Seminar experts talk about retailers and place makers needing to transform the High Street from transactional shopping districts to places for enjoyment and experiences that ensure sustainability

The fifth seminar in the current Business South Seminar Series explored UK Retailers and the High Street and featured an outstanding list of expert contributors including:

Zach Wilcox an Arup Economist with responsibility for cities and planning
Tom Price Head of Site Acquisition and Landlord Relationships at Sook
Julie Holden Community Director at Save the High Streets

Our seminar was chaired by Roya Croudace, founder of Alloy Business Innovation; non-executive director at the Knowledge Transfer Network and former director of the Enterprise M3 Growth Hub.

Initially Zach Wilcox provided his observations on how retail and high street are changing and that place and space discussions need to adapt. Zach stressed how having pride in our places is fundamental for the sustainable success of retailers, high streets, and communities.

Zach told us that 1:7 of UK jobs are on our high street and that 40% of local consumer income is spent in local areas. He added that 50% of buildings on our High Street are residential and 47% of UK businesses are considering how their employees can work closer to home.

In developing our high street there must be a shift of emphasis from transactional to experiential and Zach put forward four ideas to encourage future success:

  • Improving access for pedestrians and cyclists
  • Re-wilding and developing more green spaces
  • Creating more space to play
  • Developing spaces that are versatile and multifunctional

Through the diversification of a high street Zach told us that footfall may be improved by day, night, across the week, month, and year.

Zach concluded with remarks on the benefits of encouraging office workers onto the high street and the developing thinking around 15-minute neighbourhoods.

Tom Price from Sook explained their business model as a flexible tool for driving sustainable revenue in retail assets.

With super flexible, reusable retail spaces in locations across the UK Sook’s unique offer provides access to digitalisation including being able to book hourly slots through an online platform.

Tom told us that Sook spaces have been hired for a wide range of activities including birthday parties, auctions, product demonstrations and retailing that on occasion features luxury goods.

The Sook business model hinges upon a highly digitalised and highly serviced offering and whilst hourly slots may be secured customers tend to book in blocks that are priced by Sook in line with demand through a system described as dynamic pricing. Therefore, rental prices range from £30-£120 per hour.

As mentioned before by Zach, Tom also saw retail moving from transactional to experiential with retailers needing to adapt to ensure future success.

Julie Holden introduced Save the High Streets and told us about her previous work including five years at the British Independent Retail Association.

Save the High Streets is an industry movement on a mission to ensure success of high streets across the UK. Julie told us about her focus on transformational aspects of high streets and local communities.

There was inevitably an importance of mixed use of space and through a range of pilots -in six UK shopping centres- Save the High Streets is seeking out the next generation of successful retail entrepreneurs. This work also covers the re-imagination of department stores.

Julie remarked that it was inevitable that the future success of the high street meant shrinking space and retailers doing the right type of thing in the remaining area. In the mix landlords have a vested interest in the success of their tenants.

Save the High Streets and their support division Jo provides a range of support to retailers dependent upon their desired outcomes.

During the pandemic Julie told us that social media played a vital role with retailers to maintain engagement with their customers.

Around the UK Save the High Streets are observing local councils developing initiatives to drive additional footfall into retail areas and are working with local retailers to ensure higher footfall converts to incremental sales.

The presentations were followed by a question & answer session hosted by our chair Roya Croudace.