s that process look like?

Angela Bonnefin:
Well, look with government jobs and those sorts of things, obviously there’s a lot of governance and probity. And so we try and run a process. That’s sort of very transparent in that it’s like an expression of interest. And so we go out and target people and we’ll help them. We’ll work with them to pull together a really fantastic submission. And then they’re all laid out on the table and everyone can see where things are up to. And then we can try and guide our clients to say, “Well, look, we really think this particular group of people all together will make a fantastic precinct.” And that’s what we did down there. We just hand picked everybody, developed up concepts with them, let everybody have their… Sit in their own good space. And everyone had a point of difference.

Angela Bonnefin:
And when you put that many good operators in one precinct, you can’t help, but have a destination. I mean, the sad thing about that of course, was that it became a very, very busy cruise terminal within a very short period of time. So I think we went originally, we were looking at about 80 shipping port days a year when we first opened the project. And then it went, went up to like 300 shipping port days. So they lost a lot of the view and wildfire of course were compulsory acquired. And so things sort of changed, but yeah.

Anthony Denman:
What about if there’s less vigilance around like working with a smaller developer and would that… With that less eyes on you, I guess you’d say less kind of required governance.

Anthony Denman:
And then how do you… Where basically the decision is essentially yours or the team that you’re working with, how do you then procure those retailers for that space? Like what’s the process look like?

Angela Bonnefin:
Sometimes we’ll do the similar sort of thing with an EOI or concept document to go through. But, we tend to sort of develop up with retailers, the concepts that we feel will work. So we’ll go and knock on somebody’s door and say, “Look, here’s an opportunity. We’re loving what you’re doing here, but we are thinking about this kind of concept for here. What do you think?” And then because at the end of the day, the commercials for me, they’re five minutes of the conversation. Like retail’s a pretty straightforward thing. Everyone’s got an affordable occupancy cost, everybody knows what’s fair. So the commercials are straightforward. It’s more about, I’m more interested in what they’re going to do and what they’re going to sell and for how much and do they have a track record of opening things and staying for a while. Having a bit of longevity in some way.

Anthony Denman:
So you actually get them involved in the space planning like at the very early stages as well. Yeah.

Angela Bonnefin:
Yeah, of course. And you know, we’ve got fantastic connections with all the best hospitality and retail designers in the country. So we often go out to those guys as well and go look where we’re going to launch a new project in a couple of weeks, we’ve got 22 opportunities or five opportunities or however the size of the project is. And then because they know we do beautiful work, they jump on the phone, we have a chat and all of a sudden we’ve got 20 hospitality or retail designers talking to 200 of their clients and we’re already over subscribed before we even go to the market.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. Wow. That’s great. That’s fantastic. I’ve got a quote here actually from you, “Great urban design with a social conscience is what great placemaking is all about.” What does a social conscience look like?

Angela Bonnefin:
What it looks like is being able to develop things that are very community based and responding to the needs of what the local community is. And it doesn’t matter what city we work in. If you don’t walk the street and if you don’t get a good feel for what is there and what can be improved. And if you don’t look at the existing retail hierarchy and try and build on that, then I think you’re doing the project and the developer a disservice. We are very hands on with that sort of thing. And you need to be able to speak to that local community and deliver something that’s so much better than what’s there. Great legacy for time to come into the future and to really make people feel fantastic when they walk through a space.

Angela Bonnefin:
That’s what I often say to people like, “How do you feel when you walk through a space?” Some people, when they go overseas they’re going to all these beautiful churches and they get that spiritual kind of connection. There’s something old and worldly about being inside a beautiful building. It’s the same sort of principles that we apply to… Whether it’s a public park, whether it’s a tiny little green space, whether it’s a place where you can tie up your dog, whether there’s water bubblers, bike racks, where the sun comes up, where people want to be, what kind of shops work next to one another? It’s bringing all of those fundamental sort of principles together. And knowing that you’ve put something in place that’s better than what was there before and something that also supports what’s around it. They’re not fighting together, but adding to that community, whatever that community might be.

Anthony Denman:
Mm okay. Biophilia. Okay. I’m really interested in biophilia. Okay. And biophilic design. So for those people who don’t know what biophilia is, which was me not so long ago, it’s humankind’s innate biological connection with nature. Essentially. It helps explain why crackling fires and crashing waves, captivate us. Why garden view can enhance creativity.

Angela Bonnefin:
Yeah. Bird song, sunlight, rain.

Anthony Denman:
Shadows, heights, fascination, and fear, animal companionship. They all have a, like a restorative healing.

Angela Bonnefin:
Properties. Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. Yeah. So biophilic design is the idea of within our industry of increasing that connectivity to the natural environment. Why is it so important in a good placemaking strategy?

Angela Bonnefin:
Well, I think that it comes back to what we were talking about just a minute ago, about how people feel when they move through the space. And if you were to set up here’s a cold, concrete, sterile tunnel on one side and here’s a beautiful same space, same shape, same length of tunnel. And it’s filled with beautiful green and softly floating water features and you can hear connections to nature and you give people the choice of where they want to walk, every single time they’re going to walk toward the green.

Anthony Denman:
That’s fabulous. That’s in fact answered a huge question of mine, which was how do, how could you introduce good biophilic design? I was going to say into a lane way or a similar space that… Something that has no direct connection to nature.

Angela Bonnefin:
Well, look at what everybody’s doing now in suburban shopping center land, I mean three decades ago, everything was precast concrete panels, boom, boom, boom. And everything went inside, right? No windows to the street, country towns, all across Australia. You’ve got these horrible concrete brick walls with internal shopping center spaces. And you wouldn’t see a developer in the country building that kind of thing now. Everything’s turned itself inside out. And so there’s connection to light, there’s skylight, there’s open malls now, there’s water features, there’s landscaping, the supermarkets even got connection to outdoor spaces, there’s places for families to meet, there’s little pocket parks, there’s playgrounds. The whole thing is been turned on its head. And that’s a good thing.

Anthony Denman:
What do you think about this idea of risk peril? That is, I did a bit of research on Biophelic design cause I’m… I found a really good paper actually, but it’s pretty…

Angela Bonnefin:
Send it to me.

Anthony Denman:
Oh, it’s pretty full on. One of the really interesting things was is this idea of an identifiable threat, right. Coupled with a reliable safeguard. So a good example of that is, for me, because I started thinking where what’s a good example of that and it’s pretty – to be aware of it the fire, that fire display down at crown, down in Melbourne? Where you kind of walking along and then all of a sudden you get these huge of burst flame. There’s something again like innately, right. That you respond to, when that happens in that moment it’s captivating. But at the same time there’s an innate feeling of fear right. Fire, fear. But then you know that it’s controlled and it’s safe. Yeah.

Angela Bonnefin:
Yeah. Well it’s like there’s so many fantastic digital artists that we’re working with around the world now. And look, I won’t be very specific about particular ones, but there’s a lot of good ones. And when you see like the success of vivid and what that’s done for the city during winter and bringing people in now, let’s park the last couple of years with COVID, cause it’s just been an unmitigated disaster for everybody. But prior to that and what’s going to happen this year and next people are fascinated by light and by the darkness and seeing artwork. And we are really trying to have a big push at the moment for a lot of our projects where we are wanting to get much more layering of digital installations and really extending the lifetime of the precinct by activating it from early in the morning, till late in the evening.

Angela Bonnefin:
And when you look at something like, say the success of Darling Quarter and the park down there, it’s lit at night and it’s just so wonderful to sort of walk down there on a Friday or Saturday night and see all these families out. Multi-generational outings and little kids running around and the water features working and the park lit at night and people enjoying that public space. And so with this whole, hate to say it, but the Instagramable kind of world that we all live in and everyone’s wanting to record those things, and having a 19 year old daughter I’m very aware of those kind of moments and how they can promote in positive ways, places. So this whole connection with the biophilic design, bringing in those layers of lighting, having beautiful colours and pops of Starlight and interesting things into spaces that would otherwise maybe be not so memorable, but through the layering of the light can create those moments and lead you and guide you to what’s around that corner, or what’s down that lane way, or what’s upstairs, what’s that beautiful light happening up on that balcony?

Angela Bonnefin:
So it’s very visceral, but also I think it appeals to what we were talking about before that ancient kind of DNA that we have inside us that is attracted to the light.

Anthony Denman:
Really interesting. Isn’t it? Like the advent of technology, it’s almost counterintuitive really, and almost polar opposites technology versus an innate, kind of biophilia idea, but to see the two combined. Really fascinating. Talked earlier about retail you’re the retail legend and that’s the name of your business..

Angela Bonnefin:
I don’t want to sound… That legend sounds like way too old.

Anthony Denman:
Guru. Guru.

Angela Bonnefin:
Yeah. I just like retail, I’m not good at very many things, Anthony. Right. I say that to people, my kids laugh at me. Like I can’t screw jars together, like lids on jars. I always have a problem with it. I’m just too impatient. shake the orange juice “Oh mum hasn’t put the lid on again.”

Anthony Denman:
Okay. So retail. Right. So what about when there just isn’t an opportunity for any retail?

Angela Bonnefin:
Well materiality, I think that’s another important thing.

Anthony Denman:
Like, sorry, materiality, did you say?

Angela Bonnefin:
Yeah. Like beautiful, warm timbers and natural sort of stones and those sorts of things that people can touch and feel, I think is pretty important as well. And you know-

Anthony Denman:
Thanks for bringing that up because the biomorphic forms and patterns, right. When you just can’t for whatever reason, get any real nature into a space you can architecturally design references of such, right?

Angela Bonnefin:
Yep.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. So shapes…

Angela Bonnefin:
Shapes and forms and shadowing and where light can come in and how that bounces off the materiality and what kind of floors. It’s… There’s a fair bit to sort of pulling all of that together, which sometimes I think people don’t appreciate the level of detail that we go to make sure that those spaces have good outcomes.

Anthony Denman:
Totally. So placemaking environments. So there’s lots of different placemaking environments that you work within. Street facing, lane way, outdoor dining, those with solar access, waterfront, we talked about the wharf. Even basements. High traffic, low traffic, destination. Do you have a preferred placemaking environment? Like if somebody was to come to you and say, “Right, Angela, I got this site in this particular location,” is there one of those locations that kind of lights your fire more than the other?

Angela Bonnefin:
I love mixed use because I mean, that’s where we’re all headed. I prefer much prefer to work on something that’s a mixed use precinct or a master plan community in project than I would just a single use shopping center in the suburbs, that doesn’t really excite me very much. So mixed use is good. And I think that where we can bring in even the smallest of park and open space and be able to connect people and communities together with good pathways and rotundas and barbecues and community things that’s what brings people together. And COVID really sort of reinforced a lot of those principles of what good neighbourhoods were and communities and being able to have street art and people express themselves and their important sort of aspects to me of mixed use.

Anthony Denman:
I want to talk about artwork. So we talked about digital artwork.

Angela Bonnefin:
Digitals fantastic.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. Sculpture and…

Angela Bonnefin:
Look, I love sculpture and I think all of the forms have a place, but I tend to think that we… There are plenty of museums and galleries around the world where you can go and look at static things and appreciate the beauty of a 400 year old masters painting. But I think in our environments today, I think if you get sort of stuck down, sometimes these static pieces, they don’t evolve quickly enough with the time and place of what people are requiring. So I think having a layering of different types of public art strategy can be a good thing.

Angela Bonnefin:
So you could have a sculpture of a beautiful pear or an apple or a rooster or a cow or something in the park. And that could be a static piece that might sit there in perpetuity, but to be able to layer the lane way or the journey through, to the public amenities or to have the market hall lit up with digital so that it can change and evolve with time. I think that’s a good thing too, because people are always looking for something new and inspiring, and that’s why digital is so good because it can change so quickly. And so inexpensively really, when you look at the different types of mediums that can be used to light buildings externally, and to do things internally as well.

Anthony Denman:
How do you procure good artists?

Angela Bonnefin:
Well, we work with specialists in that area. So we… Don’t for one minute, think that I’m putting my hand up to be a public art strategy person. We’ve got… There’s very good consultants out there that work in the digital field and placement of artists and things. And so we call on them very much as part of the development team.

Anthony Denman:
Now, no matter how beautifully designed a space is, I think this may even be one of your quotes. You still need to engage the community. How do you procure genuine community engagement?

Angela Bonnefin:
Well, that comes from that really old fashioned thing getting down and talking to somebody face to face, asking them questions. Our community engagement, we do a lot of that and stakeholder engagement ourselves. We use other groups to do it as well. It’s about listening. Being a good listener, asking people what they want, what they like about their neighbourhood, what they’d like to improve where do they go and do their grocery shop? Why do they like the hairdresser in the main street? Where’s their butcher? Do they drive there? Do they walk? Do they ride their bike? Where do their kids go to school? It’s all those sort of fundamental day to day really everyday life questions that start to bring in really good information that we then use to start to build up vision and concept for place and for visioning what we want to see in terms of the outcome.

Angela Bonnefin:
And we’ve really got to be quite bold with our thinking because we tend to work on projects that they might be turning soil in another six, 12 months and then in their two to three years for construction. So our ideas, what we’re setting in the form work now I’ve got to be still valid and still have a sense of fluidity and being able to sort of change a little bit on the way through as we go to land on curating and putting those people into place.

Anthony Denman:
What does your process of ideation look like?

Angela Bonnefin:
Well, we’re very data focused and I think you have to be these days. I mean, I came from the old school of intuition and my son who works in the business with me, Matt often laughs because he’s very numbers focused and very data focused and we will come within a two or 3% variant in deep data analysis. And me looking at the price of chuck steak in the butcher shop

Angela Bonnefin:
And I’ll be able to tell what the average income is and so we come at it from different angles and he laughs at me and I laugh at him. And between the layering of both of those factors, we then come up with what we think really the community needs and wants. And what’s going to sit, as we talked before about improving on that existing retail hierarchy we don’t… We have a real thing in the business where we always just want to leave a really good legacy. And I’m trying to impart that on all the staff. It’s important that we leave legacy. Otherwise what’s the point of all being here. And that’s why we take so much. We have this thing in the business where we say we create people first retail, and it’s very much layered into every single thing that we do to arrive at that destination, unlike some developers who strata off their ground floors and some real estate agents that just sell to the highest bidder, because their fees are driven on the more income they get, the more money they get paid.

Angela Bonnefin:
We have a completely different approach.

Anthony Denman:
What is it like working with your son?

Angela Bonnefin:
Oh, it’s good fun. Yeah. Yeah. No, it’s been a really good thing. Him coming into the business. He’s a whole lot smarter than I ever was.

Anthony Denman:
I don’t know.

Angela Bonnefin:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
It’s very humble of you to say that.

Angela Bonnefin:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Let’s talk about pedestrian movement. So most projects have areas where fast flow pedestrian movement and slower streams coincide. And precincts are often influenced in and around transport inter changes. And highly populated CBDs. What’s better in your opinion, fast or slow pedestrian movement or a combination of both?

Angela Bonnefin:
Well, I think you have to have a combination. I mean the fast flow is fantastic, but of course, when you’re caught up in that stream running through say the QVB at eight o’clock in the morning, it’s very hard to even peel off and go into a retail shop. There’s got to be a balance. And that’s where the size of walkways and malls and the positioning of VT and how you can allow people to sort of pop off into different places and where seating might be situated. I mean, all of those things come into that.

Anthony Denman:
And all day trading. So ensuring that the project trades across all parts of the day. What’s a good example of that?

Angela Bonnefin:
Well, I think there’s probably a lot of good examples around, I mean, if you have a look at say something like Mirvac’s development at the tram sheds that they did at Harold Park that’s a really nice project where you’ve got early morning coffees and the supermarkets open and the doctors there and people are coming in from seven in the morning. There’s a number of options for breakfast and then lunches. And you’ve got the ice cream and kids coming down from school in the afternoons. And then you’ve got your restaurants, supermarket, I don’t think closes till 10. And so it’s not a late night trading precinct, but it’s a really much loved, valued part of the local community because it offers quite a few good services and it’s got a nice layering of different food experiences, all based around this lovely park. It’s a place where both entrances have places for you to tie up your dog and water bowls. And it’s very much that related to I think the local community in which it’s built. So they’ve done a great job there.

Anthony Denman:
Pre COVID. Did you do a lot of traveling?

Angela Bonnefin:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Are you a traveler?

Angela Bonnefin:
Yeah. I love traveling.

Anthony Denman:
What’s the most intriguing placemaking place you’ve ever visited in your travels?

Angela Bonnefin:
uWell, in 2019, just before COVID came out toward the end of that year, I worked in London for a while and I went over there to see a couple of the studios that we were working on with projects. And I attended a fresh food market, international market festival talking about the way markets worked all around the world. So I made some fantastic connections from Panama and Yugoslavia and San Francisco and people all around the world, just like me interested in place activation, placemaking markets and the role of markets. So that was a really interesting take away.

Angela Bonnefin:
And I mean, I still think London is the best city in the world for retail. People rave about New York, but New York, hasn’t got a patch on London. And I think that it’s always a really good experience to try and get there at least every three or four years and see what’s happening. I mean, culturally, they’re very aligned to us as well the English sense of humor and that self-deprecating kind of way that they look at the world, I think really resonates with Australians and they’re good people to work with too. So yeah, we’ve made some really nice friendships over the years, working with some of the London studios.

Anthony Denman:
London is the most creative place I’ve ever been to. It’s almost a… What’s the word I’m looking for when you get something that’s completely opposed to each other?

Angela Bonnefin:
Diametric kind of. Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, because it’s got a reputation. I mean, so being so kind of, I don’t know, proper. Yet underneath, scratch of surface and the Saatchi Gallery will forever just stick in my mind and just being on the streets in around west end is just like the level of creativity. You can almost sense it. You feel it.

Angela Bonnefin:
Yeah. And there such a huge market to talk to as well. Like I love Selfridges. I mean, Harrods is good too, but I love Selfridges and I look at it and I think, “Oh my God, why can’t somebody in Australia get their act together and put a decent department store together?” I mean, they just do it so well there. When you were asking me that question earlier about favourite types of like placemaking and projects, I think there’s one thing that I’m quite concerned about at the moment with the city and particularly well, Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, they’re all the same, all doing the same thing.

Angela Bonnefin:
We’re filling up our cities with luxury branded retail, which is so exclusive. And so not part of most people’s everyday affordability in the experience. And there’s this such a huge push at the moment. You know, your governments are throwing grants everywhere and everyone’s trying to bring people back into the city and bring them back for the weekends and free transport and all this sort of thing. But if the whole city turns into a luxury five star branded retail precinct, then what is there for the everyday person and the everyday family to do? And so I think we’ve really got to kind of put a bit of a break on some of this sort of pursuit of these five star brands to say, “Look, it’s nice to have that international flavour, but it could be any city in the world cause all the shop fronts and the clothes and everything all look the same and what is uniquely Australian?”

Angela Bonnefin:
And we know we’ve got this harbour front and the waterfront. And so there’s so many opportunities. I think when you look at projects like the Duarling Harbor redevelopment and Cockle Bay is being redeveloped to start to bring some Australian really cool, interesting things into the city, rather than continuing to fill it up with super expensive restaurants that the average person can’t afford. And every single shop on the street is turning into a Prada store. And I’m just flagging that now because I think that it’s going to end up creating maybe a city of the haves and the have nots. And I would hate, as a Sydney girl, to see that happen.

Anthony Denman:
It’s a really good point. Isn’t it? How do you bring that like authenticity, I guess you’d call it to the streets of the CBD in that sense?

Angela Bonnefin:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Just diverging a little, just doing some research recently and looked at a thing called… I think it’s called Renew Australia. You familiar with that?

Angela Bonnefin:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
I think that’s a really interesting idea for… And I know it’s a bit of a diversion from where we were, where you’re talking about retailers who are knocking back tenants and looking to maximize their rents, but go to a region that is kind of desolate, right. That has empty shops everywhere. And what do you do there? And the idea there, for those who don’t know what renew Australia is that you essentially give people free use of the empty space.

Angela Bonnefin:
I think it’s good for the activation, but look, I think that there are some issues with it in that a lot of the people who are taking up the opportunity of those spaces are concepts and great ideas that would work at a market stall level of cost and occupancy, but would very rarely transform into a rent paying commercially viable business. So you’ve got the person there selling the mo hair socks, and you’ve got someone here doing the centered candles and someone here making the chocolate shortbread and it’s all fantastic stuff, but they are concepts that really only ever survive and are profitable in a market kind of thing, which comes to my next point, which is Sydney, we need more markets. Permanent, permanent seven day a week, like they do in Adelaide, like the Queen Vic market in Melbourne, we need a permanent high quality seven day a week market that showcases the best of what we’ve got. We’ve got the best oils, teas, vinegars, sugar, chocolates, produce, strawberries, cheeses, salmon, beef, lamb, chicken. I mean, we have got the best of everything in our food bowl in New South Wales. What are we doing?

Anthony Denman:
That’s awesome. No markets are so cool. I love them. And I think that’s the idea. And I hear what you’re saying with renew Australia is that, you know that yes, you’re right. Very few of those businesses transcend into commercially viable businesses, but they do attract people, right?

Angela Bonnefin:
I mean, I think they’re out there trying to do a great job and they’ve got big grants and they’re trying to do the right thing in terms of activating some of these spaces. But I think we need to take a step back and go, “Well, hang on a sec, what are maybe some of the other things that we could be doing?” Like when we’re in London doing that retail study tour, one of the interesting things that we learned about the Portobello road, I mean, that’s got a famous market that’s been going there for hundreds of years. And often we get told when we are doing this sort of precinct analysis work, the retailers go, “Oh, we don’t want to market.” Like that’s going to take away from the sales of all the shops that are paying rent in the street. When, in fact, it’s the absolute opposite. The shops in the street in Portobello road do more turnover on the days that the markets.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. Right.

Angela Bonnefin:
Yeah. So it’s really something that we just need to have more conversations about because I really think that retail should be about the layering of those experiences and things like Aesop and Dinosaur Design and those sorts of great Australian brands, they all started off in a Paddington market or a little market doing something. So we do need to create a culture where young people can have a go with a low entry cost and those creative markets. So a certainly a segue into that.

Anthony Denman:
Well said. Do you find yourself, getting back to traveling, do you find yourself going places and constantly analyzing them and thinking about how you could make them better?

Angela Bonnefin:
Oh, all the time. Yeah. No, my brain has like a roadmap of every regional place I’ve ever been to. And yeah. Look of course, but I think that’s just part of how you’re wired, I think always looking for opportunities.

Anthony Denman:
Cause weren’t you like in a previous life, a market trader?

Angela Bonnefin:
Oh, please don’t talk. And that was my girlfriend and I, we were at home with babies and not working. And we made little boxes and went down to the Kirribilli markets. And that was an experience and a half, I think our paints cost more than anything we ever made at the markets, but we sat there and we solved the problems of the world. Each Saturday.

Anthony Denman:
Was the Laing Walker project. The wharf at Woolloomooloo was that the placemaking endeavour that you are most proud of?

Angela Bonnefin:
I think it was, well…the form and function of that wharf is pretty prescribed. So it was more about looking at that entire space and seeing what could be done within the framework of that beautiful heritage building. And so I think that…

Anthony Denman:
I guess the question is what is… There a placemaking project that you’ve worked on, which you are most proud of?

Angela Bonnefin:
Well, I mean, I think the wharf at Woolloomooloo is definitely one of them because it’s just stood the test of time. I mean, I think there’s other interesting newer ones, like Barrack place where in the city, that’s in Sydney, where Ray Brown from architectus and I sat down with yellow trace paper from the beginning and map that whole structure out, the size of the lobby, the size of the lane ways, how the whole thing worked and that’s won a lot of awards. I mean, we don’t ever get a mention because we’re sort of, we fly under the radar of the big award type of things, but I’ve still got the yellow trace paper of where.. If anyone wants to see. I can go, “This is the first meeting we had.”

Anthony Denman:
So COVID obviously a bit of a kind of fly in the ointment. Maybe?

Angela Bonnefin:
Maybe a little bit more than that, but yeah.

Anthony Denman:
What’s the future post COVID place making world look like?

Angela Bonnefin:
Future’s bright. We’ve got a lot of engagement on our leasing projects. I think we’ve got 10 developments at the moment that we’re leasing, that’s taken care of. And a lot of engagement, a lot of excitement in the market about the future. I think the city’s still got quite a bit of work to do. I think corporate culture and governments have still got a lot of work to do in terms of mandating that people come back into the city and work I mean the city’s never been busier. I haven’t been to Melbourne recently, but Sydney’s really on fire. You can’t get a seat in a restaurant, everything’s booked out and lots of people on the street again, which is really encouraging.

Angela Bonnefin:
But I think it’s probably just going to take a couple of years for a rebalancing. I think it’s going to be a bit of a reset in terms of rent. I think there’s going to be a reset in terms of the level of incentive because retailers are building back their cash reserves after being decimated. So anyone that had a million dollars sitting in the bank in operating capital that was used to pay staff, keep the doors open, pay suppliers so everyone’s had their cash flow decimated. So I think it’s just… We are going to have to do the rebuilding, but I’m very optimistic about the future, but that’s just me.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. That’s good. Well, yeah, still smiling. Right?

Angela Bonnefin:
Well still smiling and still I mean every day we talk to retailers, that’s how we learn. You know, like we learn from the people that we curate the spaces with by listening to what they need, what they want, what their customers want, what direction they’re going in. And that can be anything from the cutest little t-shirt and sneaker shop in the back alley behind crown street through to a $5 million fit out, two story pub that we’re doing at the moment in the city, which is currently fitting out. So we transition across a lot of different genres. We love everybody that we deal with. We’ve had fantastic responses from our retailers who end up sending us… Inviting to the kids’ bar mitzvahs and weddings and funerals and all sorts of things. And so that’s our life journey, isn’t it? Working with people, being decent, helping out, being part of the community and leaving that legacy that we’ve all talked about, that we feel very passionate about.

Anthony Denman:
Having a social conscience.

Angela Bonnefin:
You have to, got to sleep at night, you know?

Anthony Denman:
Angela, thanks heaps – that was awesome. I really appreciate it.

Angela Bonnefin:
Yeah. Okay. See-Ya

About Us

The Property Marketing Podcast is an original podcast hosted by Anthony Denman, co-founder of Our Agency. In each episode Anthony talks to Australia’s most experienced property, marketing, creative, development & design professionals, exploring their personal stories and providing insights on how to create the most successful place, property, project development, architectural, corporate & personal brands, possible.

If you would like to get in touch with us please fill out the form below.