Investing in a change for growth

GCW has strengthened its investment team with the appointment of James Waldock as director. After 20 years with JLL, Waldock joins at a positive time for the retail sector and the future expansion of the company, as he reveals more about his new role and thoughts on the current and future investment market. 

After two decades with one company, making the leap to a new firm can be daunting. For James Waldock, the decision to take up the role of investment director at GCW is a chance to use his years of experience to not only help with GCW’s expansion, but to also take advantage of a market that has weathered the downturns and is now set for brighter times. 

Waldock is focusing on advising clients on investment transactions across the retail sub-sectors. He has significant experience in shopping centre investment and has advised institutional REIT, private equity, property company and local authority clients on close to £4bn of retail assets throughout his career. 

Hiring Waldock was a statement of the direction GCW is going, says Oli Horton, partner and the firm’s head of investment: “Where people are cutting costs, hoping the market returns, we believe in the retail sector, and this is our opportunity to grow and improve our offer by hiring one of the sectors biggest names. James brings with him a wealth of knowledge across the market and strengthens the team’s ability to provide tailored solutions for our clients.”  

While acknowledging the difference in size from his former global company, Waldock says working in a niche environment was the appeal, allowing him to be agile. “I want to use my experience and the clients I have, in a smaller more dynamic environment.  

And given GCW’s expansion plans to deliver 50% business growth by 2027, Waldock’s goal is to contribute to, and be part of the company’s evolution by: “Forging close relationships with my new colleagues and working together to scale the business.”  

He says: “GCW is incredibly agile and has a great platform for growth. The investment team is established and growing. The leasing team is strong and it’s exciting to be working alongside them in this everchanging retail market.

“The retail investment market is witnessing a notable shift. While there will be selective activity in the prime market, the nature and scale of shopping centre investment has changed and continues to evolve, and it’s essential to have occupier- led advice, a service GCW are best placed to provide.”

For Waldock this is fundamental, and underpins the investment advice GCW are giving, in a market which is strengthening, but still requires careful navigation, and he highlights that within GCW, colleagues are contactable or on hand to listen, which helps with team collaboration. 

“It’s a huge benefit of a business of this size from a client’s perspective, that there is access to market specialists for quick and accurate advice,” he says.   

The markets structural shift of recent years has now plateaued, says Waldock: “With the reduction in business rates, costs from an occupier and a landlord perspective on vacant units are lower than previously.

“In many locations, rents have been re-based, rent collection statistics are strong, and investors can have confidence in retail cashflows again.” 

He also stresses that internet spending has reduced, currently sitting at c25%, down from 36% at the beginning of Covid, meaning, “the internet has become a known, and retailers know the number of stores they need.”  

Other headwinds are easing too, with inflation tailing off, and interest rate cuts expected this year: This all helps from a consumer and investment perspective. 

Despite this year’s general election, expected in Q4, having the potential to throw curve balls at economic stability, Waldock believes the market is positive across the board, with a “spotlight on” assets outside of a “prime definition” but with high occupancy rates that can be purchased at double digit yields. 

“These make an attractive proposition if you can maintain those double-digit yields. With increasing availability of debt, and attractive pricing, retail has been promoted up the investment hierarchy.”

Another key aspect of Waldock’s role will focus on the team’s growth and fostering graduates and interns. “They add to the complete evolution of the company, in growing the business. Making them revenue generators within their own right helps scale everything.”

And his advice in navigating turbulent markets, is the importance in exhibiting resilience, establishing and strengthening client relationships and delivering astute insights and advice. Meanwhile, always thinking laterally about the full suite of services GCW can offer clients is fundamental in providing rounded advice. 

As Waldock settles into this new chapter at GCW, there will be a platform to achieve these aims. In the short few weeks of already working with his new colleagues, bringing investment and occupational advice seamlessly together is proving to be fundamental in the current dynamic market.