The international fast-fashion retailer Primark ceremonially opened its new distribution center in North Jacksonville on Feb. 7, with a company executive calling the nearly 550,000-square-foot space a linchpin for its expansion plans in the Southeast U.S.
“We have strong ambition in Florida, and in Texas,” said Kevin Tulip, president of Primark US, during an interview with the Daily Record.
“We started the work a number of years ago to identify where the right place would be for us. Everything that we saw in Jacksonville, as well as JaxPort, led us to believe this is the ideal location for us to open our second distribution center and unlock the ability to go after more leases in the South.”
During a ribbon-cutting at the distribution center at 1511 Zoo Parkway in Imeson Park South, Mayor Donna Deegan said Primark’s decision provided a “reminder of why Jacksonville has earned the title of America’s logistics center.”
“When global brands like Primark establish operations here, it shows the global logistics industry that Jacksonville is a city with all the advantages to get their products from ship to shore to shelf,” she said.
Primark opened its first U.S. distribution center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Second U.S. center
The company’s North Jacksonville center is its second in the U.S, and is among 12 it operates worldwide. CoStar News reported last year that Primark planned to lease its space in North Jacksonville.
Primark’s website, primark.com, says the company operates more than 400 stores across 15 countries in Europe and in the U.S., with plans to expand to 530 stores by the end of 2026.
According to a news release from Primark, the company operates 24 stores across eight U.S. states, including the Sawgrass Mills shopping center in Sunrise, Florida. It is also working on opening a store in Orlando as part of plans to grow to 60 stores in the U.S. by 2026.
The company used the ribbon-cutting to announce new lease signings with the intent to open stores in Maryland, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
Asked whether the expansion plan included a store in Jacksonville, Tulip gave a noncommittal response.
“We take our time and make sure that every single location is the right one before we go there. So unfortunately, nothing to announce today on Florida, but certainly more to come in the very near future.”
In the summer of 2023, The Conlan Co. of Jacksonville obtained a permit to make tenant improvements to the Imeson Park South building for Primark at a project cost of $14.5 million. In June 2022, the city issued a permit for The Conlan Co. to build the speculative building at a cost of almost $25.9 million.
VanTrust Real Estate is developing Imeson Park South. Macgregor Associates Architects of Atlanta is the architect for the Primark project.
JLL brokers Luke Pope and Ross Crabtree represented VanTrust in the lease deal.
Primark is the retail division of London-based Associated British Foods.
The company makes its own products and does not sell online, but rather leases stores where it offers accessories for as low as $3 and jeans and jackets at under $50.
Tulip credited Primark’s low pricing and a deliberate growth plan with helping put the company in an expansion mode during difficult times in the global retail industry. Inflation and a shift to online shopping are among factors that have forced a number of retailers to contract or fold in recent years.
“We take our time so that with every lease we sign, it’s not just the real estate team or some consultants. Everyone – me included – have gone into these places and stalked these malls, morning, noon and night, weekends, weekdays and holidays,” he said.
‘Not a traditional department store’
Tulip said Gen Z buyers were the company’s bread-and-butter market, but Primark promotes itself as a brand for everyone.
“We’re not a traditional department store. We’re also not an off-price retailer. You won’t come into a Primark store and find loads of deals and buy-one-get-ones. We deliver that product at a certain price and that first price is the right price.”
He said the company has seen strong sales of its children’s clothing, especially since the onset of inflation.
“American families more than ever are looking for incredible value when it comes to kids clothes in particular,” he said.
The fast-fashion industry has been criticized for exploitative and unethical labor practices and for contributing to climate destruction through overproduction and encouraging a throwaway culture.
The company’s news release said it had committed to making all of its clothes from recycled materials or “more sustainably sourced materials” by 2030, plus halving its carbon emissions and ensuring its products were recyclable by design.
Tulip said Primark was a founding member of the Ethical Trading Initiative, an alliance of trade unions, nongovernmental organizations and companies aimed at ending abuse of human rights in the workplace.
“We engage in everything from unannounced visits to working with NGOs and the countries that we’re in,” he said.
“We have our team on the ground working with these suppliers and where we do find any issues, it’s about what are the remedial actions we should be doing. It’s not about just pulling out of a factory immediately.”
Deegan said Jacksonville leaders met with Associated British Foods representatives in the fall of 2023 during the city’s economic development trip tied to the Jacksonville Jaguars Oct. 1 game in London.
Asked why Primark chose Jacksonville over other cities, Tulip cited one reason as investment in JaxPort and road improvements. New container cranes, berth enhancements and deepening of the shipping channel through Blount Island are among infrastructure upgrades at JaxPort in recent years.
Tulip also said the city’s growth was a factor in choosing Jacksonville.
“We want to be somewhere that we’re going to be able to recruit amazing talent,” he said.
“So with that, as well as everything that’s happened at JaxPort in terms of the investment, for us it was a fairly easy decision.”