On the road: Revival of the high street

It is no secret the retail sector is in disarray. Shopping centres across the UK are suffering and the on-going recession is hammering retailers. The number of vacant shops on the high street has doubled to 15 per cent since 2008, and there are now a record 23,406 empty shops in town centres alone, according to a report by Estates Gazette. In the first six months of 2012, 35 retail businesses failed and one in five shopping centres is now in breach of its loan agreements.

The British Council of Shopping Centres (BCSC), an association representing the retail property industry, organises an annual conference and exhibition for the retail industry to come together, network and write business. This year’s event saw 2,500 of the country’s leading developers, investors, shopping centre owners, managers and retailers come together at ACC Liverpool for three days amid tough trading conditions.

“The industry keeps saying we haven’t seen the worst of it yet,” BCSC’s Client Services Manager and organiser of the event, Erin Rigg told CN. “Our annual event is all about regeneration. The industry comes together to look at what to do with spaces that already exist and the new ones that are being created. Big business is written on the show floor and the event has become a real community.”

The BCSC Conference and Exhibition has been in existence for 27 years in different guises. It tours the UK and has been held in Manchester, Belfast and this year in Liverpool. “The show has been in Manchester for the last three years,” said Rigg. “Next year it is to be held in Glasgow and we tend to take it where there is a good story in terms of retail development. The new Liverpool One shopping centre was a key decision maker for choosing Liverpool for this year’s event.

“We try to keep the event out of London as most of the attendees are from London and we find that if we hold it away from their home city they spend more time on the show floor and taking in all the conference content and also at all the networking events organised alongside it,” she added.

The annual event is seen as a key date in the retail industry calendar. “We have some companies sending 30, 40 sometimes 60 staff members along to the show to do business,” said Rigg.

This year, though, Rigg and her team decided to make changes due to the retail business climate.

“Visitors pay to attend the event,” said Rigg “and for the last few editions we had frozen the price”. “This year, however, the association decided to reduce the price by £100 to give something back to its loyal members. We also wanted to see if it had an influence on the number of staff companies sent to the event,” she added.

BCSC members pay £900 to attend the event, £800 if they sign up early, and non-members £1,500.

The show’s 2,500 visitor figure this year was the same as previous editions, the drop in price did not appear to have had an effect on visitor numbers but could have coaxed people that were unsure this year to continue to attend.

In another move for this year, BCSC decided to change the date of the event. “It used to be held in November, yet consultation with members suggested a new September date would be preferable, so that business deals could be signed up in time for Christmas trading,” she said. This in itself posed a new host of problems for the organiser, being that September is when the political parties have their annual conferences, making it tougher to secure a venue with enough space to accommodate the event.  

Speakers

Retail guru Mary (Queen of Shops) Portas was the keynote speaker at this year’s event. Portas pulled in over 500 people to her speech on the “death of the high street”. “The high street is the sad old git of an uncle that no one wants to visit anymore,” she told delegates.

“We have become a nation of passive consumers chasing value and losing sight of our emotional and social needs,” she said. “The internet crept in the backdoor while we experienced the boom years and supermarkets popped up out of town displacing the high street. The high street needs a vision and supermarkets need to be put back into towns centres,” she added.

Portas’ sobering keynote sparked debate among the delegates. Rigg said: “We used to spend large budgets on big speakers, such as Bob Geldof or inspirational athletes who had lost limbs etc, but it never pulled in the delegates. A few years ago we decided to halt those budgets and now we invite specialist industry speakers who actually end up pulling in more people. I think this industry can relate better to them.”

Despite tough trading conditions, what is evident from the retail property industry is the need to meet, network and share ideas. The community created by the BCSC conference and exhibition has helped the industry to form a platform in which to work together and get through the tough times.

Rigg said: “2007/8 was a boom year for the show and the high street, 2009 was the most challenging year for the show and the high street, but visitor figures have remained steady at 2,500 throughout.”  

Delegate comment:

DTZ took a large stand in the arena, it also sponsored the juice bar which was next to client a meeting area. It has been part of the BCSC conference and exhibition since it began.
 
Elspeth Burrage, Head of Group Events and Retail Marketing Manager at DTZ, said: “This was
the first exhibition where we displayed our new global brand and the event was good for us.  For friendliness, location and a wealth of different venues, all in one package, Liverpool is hard to beat.”

Path Intelligence had an area at the bottom of the escalator between the arena and hall 2. It also sponsored the Wi-Fi at the event. The company works with shopping centres and large retailers to monitor the movement of consumers.
 
Kathryn Shirley, Consultant at Path Intelligence, said: “This was the first time we used our stand in this way and it provided more space for delegates looking for an area to be able to plug in their laptops and devices. It also enabled us to hold more discussions while visitors were on the stand, which we found to be comfortable and spacious. The feedback we received from delegates was positive.”

This was first published in the October edition of Conference News. Any comments? Email conferencenews@mashmedia.net

Paul Colston

Author

Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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