6 July 2018
I recently spent a fascinating and fun couple of days in Hull with the Association of Town Centre Managers. If you don’t make the link to ADI, a business that works extensively in sport and retail, the parallels with the challenges faced by town centres are striking.
Sports venues have the same primary focus as town centres – for “footfall” read “attendance” – and the universal mantra is to make them arrive earlier, stay longer, spend more and comeback sooner; a set of objectives echoed by the CEO of a prominent Business Improvement District: “get them into town, get them spending money”
Yesterday I was further reminded of the parallels as I came across a Facebook post– viewed by over 26,000 people – showing a square full of ecstatic fans erupting as they watch Eric Dier slot away the winning penalty against Columbia, on a giant screen we have recently installed in Blackburn town centre.
Undoubtedly, our town centres are alive and kicking and they’re proving they don’t need to rely purely on big brand retailers for long term survival.
The historic battle between town centres and out-of-town retail was largely won on choice and convenience, it was very tough to compete with acres of free parking and row upon row of appealing brands. These same retail environments are now up against the internet, the undisputed champion of choice and convenience in a battle that’s creating a high casualty count. Retail feels increasingly under siege, the near daily bankruptcy headlines are creating a genuine nervousness as to what the longer term model of success is.
But town centres were always about more than just retail. If the battle for convenience is lost, the battle for community is alive and well and town centres are well placed for the fight.
The screens appearing in city and town centres over the past few years have predominantly been used for pure revenue generation – generally running national Digital Out Of Home campaigns – but the tide is changing and these screens are increasingly giving way to content focused on engaging the audience rather than just putting ads in front of them.
Creating spaces for shared experiences. Bringing people together to spend time as a community. Promoting local businesses, not global brands. These are aims that have a real social value and importantly they feel sustainable. As major retailers vacate, there’s an emerging sense that the future of the town centre lies in investing in local rather than watching money flow out of the area and into the pockets of global shareholders.
We’re working with a couple of partners who are experimenting with lots of interesting and quite different content experiences. Princes Quay, a shopping centre in the heart of Hull, in a highly competitive market are working hard to create exciting events extending their appeal to new audiences. From Valentine’s day promotions, to keeping the gamers happy with a giant Mario Kart competition, they’re constantly reinventing the experience and getting people talking about what’s coming next.
On the other side of the country we’ve recently installed a screen outside the town hall for Blackburn with Darwen Council. They’ve had a great opening run supporting their Festival of Making followed by a day with something for everyone: the Royal Wedding in the morning followed by the FA Cup final in the evening. Local restaurants and bars have benefitted directly from the extra trade but much more important is the impact of people making the short journey home buzzing with excitement about the experience they shared in their town centre. Perhaps they even did a little shopping whilst they were there…
But as I sit here and watch joyous strangers in a North West city square hug each other and sing, it occurs to me that perhaps it’s not just Football that’s Coming Home; I think maybe our town centres are too.
Give us a call on 0800 592 346 and we’ll bring our demonstration screen to your town centre.