A network to rethink and revitalise town centres and high streets
The Town Centre gauntlet for businesses
It seems the question on everyone’s lips at the moment is how to breathe life into our dwindling town centres and having worked at the ‘coalface’ for the last 4 years I thought I’d share some of what we’ve learnt about the pitfalls and the opportunities that exist.
In Crouch End we have re-energised the town centre by creating a brand that is ‘for the community, of the community’, under which all business and local organisations can operate, and have since advised other town centres in doing the same.
Here are a few pointers that we have learnt along the way:
Keep the approach simple, … start with businesses.
Everyone wants to live a thriving community… it is after all, an extension of their own home, and that is the Town Centres greatest opportunity. Businesses have a clear, vested interest in increasing footfall and reenergising their community; as a key interface within the community they understand its nuances, and are a measurement of its wellbeing.
Resonance...Many council -led schemes have failed to achieve resonance with their customers (businesses and consumers), or provide the right tools for sustainability. Councils/ Government’s relationship with small businesses are notoriously tricky and frequently adversarial; with the right framework and tools town centres businesses can, lead initiatives
The right tools for the job...Small businesses lack the resource, sometimes the expertise, and certainly the ‘voice’ to properly attract customer attention and change behaviour. To compete effectively they need to act collectively and approach this as any big brand would. For this they need the right tools, and training.
Under one brand, properly executed, businesses can present a clear strategic voice, with a compelling message; people don’t have time to wade through infinite amounts of flyers, posters, offers and promotions, especially if they are badly designed and produced.
Ask why should someone shop with you? Together businesses can create good reasons for customers to return; one point access to all that is available, and added value to that proposition i.e. Excellent service, good online access, loyalty schemes, delivery service or customer collection points
‘Added value’ is as much about ‘giving back’ as it is about discounting, and for us the magic has been in engaging and reconnecting the community. Our belief is that Town Centres have a bright future if they create a strong brand, a sophisticated online presence, and support that with excellent customer experience instore and ‘in town’.
Clare Richmond : firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for the post, Clare - I think your point about added value really hits the nail on the head. As shopping habits change and major retailers concentrate their efforts on a shrinking number of locations, that added value needs to be about much more than retail. That will support the retailers who remain and create the conditions where new activities, businesses and markets can emerge.
I participated in the excellent A&DS and Scottish Town Centre Coalition event in Glasgow this week on this topic.
Several of the outcomes from that are in line with the Crouch End lessons. One is on the criticality of resonance between local councils and the High Street business community. It was clear from the discussion in our group that there is much work to be done on this – ranging from oppressive car-parking arrangements to the need for more flexibility around planning and change-of-use (and the need for social responsibility on the part of small traders).
I hope to pass on some of the fuller and more substantive outcomes from the event when available. Meantime, a timely and illustrative anecdote:
Coincidentally, I was at a local small hairdressing salon this morning. I asked about why they had moved premises when it was such a short move, just around the corner. The manager, rather exasperated, explained that between recently-raised rent and business rates in the original council-owned premise, she has saved around £200 a month with the move. For the lives of both of us, in comparing the premises and precise locations of each of them, we just could not work out the Council’s rational.
It got worse. Before leaving the original premises, the manager had appealed to the Council as to whether there was any possibility of reconsidering the rise in the face of recession. The answer was a firm no. Shortly after she had moved premises, the manager discovered that the new tenant was enjoying a lease on a reduced rate – at virtually the same as the hairdressing business had previously paid. The hairdressing business suffered a break in trade and the cost of refitting premises because of the enforced move.
This is one wee anecdote, but it highlights matters that can be the death of a business. – and death has a tendency to be permanent.