Antoine Nougarède

CEO, SNCF Retail & Connexions

How did the Covid crisis impact retail in SNCF stations?

Only a handful of activities operated during the lockdown: a few pharmacies and convenience stores, some car rental agencies and business centres, and most parking lots. They experienced dramatic losses of revenue, they were down 70 to 95% versus 2019. All the other stores, that’s a vast majority of them actually, shut down during last spring  lockdown.

Altogether, revenue from mid-March to mid-May dropped to an insignificant level.

Since then, about 50 to 60% of shops have reopened [the interview took place mid-summer]. Operators are cautious and only reopen when they know they can make a profit.

What is at stake in the coming months?

Resume normal activity to avoid bankruptcies.

What type of retail brand do you think will perform best post-Covid?

Potentially all of them, as long as they are properly located on the flow of traffic, provided face covering requirements are lifted soon.

The big problem retail faces now is the massive adoption of teleworking. For us, it means less business travellers and less commuters.

What do you think retailers should do to build back confidence and preference among travellers?

Nothing more than what they are already doing, maybe even slightly less. They shouldn’t overreact as this is something that could precipitate economic difficulties.

As we are slowly moving out of the crisis, we need to focus on delivering the major sustainability projects we initiated before the crisis and that are more relevant than ever. Together with retailers, we have launched three major initiatives: the first one is about energy saving, the second one against food waste, and the third one is against packaging waste.

These initiatives come in addition to our ongoing efforts to improve the quality of spaces, for all travelers and visitors. We are upgrading retail and service offers, and making more room for culture in our stations. This is how we will build confidence.

How will you support your retail partners in practical terms?

We suspended automated rent collection in Q2, and we are in talks for further cuts. The Board of SNCF Gares & Connexions, our parent company, is fully committed to supporting retailers in this period.

Do you anticipate that your responsibility to promote and organise the retail offering in stations may evolve?

I do believe that the fundamentals of our strategy are left unchanged.

First, we will continue our effort to upgrade our retail offering in order to elevate the customer experience. 

Equally important, we’ll be relentless in improving our economic efficiency to secure the funding of stations maintenance and renovation. It is crucial for us, as stations are our key asset, but are also part of cities’ heritage.

Then, we have two targeted initiatives. One is the reinvention of the station buffet. They are often located in splendid facilities, but their prestige had waned in the last decades. We are working with Michelin starred-chefs to rejuvenate them with bistronomy-inspired concepts that are both delicious and well-fitted to the circumstances of the station.

The other one is a project called “1,001 stations”. We have identified vacant spaces in hundreds of stations, and decided to change the rules of the game for these spaces. We see this as a fantastic opportunity to bring in new partnerships: that could be test stores, neighbourhood associations, local authorities, cultural institutions… While classic retail is primarily meant to bring in additional funding to improve public transport, the whole point of this program is to bring more life into stations, and strengthen communities. And it works: we are studying hundreds of projects, and a few dozens are already in operation!


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