Attracting new people and businesses to the high street and keeping the old ones

The wealth of commercial destinations available today means it is no longer enough to expect people to turn up on the high street. Effort has to go into getting the basics right to make any high street the primary destination for people and business. There are many schemes that can act as the building blocks to constructing a viable place for people to trade, employ and reside. Here are a select few:

Triangle shopping centre in Manchester


52. Developing a general town centre website

The rapid growth of the internet means having a functional, visually pleasing and user-friendly website is a basic requirement for the marketing effort of all town centres. This can transform your town centre from one that is promoted to a few thousand people locally, to a global brand.

A website can be used to keep people up-to-date with the services on offer and special events taking place. Businesses can contribute to the costs of building and maintaining the website through advertising. A good website would even allow businesses to keep their own offers up-to-date through a modern ‘content management system' which could reduce staffing costs. This would provide each business with a unique login so they could update their own section of the website.

Virtual tour of the high street

A user's interaction with a town centre online can be increased through a 'virtual tour'. This allows users to view 3D images of the town centre to simulate walking down the high street, entering shops and leisure facilities.

The costs of developing a virtual tour can be reduced by allowing businesses to gain a greater prominence on the site in return for financial contributions. Furthermore, property owners could be asked to contribute in return for virtual tours in vacant units, allowing them to promote their property effectively.

Online town centre shopping

One of the biggest challenges facing the high street is internet retailing, which is widely assumed to have latent growth potential. Town centres may be able to combat this by pooling together resources to offer a home delivery service on the behalf of all locally-based businesses.

With unified branding, a dedicated online shopping portal and investment in high-quality infrastructure and management to allow for home delivery, town centres can meet the challenges of internet retailing head on.

53. Free Wi-Fi hotspots

Whether for personal, leisure or business reasons, many people want to have continuous connectivity to the World Wide Web, even when on the move. Increasingly, it is seen as vital for the 21st century town centre to offer this through dedicated Wi-Fi 'hotspots'.

This could give town centres a competitive edge over other commercial centres as internet access is becoming an important part of the decision making process for the choice of destination for individuals and businesses.

54. Town centre loyalty card

Shop interior

Due to technological progression, loyalty cards are growing more sophisticated in delivering a flexible offer. Town centres now have the capacity to bring together all providers of consumer services to offer a loyalty card that rewards customers with discounts for shopping locally. These discounts can be varied depending on the level and frequency of spend. Businesses can retain the ability to dictate the levels of discounts offered by their individual stores through rented card readers.

Loyalty cards can encourage repeat shopping visits in many other ways, not just discounts from shops. Through the use of a bonus points system, loyalty card users could be given discounts on car parking, public transport, sporting or cultural events. This could be a useful way of linking town centre shopping with other amenities which allow visitors to benefit from a wider and much more convenient experience of the high street.

The town centre of Dundalk has harnessed the possibilities offered by the modern day loyalty card through a gift card scheme.

55. Empty property scheme

In areas where vacancy rates are high during economic downturns, there is a need to bring property owners and entrepreneurs together to create a scheme where both stakeholders can be protected long term. During a recession, newer businesses, especially ones with higher start-up costs, will be priced out of the market - stifling economic recovery. Meanwhile, property owners will suffer a double hit, paying rates on empty properties, plus a fall in the value of vacant units as this value is dependent on rental income.

An empty property scheme could persuade high street property owners to rent long-term vacant properties at a set discounted rate (for example 20 per cent of the advertised market value), for a short-term period of up to three years. When this time frame elapses, tenants are given the first refusal of leasing the unit at full market value. By this time, if the rental market has recovered the property owner can be confident of leasing in much more favourable conditions.

During the short-term tenancy, the new business would have been given time to develop with a lower cost base providing it with a much better chance of long-term survival. For the property owner, not only are rates paid for by the tenant during the length of the contract but the temporary nature of the short tenancy contract as an ‘inducement' means there is no fall in the book value of the property. An empty property scheme during difficult economic conditions can support long-term financial viability.

Such a scheme has been launched by the Mayor of London for businesses and property owners in the capital city. ‘London New Enterprise' not only offers a boost to the city's economy but could also serve as a template for other local authorities to utilise.

London New Enterprise's website

56. Offering incubator units

There are many institutions around the UK transforming available space into incubator units for entrepreneurs to build their businesses with the assistance of low-cost office space. Organisations in and around the town centre could do the same, including shopping centres, office blocks and universities.

New businesses with low start-up costs could one day flourish and become fresh sources of employment and the cornerstones of the local economy for a town centre.

57. Community ownership of businesses

In smaller centres there will inevitably not be as many local services available. Every service takes on a greater role in binding a community together. During tough economic conditions, operating certain services may be too much of a burden for a sole trader and not an attractive proposition for larger businesses.

Regardless such services remain fundamental to the functioning of that community. In these circumstances the potential exists for the community to share the burden of running its own business, whether it be a pub, a post office or a leisure centre. If the service offers an important social function, then social models of ownership may be more sustainable in the long term.

58.Temporary pop-up services

Temporary businesses can be set up (and taken down again) in order to create a stir on the high street. Bars, cafes, restaurants, art galleries or even shops could be opened using temporary units such as stalls or could even, with a property owner's permission, occupy vacant units in return for pop-up owners helping to meet the costs of rates.

As temporary businesses, risk is not so much of a factor for entrepreneurs. With low overheads they are able to experiment with service offerings providing an opportunity for more creative and daring businesses to capture people's imagination. As the dust settles and the novelty wanes, the temporary business could disappear and be replaced with something new. With the right mix of fascinating pop-ups it could also be a key footfall driver. Low property costs could make this something to be considered in times of recession.

The temporary pop-up could also be used as a form of incubator to hone the management talents of potential entrepreneurs, allowing them to continuously experiment with new offers. By working in partnership with the Jobcentre Plus, pop-up businesses could provide short, bite-sized learning experiences for managers, employees and those seeking pre-employment training. Similar enterprises have been piloted as part of the National Skills Academy for Retail by members in Sheffield and Birmingham and have proved successful.

59. Entrepreneurial competition for incubator space

Expanding on the idea of incubator space for young businesses, implementing an open, competitive process can have many benefits.

First, the quality of entrepreneurs given the opportunity to benefit from low-cost space to trade is likely to be higher. Second, by working with the local media, positive publicity can be achieved raising awareness of efforts to support business development in the guise of something like ‘Dragon's Den' or ‘The Apprentice'. Third, by involving property owners who are having difficulty with leasing a number of units, an agreement could be negotiated whereby they offer the incubator space in return for publicity which helps them to promote other units.

Such a scheme is being successfully implemented in a number of places including a partnership between The Mall and the National Skills Academy for Retail. With 20 shopping centres across England and Scotland, including Lakeside and The Metrocentre, The Mall is the largest specialist owner and operator of retail space in the UK. Its Make Your Mark in Retail competition is designed especially for any small retail business hoping to grow, with one business benefiting from six months free trading in one of its shopping centres each year.

As well as free trading space, the winner receives free business banking for two years, access to a business relationship manager, a place on a National Skills Academy for Retail masterclass and a ticket to the Oxford Summer School. Retailers on your high street may want to think about entering future competitions.

A similar competition for market traders is also being coordinated by the Retail Markets Alliance called 'Make Your Market for Markets', in which trading facilities are available free for six months for successful applicants.

Retail masterclass - on the National Skills Academy website

Make Your Mark in Retail - on The Mall website

60. Building upon existing footfall generators

Footfall generators are the magnets that draw people into a town centre, such as late-night shopping, cinemas, theatres, restaurants, pubs and clubs, sports centres and bingo halls. Once people have been drawn in, it is important that key attractions are supported by a wide range of complimentary services that make people want to stay, and visit again.

This could include promotional initiatives with special offers linking together a series of activities. For example, discounts could be offered to cinema-goers who decide to include a trip to a wine bar or restaurant with their film.

Go to Attracting new people and businesses - part two >>>


1 June 2015

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