Working together for stronger towns

CmjSQKlW8AAektaOn the 4th July 2016 I was invited to take part in the inaugural Oxfordshire High Streets Conference.  I  am saying inaugural as the delegates found the day very useful so we hope there will be another one! As a place management scholar, there is nothing better than sharing place insight and debating its relevance, in a local context. As a researcher, I get to know a lot about problems and I get to know my data intimately.   But, my work tends to be read by academics and other people who also focus on the data/problem side of things.  This means I don’t always connect with the people who want to put our research findings into practice.  To get the opportunity to present our research on footfall signatures at the event was especially rewarding.  Having the chance to hear directly from representatives of towns that feel their centre’s profile is changing from one of comparison shopping to one that is more focused on community retail and services, for example, was really useful.  I got a chance to take part in the important debate about what this change means ‘on the ground’, in terms of managing the offer, attracting the right type of businesses, changing opening hours and communicating all these changes in the community.

As the Keynote Speaker for the event I was also invited to give a couple of radio and TV interviews.  One of these was for Howard Bentham’s Radio Oxford Breakfast Show. His questions were typical of what people want to know about High Streets. Namely, how much research is there telling us what works on the high street? Are there answers or is everyone making it up as they go along?  What are the main factors that determine whether a high street is successful or not? Will the Internet kill the high street?  And, finally, what would I do if I was in charge of a town (I am not used to getting this last question!). I use the rest of this blog to give some answers to these questions.

How much research has been done into what works on the high street?

A lot. Our High Street UK 2020 project, funded by the ESRC, found relevant articles and commentary dating back to 1892. Academic researchers have been predicting many of the problems we are currently facing today – as long ago as the 1960s. Despite there being a lot of useful information, it’s taken more popular figures like Mary Portas and Bill Grimsey to bring these findings to people concerned about the high street. What seems to happen is that technology changes, consumer behaviour changes but there is too long a time lag before town centre stakeholders (e.g. property owners, the council, retailers) adapt their decision making/operations in response to these major changes. We need our town centre decision makers to take a bit more notice of the research and predictions our academics and other experts make, so they can anticipate change and respond more effectively, rather than just wait until everything goes a bit ‘pear shaped’!

What have been the consequences of town leaders making decisions without evidence of what works?

Wasted funding, wasted effort and declining high streets. But it’s not just town leaders – its also decision makers at higher levels.  For example, retail planning policy is a national issue.  Our research has shown that the impact of out-of-town shopping is more negative than internet shopping on traditional retail areas like high streets. But, in England our town centre first policy has been gradually eroded – allowing more edge and out-of-town retailing to be built, whereas in Scotland they are very protective of their high streets – and are doing everything they can to ensure retailing and other services are in town centres.

What are the main factors that determine a high street’s success?

Number 1 is the range of shops, services and other attractions it offers – and whether these match and adapt to the needs of the people using the high street.  Attractions are not just shops.  Parks, leisure activities, schools and hospitals, public transport hubs and employers all attract footfall. The question is – how integrated are all these attractors into an overall town centre experience? For example, do business open later to cater for large numbers of commuters, ‘attracted’ to railway stations.

Number 2 is the accessibility of the high street – using a range of transport options – public transport, walking, cars or cycles etc. High streets can be forced into unnecessary decline by moving bus stations and stops, for example. And that’s why we hear so much about car-parking. But, as a rule of thumb the weaker the town’s offer (see above) the cheaper the car-parking needs to be. Strong towns do not need to worry about the price of car-parking!

Number 3 is competition to the high street from edge-of-town or out-of-town retailing.  Retail parks are seeing a rise in footfall – because they are not just a collection of retail sheds anymore, they have restaurants, gyms, cinemas – and free parking. In effect, they are becoming more convenient (for car-owners) replacements to the traditional high street.

Is the internet killing the high street?

No, the Internet is not killing the high street, but it is transforming it.  The Internet is speeding up the reinvention of the high street into something more suitable for today’s consumers.   Bodies like the Royal Town Planning Institute think that the UK has an oversupply of retail floor space – perhaps as high as 30%.  Now people are buying bulky physical products online, our town centres do not need to be full of fridges, freezers, mattresses, TVs and sofas etc., which take up a lot of room! This space can now be used for other uses.  As a result, many smaller town centres need to become more compact.  The retail and service offer needs to be concentrated – and town centre decision makers need to facilitate this to make it happen.  A town with a fragmented offer is not convenient as it is not easily walkable.

If you were put in charge of an average English town, what would be your first priority?

Run to the hills! After all my time researching town and city centre change I know place management is not an easy job! Towns are full of lots of different types of people, shopkeepers, independents, multiples, residents, civic societies trying to protect history and heritage, transport planners trying to facilitate cycle paths, motorists wanting to park outside shops.  All these people have got competing expectations and requirements. So, the first priority should be establishing a realistic and shared vision of what the town centre offer needs to be – to meet the needs of the people that use it.  Our recent High Street UK 2020 project has shown that the sort of research work that is needed to reposition the town, so it meets the needs of its current catchment, is sorely lacking in the average English town.

Finally, I have put together a Storify from the tweets that were shared during the Oxfordshire High Streets Conference.  It really was a great event and I look forward to the next one. You can find out more about the event below.

Working together for stronger towns

CmjSQKlW8AAektaOn the 4th July 2016 I was invited to take part in the inaugural Oxfordshire High Streets Conference.  I  am saying inaugural as the delegates found the day very useful so we hope there will be another one! As a place management scholar, there is nothing better than sharing place insight and debating its relevance, in a local context. As a researcher, I get to know a lot about problems and I get to know my data intimately.   But, my work tends to be read by academics and other people who also focus on the data/problem side of things.  This means I don’t always connect with the people who want to put our research findings into practice.  To get the opportunity to present our research on footfall signatures at the event was especially rewarding.  Having the chance to hear directly from representatives of towns that feel their centre’s profile is changing from one of comparison shopping to one that is more focused on community retail and services, for example, was really useful.  I got a chance to take part in the important debate about what this change means ‘on the ground’, in terms of managing the offer, attracting the right type of businesses, changing opening hours and communicating all these changes in the community.

As the Keynote Speaker for the event I was also invited to give a couple of radio and TV interviews.  One of these was for Howard Bentham’s Radio Oxford Breakfast Show. His questions were typical of what people want to know about High Streets. Namely, how much research is there telling us what works on the high street? Are there answers or is everyone making it up as they go along?  What are the main factors that determine whether a high street is successful or not? Will the Internet kill the high street?  And, finally, what would I do if I was in charge of a town (I am not used to getting this last question!). I use the rest of this blog to give some answers to these questions.

How much research has been done into what works on the high street?

A lot. Our High Street UK 2020 project, funded by the ESRC, found relevant articles and commentary dating back to 1892. Academic researchers have been predicting many of the problems we are currently facing today – as long ago as the 1960s. Despite there being a lot of useful information, it’s taken more popular figures like Mary Portas and Bill Grimsey to bring these findings to people concerned about the high street. What seems to happen is that technology changes, consumer behaviour changes but there is too long a time lag before town centre stakeholders (e.g. property owners, the council, retailers) adapt their decision making/operations in response to these major changes. We need our town centre decision makers to take a bit more notice of the research and predictions our academics and other experts make, so they can anticipate change and respond more effectively, rather than just wait until everything goes a bit ‘pear shaped’!

What have been the consequences of town leaders making decisions without evidence of what works?

Wasted funding, wasted effort and declining high streets. But it’s not just town leaders – its also decision makers at higher levels.  For example, retail planning policy is a national issue.  Our research has shown that the impact of out-of-town shopping is more negative than internet shopping on traditional retail areas like high streets. But, in England our town centre first policy has been gradually eroded – allowing more edge and out-of-town retailing to be built, whereas in Scotland they are very protective of their high streets – and are doing everything they can to ensure retailing and other services are in town centres.

What are the main factors that determine a high street’s success?

Number 1 is the range of shops, services and other attractions it offers – and whether these match and adapt to the needs of the people using the high street.  Attractions are not just shops.  Parks, leisure activities, schools and hospitals, public transport hubs and employers all attract footfall. The question is – how integrated are all these attractors into an overall town centre experience? For example, do business open later to cater for large numbers of commuters, ‘attracted’ to railway stations.

Number 2 is the accessibility of the high street – using a range of transport options – public transport, walking, cars or cycles etc. High streets can be forced into unnecessary decline by moving bus stations and stops, for example. And that’s why we hear so much about car-parking. But, as a rule of thumb the weaker the town’s offer (see above) the cheaper the car-parking needs to be. Strong towns do not need to worry about the price of car-parking!

Number 3 is competition to the high street from edge-of-town or out-of-town retailing.  Retail parks are seeing a rise in footfall – because they are not just a collection of retail sheds anymore, they have restaurants, gyms, cinemas – and free parking. In effect, they are becoming more convenient (for car-owners) replacements to the traditional high street.

Is the internet killing the high street?

No, the Internet is not killing the high street, but it is transforming it.  The Internet is speeding up the reinvention of the high street into something more suitable for today’s consumers.   Bodies like the Royal Town Planning Institute think that the UK has an oversupply of retail floor space – perhaps as high as 30%.  Now people are buying bulky physical products online, our town centres do not need to be full of fridges, freezers, mattresses, TVs and sofas etc., which take up a lot of room! This space can now be used for other uses.  As a result, many smaller town centres need to become more compact.  The retail and service offer needs to be concentrated – and town centre decision makers need to facilitate this to make it happen.  A town with a fragmented offer is not convenient as it is not easily walkable.

If you were put in charge of an average English town, what would be your first priority?

Run to the hills! After all my time researching town and city centre change I know place management is not an easy job! Towns are full of lots of different types of people, shopkeepers, independents, multiples, residents, civic societies trying to protect history and heritage, transport planners trying to facilitate cycle paths, motorists wanting to park outside shops.  All these people have got competing expectations and requirements. So, the first priority should be establishing a realistic and shared vision of what the town centre offer needs to be – to meet the needs of the people that use it.  Our recent High Street UK 2020 project has shown that the sort of research work that is needed to reposition the town, so it meets the needs of its current catchment, is sorely lacking in the average English town.

Finally, I have put together a Storify from the tweets that were shared during the Oxfordshire High Streets Conference.  It really was a great event and I look forward to the next one. You can find out more about the event below.

Can bad data be good data? Reflections upon the Consumer Data Research Council Partner Forum

Guest blog by Ed Dargan, PhD Student at the Institute of Place Management, Manchester Metropolitan University

The Consumer Data Research Council (CDRC) (established by the ESRC) held the CDRC Data Partner Forum on the 6th May at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. The key aim of the CDRC is to help organisations maximise the potential of innovation by opening up their data to trusted researchers so that they can provide solutions that drive economic growth and improve our society. During the day, the presentations were based around three themes of missing data, data sources and research design.

For the retail demand modellers, the inclusion of seasonal demand, especially for seaside locations, being able to account for natural barriers and include travel times based upon real journey times were seen as important. It was useful to see how different data values were being clustered to form classifications, as this is something that needs to be done with the footfall data available to IPM, in the big data project we are just about to start with Springboard.

The importance of data representation was an important theme. Missing data, both spatially and temporally was identified as a challenge and a number of techniques were identified to ‘fill-in’ missing data. A recurring theme was the problem of using time constrained census data when analysing concurrent data that is updated more frequently. Also identified was the accuracy problem of end-user supplied outcome codes, in this case failed delivery reasons.

With any spatial and temporal data, there is the challenge of providing a digestible visual display. With so much data available, this was acknowledged as a challenge that most of the presenters using geographical mappings faced.

As a data source, supermarket loyalty cards were discussed. Interestingly, it was found that loyalty card usage was least likely to occur for small and frequent purchases, no matter what type of store was visited or the socio-demographic classification of the customer. The map of users of a store showed a more dispersed geographical spread around the UK than expected. This highlighted the problem of customers failing to update their home address details when moving home and the subsequent difficulties in interpreting loyalty card spatial data.

However, when problems in the data were identified, this fed into the recurring observation that so called bad data, that is data identified statistically to be problematic, should not always be removed or cleansed using missing data techniques. Alternatively, this so called bad data could be the most interesting data of all for a researcher and/or commercial organisation. For example, people who don’t update their loyalty card details could lead to some very useful insights into such customers. Perhaps they are a very profitable segment?

Useful resources identified during the presentations included: http://maps.cdrc.ac.uk which includes views of geodemographic, retail and general metrics for the larger towns and cities. Various views are provided, one that seemed a useful barometer of high street health was the retail view which for some towns (presumably only a few have the data available) provides changes to retailer types and vacancy rates over a set period of time.

Overall, it was a very good day. The presentations were very interesting and there was also the opportunity to meet and mix with other academics and business representatives.

About Me (Ed Dargan): For the last 10 years, I have worked in multi-channel organisations. In 2012, I started an MSc in Internet Retailing at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) and it was here I met Professor Cathy Parker who led the marketing strategy module. I support local food producers and retailers and Cathy provided the opportunity to take a look at some footfall data for a number of locations throughout the UK. At the time, the data sample was too small to investigate statistically but the initial view of the data revealed some interesting monthly patterns. I had the choice for my MSc dissertation of either pursuing the footfall data or look into internet options for local food retailers and producers and I took the latter option. However, my interest in the footfall data remained so when the opportunity came to investigate the footfall data as part of a PhD, after a slight hesitation and sanity check, I grabbed the opportunity. My PhD is part-time and I’ve just finished the first year researcher course at Manchester Metropolitan University and am raring to get going exploring the data.    

Below is a list of the sessions and presentations:

Session 1: Missing Data and Missing People

Thomas Waddington: Modelling the temporal variation in supermarket revenue estimates

Eusebio Odiari – Infilling missing values in consumer Big Data

• Michail Pavlis – The geography of non-delivery

Emily Sheard – Enumerating the ambient population in the context of crime

Guy Lansley, Chrysanthi Kollia – The spatio-temporal geodemographics of youth

Session 2: Novel Data Sources and their Geographic Integration

Nik Lomax and Martin Clarke – Home owner mobility: assessing distance and geodemographic consistency using consumer data

• Hai Nguyen, Oliver O’Brien – naming conventions and ethnicity

Guy Lansley, Wen Li – Areas and activities: integrating consumer registers

Alyson Lloyd, James Cheshire, Roberto Murcio – How representative are high street retailer data?

Anastasia Ushakova – Temporal patterns of energy consumption and vulnerable consumers

Tim Rains – Data linkage of store loyalty cards

Session 3: Big Data and Research Design

• Alex Singleton, Bala Soundararaj: Dynamic high streets – SmartStreetSensor

Mark Birkin – Spatial microsimulation, big data and policy analysis: an example from the UK travel market consumer data

Phani Chintakayala – Do green attitudes and demographics drive sustainable product consumption?

 

 

Power of Place: Carlisle

Yesterday I was invited by Cumbria Business Interaction Centre, part of the University of Cumbria, to talk about local distinctiveness and growth for Carlisle to a small group of 10 local business owners, council officers and university staff. My evidence credentials were our ESRC-funded High Street UK 2020 project findings and new initial footfall research from the InnovateUK-funded place data science project, “Bringing Big Data to Small Users“.

Before the presentation I met with senior representatives from Carlisle Council, including Colin Glover (Leader of the Council), Daren Crossley (Deputy Chief Executive), Jane Meek (Director of Economic Development) and Emma Dixon (Partnership Manager). It was very lively and informative for all participants! Many thanks to Keith Jackson, of the Cumbria Business Interaction Centre, for facilitating the meeting.

One of the most engaging discussions was about the power of footfall data to understand the real-time activity in a city like Carlisle – and how this evidence can guide planning and management – and ultimately ensure the location is adapting appropriately to the changing needs of its various users. Carlisle is a multi-functional centre (and has been for over 1,000 years) meaning there are different components of its overall signature – tourism, shopping and community services. These need understanding and appreciating – so that they are all delivered – in the right measures, in the right areas and at the right time.

Unlike many locations, Carlisle is in a pretty healthy position, thanks, in part, to its relative geographical isolation. Vacancy rates are low, there is employment in the centre, good transport links, a sizeable resident population, a university, college and schools. All these act as attractors to a fairly substantial hinterland. On top of that Carlisle has a ‘rich and tempestuous history’, which brings in tourists, and it has remained a significant location since before Roman times. 

So, Carlisle is coming from a position of power. And Daren Crossley (Deputy Chief Executive) asked whether that could lead to complancency? To a certain degree, yes. A city like Carlisle that starts from such a strong position is always going to be more resilient than a town that has, for example, grown around a single industry – like mining. However, trends in consumer behaviour, technology, transport etc. take root – and eventually even Carlisle traders will have to adapt – otherwise they will go out of business.

Nevertheless, the lack of imminent danger can mean it is difficult to engage retailers and other businesses into much collective action. And collaborative activities – interventions that strengthen the whole city’s offer – are a sure route to boosting individual operators’ KPIs (like footfall and sales). Without more cooperation, operators in the city are likely to be under performing (not fulfilling the potential associated with the location). So, how can the city engage more stakeholders into activities that will benefit everyone? Like working together to improve the 25 vitality and viability priorities, identified through our High Street UK2020 research.

One group that is building the collective power and capacity of the city is the Carlisle Ambassadors.

“Carlisle Ambassadors are people who have connections with Carlisle, an interest in the city and who support this Cumbrian centre of business, tourism and culture. It is for individuals, businesses and organisations who want to make it an even better place to live, work, invest and visit. It is for those who want to benefit from a strong and influential network, and who may be interested in collaborating on projects to make a difference.”

On that last point, I think that’s where the Institute of Place Management can really help. We can identify the type of projects, activities and interventions that can bring about more footfall and improve the customer experience.

I hope that after our meetings today we can work with stakeholders in Carlisle, through the University of Cumbria, Carlisle City Council and the Ambassador network, to feed through our research findings and help optimise the performance of individual operators, and, ultimately, the collective performance of the city.

The Institute of Place Management is the professional body for people who serve places. We welcome members from any sector who are trying to make places better.

Find out how to join us here.

Maintaining a vibrant Harrogate town centre

Tonight I was invited to share the findings of our ESRC-funded High Street UK2020 research at the 120th AGM of the Harrogate Chamber of Commerce.

Also presenting the future of transport for Harrogate was Cllr Don Mackenzie, North Yorkshire County Council and Cllr Rebecca Burnett, Harrogate Borough Council, provided an update on the Harrogate town centre strategy & masterplan.

About 130 people gave up an hour and half of their evening to hear how retail centres across the UK are changing and how Harrogate is planning to adapt.

As in all places, opinions are divided and tensions between different interest groups run high. Hotels and restaurants want to cater to the needs of the visitor economy, local politicians need to look after residents and many retailers are unsure where growth is going to come from.

Despite being told that the debate could get very heated in the Q&A – everything was very civilised! I was struck by the real interest the audience had for our research findings – with questions focussing on the ‘speciality’ profile of Harrogate, the role of parking in the big picture and the 25 priorities that have the most impact upon town centre performance.

I enjoyed the evening as the other speakers were informed and sensitive to local issues and opinions. It is useful for me to learn more about local issues in Harrogate   – not only is it interesting – this local intelligence validates our models and findings. 

Transport/accessibility and convenience are obviously challenging Harrogate. We know these issues are important in terms of impacting on a town’s performance – and as our research showed, as a general rule of thumb, the more a factor influences performance, the harder it is for a location to influence it. So hearing that tackling traffic and congestion problems may take 10 years is depressingly realistic, I’m afraid.

After the presentations I got a chance to chat to Cllr Burnett who was keen to hear my views on the town centre strategy and, more importantly, what the evidence says. It’s always reassuring to meet Cllrs like Rebecca who seek out insight from others, including academics like myself. 

My first reflection was that Harrogate should have a more convincing vision. It is a special place – and this isn’t currently clearly reflected in the strategy and masterplan. Without a bolder statement of what the town’s stakeholders are trying to achieve it’s hard to make policies or strategy that really tackle or change anything.  

Leadership, vision and strategies came out as very important in our research – but, as one of the members of the audience asked, who is leading and inspiring in Harrogate? Perhaps a small visioning group – of key ‘movers and shakers’ – would help inject a bit more character into the vision?

My second comment related to parking and pedestrianisation. A speciality town can attract people from a wide catchment – so accessibility is important but a certain amount of convenience has to be sacrificed in order for the location to strengthen it’s speciality ‘feel’. However, I don’t think pedestrianisation is the answer either. Fully pedestrianised streets can feel bland and inactive. Flexibility is key. Investing into shared space, temporary access and more variety in the physical realm can make spaces appealing to pedestrians at some parts of the day/days of the week etc but accessible to some traffic at other times.

Finally, we discussed the ongoing management of Harrogate, as town centre management was not funded by the borough council. Towns, like other complex system do not manage themselves – but, on the other hand, a full-time town centre manager is only one approach to place management. Given that many of the UK’s Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) have been so effective at managing the 25 priorities identified in our High Street UK2020 project then BIDs may be a place management model worth considering.

I was very pleased to have the chance to share our research findings and experience – and if the group want to hear more about BIDs or any other aspect of place management – then I would be delighted to come back!  

10 secrets of successful grant applications

During my career I have won bids with a collective value of over £10 million. My success rate is two out of three. Not bad eh! In this post I am going to share all my secrets with you.

1. Start small

When I started at Manchester Metropolitan University I worked in a team well known for their retail research, on a small bid aimed to investigate the training needs of independent retailers. Although the problem was really quite big, the actual project was tightly focused. Without realising it, this was a very important project that went on to define my research profile and identity. I became known as Mrs Small Shops.

2. Think big

Establishing the training needs of independent retailers in the UK is one thing. Actually designing interventions that will improve their business performance is quite another. The next couple of bids I wrote built upon the reputation I had in understanding of research problem and included a diverse range of partners who wanted to tackle the problem in a practical way. One of the outcomes of the Retail Enterprise Network project was the creation of new bite-size qualifications for retailers that could be studied in 10 hours that led to measurable improvements in key performance indicators, such as footfall, sales and profitability.

3. Instill confidence

Having lots of relevant partners is often a good way to instil confidence in the people that are assessing your grant application. If you have all the major players that can help answer a research problem, or a practical problem, or a combination of the two, who are willing to work on your project, then why would the funders reject your application? Another good way of instilling confidence is showing how the project supports the core aims of the organisation you work for. Sometimes grant calls don’t expect you to work with other people, however, having a few letters of support, in my view, never does any harm.

4. Humility

There’s a fine line between instilling confidence and sounding arrogant! If your research is trying to solve ‘real world’ problems, then the ‘real world’ should be part of defining the research objectives and interpreting the research findings. I would class all my research now as a form of engaged scholarship or ‘knowledge partnering’ (Eversole, 2014). Project partners enter into a process of co-inquiry. We agree up front what everyone wants to achieve from the project, and, as Principal Investigator, it is my job to make sure everyone gets what they expected.

5. Accept divides

Whilst I strongly believe all the partners in a project should benefit from participating, that doesn’t mean all the key people in your project can work in the same space. Often there is such big differences in people’s background/foreground, e.g. public sector vs private sector, it is naive (and irresponsible) to expect everyone to work as one happy family. In our latest project, for example, we have created user-groups, so that people from similar backgrounds (property, retailing, policy) can work together. 

6. Collaborate

If other people or other groups are doing similar or useful things related to what you are proposing in your bid then you must try and collaborate. If they don’t seem to want to work with you, then persevere. What are the barriers to working together? How could these be overcome? Is it possible for you to arrange a joint seminar, for example, to share findings at the end of your project. Is someone willing to be a key informant, keynote speaker or visiting researcher or advisor? Sometimes I have had to wait years for a key organisation or person to become a true partner in joint projects. But it is always worth the wait. After all, if they have a reputation in the area in which I am working, then that reputation will have been earned for a reason. Your funder will want to feel that they are spending money which will end in a contribution to knowledge, or practice, or policy. This rarely happens without partnership. To show that you are working with the key players and willing to collaborate will be crucial to your success.

7. Offer value

Funders want to know they are getting value for money. So pack what you can into your bid. This is where having the support of your organisation is very important. Are there opportunities to include activities in your bid that are part of your organisation’s mainstream business? For example, if you work in a university, can the findings of your research project be incorporated into the curriculum? Do you have partners in your project that can incorporate project findings into dissemination events that they run regularly anyway?

8. Think backwards

I learnt this secret fairly late in my bid writing career. It is much easier to craft a convincing bid if you have the end goal clearly in your mind at the beginning. About 10 years ago we realised that town centres should meet the needs of their catchment communities. Common sense. But it’s surprising how easy it is to lose sight of this and write over complicated bids that, collectively, take us no further forward towards an agreed goal.

9. KISS

Following on from my last point, if you cannot explain to someone on the bus or someone in the pub what you are doing and why, in general terms, then it is unlikely you will convince your funder either. Obviously, there will be parts of your bid that may be incredibly detailed and assume a high degree of technical knowledge. But there is always a section that allows you to write a short and simple summary of your project. This is very important. It might only be 150 words but be prepared to invest time and effort in getting this right.

10. Have fun

Bid writing is hard work. And it is even harder work when somebody actually gives you that money to deliver your project! If you don’t enjoy what you do, if you are not really passionate about your end goals, then my advice is to focus on doing something else. Projects can be hard work for your team and your partners too. So don’t be afraid to factor in some fun time. Going on visits, having drinks or meals out, chatting over coffee et cetera are all ways in which you can show your appreciation for everyone’s hard work – and give people a bit of ‘down-time’ as a much-needed contrast to all the high-energy doing and thinking in your project.

Bibliography

Here is a number of publications that have come from the research project funding I have won.

Parker, C., Ntounis, N., Quin, S., & Grime, I. (2014). High Street research agenda: identifying High Street research priorities. Journal of Place Management and Development, 7(2), 176-184 http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/full/10.1108/JPMD-06-2014-0008

Coca‐Stefaniak J.A.,  Cathy Parker, Patricia Rees, (2010) “Localisation as a marketing strategy for small retailers”, International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, Vol. 38 Iss: 9, pp. 677 – 697 http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/full/10.1108/09590551011062439
Coca-Stefaniak, J.A., Parker, C., Quin, S., Rinaldi, R., Byrom, J. (2009) Town centre management models: A European perspective, Cities,vol. 26 (2), P. 74-80 http://www.sciencedirect.com.ezproxy.mmu.ac.uk/science/article/pii/S0264275108001236

Parker, C., Gimenez, R.Y., Coca-Stefaniak, J.A., Byrom, J. (2007) Perceptions of the Andalusian independent retail sector, International Journal of Business and Globalisation, Vol. 1 (1), 125-142 http://www.inderscienceonline.com/doi/abs/10.1504/IJBG.2007.013723

Roper, S., Parker, C. (2006) Evolution of branding theory and its relevance to the independent retail sector, The Marketing Review, Vol. 6(1), pp. 55-71 http://mmu.library.ingentaconnect.com/content/westburn/tmr/2006/00000006/00000001/art00005
Coca-Stefaniak, A., Hallsworth, A.G., Parker, C., Bainbridge, S., Yuste, R. (2005) Decline in the British small shop independent retail sector: exploring European parallels, Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, Vol. 12(5), p. 357-371 http://www.sciencedirect.com.ezproxy.mmu.ac.uk/science/article/pii/S0969698904000943
J. Andres Coca‐Stefaniak, Cathy Parker, Amadeu Barbany, Xavier Garrell, Enric Segovia, (2005) “Gran Centre Granollers – “city, culture and commerce””, International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, Vol. 33 Iss: 9, pp.685 – 696 http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/full/10.1108/09590550510611878

Parker, C. and Coca-Stefaniak, J. A. (2005) Looking back and looking forward. In J. A. Coca-Stefaniak and B. Oldfield, eds. The persefones project: a twinning experience. Manchester: Manchester Metropolitan University http://e-space.openrepository.com/e-space/handle/2173/85934

Cathy Parker, Tracey Anthony‐Winter, David Tabernacle, (2003) “Learning by stealth: introducing smaller retailers to the benefits of training and education in Barnet”, International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, Vol. 31 Iss: 9, pp.470 – 476 http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/full/10.1108/09590550310491441

Ruth Anne Schmidt, Cathy Parker, (2003) “Diversity in independent retailing: barriers and benefits – the impact of gender”, International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, Vol. 31 Iss: 8, pp.428 – 439 http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/full/10.1108/09590550310484106

Hallsworth, A., Parker, C., & Coca-Stefaniak, A. (2003). Small Retail and TCM Shemes: Theory and reality from UK y USA. I Encuentro Centros comerciales Abiertos.

John Byrom, Cathy Parker, John Harris, (2002) “Towards a healthy high street: identifying skills needs in small independent retailers”, Education + Training, Vol. 44 Iss: 8/9, pp.413 – 420

Richard Hudson‐Davies, Cathy Parker, John Byrom, (2002) “Towards a healthy high street: developing mentoring schemes for smaller retailers”, Industrial and Commercial Training, Vol. 34 Iss: 7, pp.248 – 255 http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/full/10.1108/00197850210447237

John Byrom, John Harris, Cathy Parker, (2000) “Training the independent retailer: an audit of training needs, materials and systems”, Journal of European Industrial Training, Vol. 24 Iss: 7, pp.366 – 374 http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/full/10.1108/03090590010377727
Parker, C., & Byrom, J. (Eds.). (2000). Towards a healthy high street: Training the independent retailer. Manchester Metropolitan University. http://www.opengrey.eu/item/display/10068/578514


 

Can we provide more accurate predictors of footfall than catchment alone?

Continuing on the theme of identifying research questions for our Improving the Customer Experience in Town Cenres: Bringing Big Data to Small Users project, we are wondering whether we can start to predict footfall in a particular location.

With more retail sales moving on-line and out-of-town then traditional catchment areas or numbers may need updating. In fact, in HSUK2020, Millington, Ntounis, Parker and Quin (2015) found that local resident population was a better predictor of footfall in smaller locations than catchment statistics. We like footfall as a measure as it concentrates on actual attractiveness (the number of people a retail centre actually attracts) rather than ‘potential’ attractiveness (catchment). 
We will develop an improvement on existing methods of identifying catchment by providing a new method of predicting footfall (consisting, initially, of those components identified in USUK2020, i.e., geographical location, location of nearest stronger centre, resident population, employment, tourism and vacancy rates). First of all, we will want to compare estimated footfall from our HSUK2020 footfall predictor against actual footfall and catchment data for all towns in the Springboard historical footfall dataset. Then we will refine our original HSUK2020 model to improve its predicative ability. This will also allow decision-makers to estimate how attractive a location is (how many people it should be attracting) – especially important for smaller centres that may not be able to afford to collect real-time footfall data.

How does weather impact upon footfall?

Bad weather can impact on footfall, especially in traditional open retail centres like the High Street. During traditional peaks like Easter, bad weather can reduce footfall by around 5% according to Springboard who collect footfall data in retail centres across the UK. But good weather doesn’t impact as positively on retail footfall as consumers often find other things to do when the sun shines – like visiting the seaside, parks and other attractions.

 Retailers have to be very good at predicting the weather (and pay the Met Office to provide this insight) – as staffing levels and product ranges need to be sensitive to changes in both temperature and precipitation. Many maths graduates go on to careers with grocery retailers modelling the relationships between weather, consumer demand and the subsequent impact this then has to have on retail operations. Just how many barbecues do we need to put out on display next Saturday?

We are just about to start a big project that will analyse 9 years of hourly footfall data against 9 years of hourly weather data! For the first time the project consortium, led by researchers at MMU and Cardiff University, will be able to fully understand how weather changes  consumer behaviour and retail sales in specific locations  – not just in comparison shopping centres, but also in seaside and holiday or tourist destinations.
For more information on this project follow the link
http://www.placemanagement.org/news/developing-new-ways-to-understand-town-centres/
And read this blog for more ‘soft launch stories’ around this research
https://profcathyparker.wordpress.com/

What different town types are emerging in the multi-channel era?

Our ‘Bringing Big Data to Small Users‘ project is funded by Innovate UK, the UK Goverment’s innovation agency, to improve the customer experience of town centres and traditional retail areas, such as high streets and markets. The project will do this by bringing new research and insight directly to key stakeholders in locations – such as retailers and other businesses, property owners, local councils and place managers. The project is led by retail data specialists Springboard, who are the sector leaders in collecting footfall data in retail and other locations.

The new insight generated by the project is completely unique – it will come from combining nine year’s of UK multi-centre, hourly, historical footfall counts from Springboard with a number of key sources of information from other sources – such as retail sales, meteorological data, customer satisfaction, sentiment analysis, customer flow and dwell times. For the first time the Manchester Metropolitan University and Cardiff University research project team, consisting of world-leading retail and computer science researchers, will be able to scientifically test a number of assumptions – such as the relationship between car-parking charges and town centre performance.

The first task we have set ourselves is to develop a long list of the type of problems we want the data to answer. We will be sharing these over the next couple of days so that project partners and other interested people can give us their initial reaction and feedback. I start with the first research question we have identified – to give you an idea of the type of research and analysis we will be doing in the first stage of the project.

What different town types are emerging in the multi-channel era?

Our preliminary research (part of HSUK2020), strongly indicated the existence of distinct footfall signatures (comparison shopping, speciality and convenience/community). Are these town types recognisable in the bigger data set we now have? Are there other signature types present in the data, different town types we may want to include (for example, holiday towns). What makes a signature distinctive? For example, when is a town a comparison shopping town? In our previous research, we identified comparison shopping towns by those that display significant ‘January Drops’ (reduction in footfall after Christmas). But we need a more scientific method to define signature types. Our new method will now include daily and weekly variations – thanks to all the hourly footfall data Springboard have provided the research team.

Once we have established a reliable method to identify town types we can then find out how many UK retail centres have, or have had, a recognisable signature. In other words, what type of towns have we got in our sample? Can we find evidence of towns changing type – or are town types comparably stable over time? To what extent do our town types correspond to existing typologies or hierarchies? Is there a relationship between the amount of footfall and town type? In other words, do all comparison shopping towns have the largest amount of footfall. Conversely, do all convenience/community towns have the smallest footfall. Is there any recognisable pattern to the location of town types? Does the ‘north/south’ divide we see in other retail statistics (e.g. vacancy rates) exist in relation to footfall and town types? To what extent do the signature types we find in the data correspond to existing perceptions or current decision-making, plans and strategies? In most of our HSUK2020 project towns, stakeholders perceived their centres to be comparison shopping or speciality but as we didn’t have footfall data we couldn’t test their assumptions. Are place managers’ intuitions reliable (do they accurately predict town type), aspirational (implying town types can change) or delusional (because their assessment is inaccurate and town types are fixed)?

A full list of research questions will be published over the next couple of days through my blog. I welcome any feedback or comments. Will this research be useful – are there other questions we should be asking?

Getting our heads around little big data

It sounds like a character from The Beano – but ‘little big data’ describes the size of the file of footfall data Springboard has just given IPM access to, which contains over 9 years of hourly footfall data, from locations around the UK.

This file of historical footfall will provide us with the data we need to test a number of assumptions (or maybe myths) about what affects the performance of the UK High Street.

This research forms part of a large government-funded Innovate project which will improve the customer experience of UK town centres, through improving the quality of place management decision making.

Today myself and Dr Christine Mumford at Cardiff School of Computer Science and Informatics, the Principal Investigator for the inductive and computational research stage of the project, have been orientating ourselves with the data (there is a lot of it) and writing the protocols for how we store and access the data – as it is, of course, very valuable.

The next stage is to identify a clear set of hypotheses or research questions we are going to answer, using Springboard’s historical footfall data – as well as other data such as population, employment, weather and retail sales.

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