3 distinguishing characteristics of a functional market town

On Wednesday, on our #HSUK2020 tour, we were in Altrincham to discuss what makes a market town. Altrincham received its market charter in 1290 and is currently positioning itself as a ‘modern market town‘.

The UK footfall data supplied to us by Springboard suggests there are two types of market town (see Figure 1). The first, rather sadly, is more of an ex-market town, that really no longer functions as one. These towns do not have a strong weekly market and have lost other important services, such as, for example, their cottage hospital or registry office. These ‘ex-market’ or dysfunctional market towns (1) have a footfall profile equivalent to a community/convenience centre – in other words, footfall is fairly stable across the months, with no noticeable peaks.

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                                                                                                      Figure 1 : Footfall profiles

In contrast, the functional market town, has a different type of footfall profile, with noticeable peaks around Easter and July and a gradual increase in footfall from September to December.

Comparing the footfall profile of a functional market town to other town types, it would appear that the modern market town has a little bit of everything. Which, of course, it always did have. It offers convenience; those important everyday products and services like food shopping, a library, doctors and opticians etc. It has leisure, recreation – and entertainment like gyms, sports fields or a swimming pool, a cinema or a theatre. And there are places for the community to meet; coffee shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants.

The functional market town also offers some comparison shopping; clothes, homewares, maybe a bookshop or two, as well as some more important services to the surrounding area, maybe a hospital or FE college. This all comes packaged in what might be a fairly ‘low-key’ but nevertheless historic environment which offers a pleasant visitor experience and an important link with the past.

Of course, this description applies to a great many small or medium towns. So, in our workshop with Altrincham Forward we explored some of the fundamental characteristics of a market town and what these might look like in today’s market towns.

The 3 defining characteristics of a modern market town.

1. There is a market and it is an anchor.

Seems obvious, but if your town hasn’t got a market building, a market place, or temporary market ‘space’ (such as a high street), then it can’t be a market town. Even if it has the physical space for a market, it’s imperative that whatever is in it (the collective offer from all the operators) is behaving as an anchor – and is generating significant footfall to the town.

Marketplaces represent prime retail space in market towns – in terms of delivering on the ‘brand’. They can’t afford to be occupied by operators who do not provide the merchandise or collective/relevant opening hours and service that will actually drive footfall – in contrast to just ‘ticking over’. This isn’t to say all markets should be gentrified. For example, Bury Market is a very successful traditional market, selling a wide range of value products, which brings in coach loads of people from all over the North.

2. The market town plays an important role in the network of nearby places. (2)

Market towns served the surrounding hinterland – not only with commerce and a market but also by providing other services, as well as being the seat of local government. Again, these are important drivers of footfall. Losing a health centre, council offices or a college reduces a town’s relevance to its catchment – and undermines its power.

Market towns should remain a focus for local supply chains and the local economy, providing financial and professional services, such as banks, architects, solicitors and accountants, as well as office space and employment. Altrincham, for example, has nearly 3000 businesses in and around the town centre.

But market towns are not only important economically. Once or twice a year, market towns were transformed into very special places for the community, during annual fairs and festivals. These events really would be the highlight of the year to many people. To what extent does the modern market town position itself as the heart of the community – with such celebrations? And how hard does the modern market town work to strengthen and reinforce the network with nearby places? Does it compete when it should be collaborating?

Finally, market towns should be relevant to the whole community, old and young. In Altrincham we heard that young people didn’t feel the town had anything to offer them. In other towns, the success of the Teenage Market and local music festivals proves that young people can be persuaded to come into town centres.

3. The market town is the one most accessible to most people.

Originally, people would travel to their nearest market town. It might be a two hours’ walk – but the other options might be three or five hours’ away. A modern market town will be accessible by a variety of transport routes from the smaller centres and hinterland, including public transport, cycle paths and maybe even the original footpaths. The modern market town, one that maintains its status, is likely to be the most accessible market town to the most people in an area.

Because of their location, in relation to other towns, and because their important status was ‘protected’ through the control of market licenses, market towns had no competition. Nowadays, it is a very different commercial landscape. There are bigger centres, like cities nearby; or other destinations, like out-of-town retail parks easily accessible by car. There are even other retail channels, like on-line, competing for consumers. But none of these can replace a market town with its special mix of convenience, community, retail, services, leisure and entertainment, history and heritage all packaged up at a compact and manageable scale.

For a town like Altrincham, a huge conurbation has grown up around it, since it received its market charter. This means it is now accessible and relevant to an urban ‘hinterland’ devoid of many traditional and rural connections. Recent improvements to the canal tow path means people can now walk or cycle safely from Manchester or nearby suburbs.

The footfall data suggest that the town is punching way above its position in the retail hierarchy. With its tram line, train station, and canal path it is now the most accessible and important market town to a population of 350,000 people in a 5 mile radius. Perhaps the modern market town has not changed so much, providing a weekly fix of a bit of everything, in a distinct but reassuring setting. Market towns have a scale, format and offer we are very used to and, it would seem, fond of. They are, perhaps, a tangible representation of many people’s perceptions of what a town should be.

Cathy Parker, Nikos Ntounis and Simon Quin.

References

1. http://nre.concordia.ca/ner2francais/Errington/research_briefing.htm
2. Action For Market Towns, 2005, Healthcheck Handbook.
https://www.dropbox.com/s/ix3mkh5sb57u1xa/Healthcheck-Handbook-March-2005.pdf?

You can find out more about the High Street UK2020 project at www.business.mmu.ac.uk/crpcc

Place marketing and sustainable places

Recently, Piccadilly Gardens was voted Manchester’s worst attraction on Tripadvisor. The designers of Piccadilly Gardens, Arup, say “Piccadilly Gardens transforms Manchester’s central park from a problem area into an effective public space”. On the other hand tripadvisors say “Designed by numpties. Dirty, rotten, awful area. Avoid at all costs. Shameful display and use of civic area.”

Piccadilly Gardens is a ‘great’ example to use to illustrate the complexities inherent in place marketing and how the practice must change if it wants to be relevant in the context of sustainable places. In the last couple of months I have been asked to speak about the topic of place marketing and sustainability at three international tourism conferences. Most recently, this was at the 1st Corfu Symposium on Managing and Marketing Places.

What visitors (and many locals) don’t like about Piccadilly Gardens is the rubbish. Traditionally the role of place marketing has been to attract mobile investment, like tourists or to boost economic activity, such as ‘the evening economy’.

Place marketing activity is designed to draw additional inputs into the system – but with little or no regard for the unwanted outputs created, like litter. If visitors and residents are seeing something as simple as rubbish build up – then that’s saying the system isn’t working. Worse than that – our most recent research demonstrates, unequivocally, that rubbish is impacting on peoples’ place attitudes and increasing their anticipation of witnessing other sorts of incivilities – such as harassment, drug-dealing and public drunkenness. This then makes them wary of the very space that is supposed to be attracting them, illustrating how more interconnected place marketing activity needs to be with other aspects of place management. Is the place marketing budget better spent on more place promotion or more tidying up?

We can tip-toe around the eggshells here – but being blunt – a lot of place marketing activity conflicts with the philosophy of a sustainable place. Place marketing based on the mantra of place competition is always about attracting resources away from somewhere else. Meaning there is winners and losers. Sustainability is about everyone surviving.

Place marketing’s obsession with drawing resources from the ‘outside in’ (inward investment) means, at the moment, it does not have much to offer those trying to create more sustainable forms of development, from within. The empty shops on the UK High Street and the empty hotel rooms in Corfu show how destructive global systems can be on specific places. International property developers, retail chains and tour operators all see location as a key part of their business strategy – but have no loyalty or attachment to any one particular place.

Gold and Ward (1994) stated that “Public or quasi-public policy should embody notions of public good and social benefits, but not promote one place at the expense of another” so to be relevant in the future, place marketers should take heed of this advice (better late than never).

Marketing has evolved from the transactional, one-dimensional activity it once was. It has become more strategic, theories such as the service profit chain, demonstrate the value of service companies investing in their staff, as employee satisfaction is a driver of customer satisfaction. Relationship marketing proves the value of keeping customers rather than attracting new ones. The trouble is these developments in marketing theory don’t reach many of the people practicing place marketing.

The opportunity for place marketing is to shift its focus to endogenous development. Recently, Cambridge was identified as the best city to find a job with 0.22 jobseekers per vacancy. 100 less than in Salford. Whilst Cambridge University competes on a world-stage to attract talent…..that talent often stays. Local firms are supported – there is an home-grown innovation supply chain. Successful companies say you are only two phone calls away from what you need.

If we accept sustainability is a legitimate (perhaps the ultimate goal of a place), then place marketing has an important role in communicating this vision and helping to glue everything together. If it continues to just promote and ‘sell’ places, then it becomes just another destructive force, taking much needed public funding away from building a more sustainable future for our towns and cities.

Place Branding and Marketing in Ireland

Today, Ireland’s Sunday Business Show on Today FM (presented by Cónáll O’ Morian) had a special feature on place marketing and branding. I was invited to contribute to a panel discussion along with Joanne Grehan, CEO of Mayo County Enterprise, Paul Keyes CEO of Team Sligo and Eoghan Predergast who is leading the marketing of Limerick. This blog takes a look at current place marketing activities in Ireland.

Mayo County Enterprises is behind “Recipes for success: The business of food“, an initiative to create a county level food vision.

Team Sligo is a Chamber of Commerce movement to promote enterprise and tourism and Sligo as “a location for new, expanding and relocating businesses” and by 2014 aims to be the most improved destination in Ireland for visitor numbers. It’s slogan is “Sligo: set your spirit free”.

Finally, the Limerick Marketing Company aims to double visitor numbers and income as Ireland’s first dedicated place marketing company. The marketing of Limerick is a strategic objective of the Limerick 2030 spatial and economic plan.

Whilst these organisations, partnerships or initiatives may be relatively new, the process of promoting places “has been, practiced consciously or unconsciously for as long as cities have competed with each other” (Kavaratzis, 2008). Ever since roads, canals, railways have linked towns and cities together they have competed to attract people and investment. Even whole nations have marketed themselves to attract population (like Canada and Australia) – just look at the emigration poster from 1948 below.

At first, from looking at the literature available on the Web, Team Sligo seemed to take a traditional approach to place marketing – in that it aims to attract investment (both mobile and fixed) to the area – it’s focus is external and transactional – new visitors, new businesses – attract them in, then attract some more. More contemporary place marketing is less about this type of exogenous development and more about endogenous growth, developing the place product through internal resources – growing businesses, up or re-skilling the workforce etc. It was good to hear that Sligo also recognises the importance of “grass roots integration” and during the programme Paul made it clear that future success was going to come from more successful partnership working amongst the existing stakeholders who voluntarily want to make Sligo better.

Both types of development are referred to explicitly in the Limerick 2030 vision for both foreign direct investment and “endogenous business growth”. Eoghan referred to the complexity of place marketing and the multi-dimensional nature of place. Whilst Limerick wants to re-brand around the principles of being “authentic, innovative and progressive” this seems to be an ‘organising principle’ (Kavaratzis, again), to encourage stakeholders to be part of the change process, rather than a constraining strap-line.

Likewise, the Mayo food vision is being created by local people and businesses – the collectivisation of the various parts of the ‘product’ being the first and most crucial step. However, like the other place marketing initiatives discussed today there is a preoccupation with making money out of place initiatives. This is explicit in Mayo’s “Recipes for success: The business of food”. But food is more than a business, and so are places.

Critics of place marketing and branding see the adoption of business principles as the creeping commodification of place. “Places are being increasingly packaged around a series of real or imaginary cultural traditions and representations” (Hall, 1997). So food could be promoted at the expense of other traditions, such as music or things which cannot be so easily sold such as folklore or story-telling.

As Cónáll pointed out, many places are ‘competing’ against each other but with exactly the same offer – food, culture, creativity etc. and a word that came up a lot in our discussion was ‘authentic’. Place marketing and branding has to accurately represent the place product. Otherwise it is just empty rhetoric.

On the whole, the three initiatives we discussed today reflect a shift away from rhetoric and towards reality. Place marketing and branding is finally becoming more substantive and about time! The idea that slogans, iconic buildings or a few more tourists, on their own, can change the fortunes of a place in decline is rather desperate. Nevertheless, a lot of place marketing activity is publicly funded – so we should continue to be vigilant and ensure the local people that fund these initiatives get a suitable return on their investment.

You can download a podcast of the programme here.

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High street decline – what does the management and marketing literature suggest?

Whilst the drivers of change affecting high streets are complex and cross discipline boundaries, the management and marketing literature may offer some solutions. To simplify the literature, we have reviewed potential high street interventions under the broad categories of ‘repositioning’, ‘reinventing’, ‘rebranding’ and ‘restructuring’.

Repositioning is a strategy that can be used to counteract decline (Smith, 2004). Rapid economic, political, and social changes, are most likely to lead places to repositioning strategies that will allow them to identify potential competitive advantages (Kavaratzis and Ashworth, 2008). The focus of any interventions here should be on understanding the forces of change and the value of unique responses that reposition individual high streets, through building on distinct capabilities (such as local identity, Edensor, 1998) but are accommodative of future trends (such as an ageing population or the growth of m-commerce) and are therefore more resilient (Wrigley, and Dolega, 2011).

Reinventing should focus on elements of the place product within a framework of place marketing which suggests that any new developments should be guided by the marketing principle of meeting the needs/wants of identified target audiences (Ashworth and Voogd, 1990). The “reinventing” process of urban places can be built on activities that aim to revitalise a place’s identity and image; identity and image can be seen as both static (for communicative purposes in a fixed time) and dynamic, which recognises the uniqueness of each place and the difference in each stakeholder’s view about a place (Kalandides, 2011; Warnaby, 2011; Kavaratzis and Hatch, 2013). It is the latter view that can be used as a driver for reinventing places such as high streets and city centres; a framework built on these premises can unarguably assist the development of rejuvenated, competitive retailing spaces, which will merge innovation and local place identity, and will be meaningful for all stakeholders (Coca-Stefaniak, Parker, Quin, Rinaldi and Byrom, 2009). Retailing is an important element of the urban place product, and “reinventing” this sector along with improvements on complimentary elements of place can contribute to a better understanding of the formation of the “holistic” place product (Warnaby, Bennison and Davies, 2005).

Rebranding should focus on the communication of image and identity as previous studies demonstrate that place consumers may find that the place experience meets or exceeds expectations whilst the image of the place is ‘problematic’ (Selby, 2004). Rebranding a place is mainly concerned with the application of branding, marketing communications, and public relations techniques in order to deliver a consistent place identity, which can form a sum of beliefs, ideas, and impressions in the minds of potential consumers of a place (Kotler & Gertner, 2002). It can be thought of as the ‘organising principle’ for integrating measures (e.g. events, media relations, residents’ participation). Place branding can evoke favourable place images that transfer emotional and self-expression values, as well as utilitarian attributes to individuals (Caldwell & Freire, 2004). These images are part of a place’s secondary communication efforts (Kavaratzis, 2004), which consists of various slogans, advertisements, and PR campaigns which aim to assist a place’s actions towards development. Successful place brand management can lead to positive word-of-mouth, and also assist in the transformation of negative images (Hanna & Rowley, 2011; Skinner, 2011). The need to identify how potential stakeholders can co-create the place brand is the focus of recent developments in place branding (Warnaby, 2009; Hatch and Schultz, 2010). High streets, and particularly the retail sector, with the multitude of stakeholders involved in it (users, brokers, fixers) (Pal and Sanders, 1997), can highlight the desires, needs, and views of those stakeholders, which can lead to a better understanding of how place brands are created and evolve (Kavaratzis, 2009; Hanna & Rowley, 2011; Kavaratzis & Hatch, 2013).

Finally, restructuring, should focus on forms of management and governance, including formal and informal (Coca-Stefaniak et al, 2009; Peel, 2003); regulatory, functional, and contractual (Lloyd and Peel, 2008; Peel et al, 2009) and modes of communication / knowledge exchange (Peel and Lloyd, 2008a, b). Consequently, the major point of interest is how high streets can be restructured in order to facilitate all the changes mentioned above. Place management and retail management are recognised as interdependent areas, and practices that entail both commercial and locational benefits is the best way forward (Bennison, Warnaby and Pal, 2010). Restructuring and cooperation of all place stakeholders and creation of strategic networks and transparent public-private relationships can nurture conditions for the sustainable development of a place (van den Berg and Braun, 1999; Rainisto, 2003). Physical restructuring is also another area which is encapsulated in place management and place marketing strategies; the proper use of current infrastructure (temporal) and the development of new retail spaces are major antecedents of place attractiveness and place development (Pike, 2010; Teller and Elms, 2010). In the case of retailing, the best spaces created from restructuring can enliven the high street and also shape a better image for the place which can enhance retail operations (Pal and Byrom, 2003).

This review has been written by Cathy Parker, Nikolaos-Foivos Ntounis and Mihalis Kavartzis for an Economic and Social Research Council Knowledge Exchnage Project : High Street UK 2020. The full list of references is available upon request. Please contact c.parker@mmu.ac.uk

Personification of Place – RIP Drvar

drvar-4I was interested to hear about a funeral service for a town in western Bosnia-Hercegovina called Drvar. After the closure of the last employer in the town and with unemployment running at 80% the local people have held candle-light vigils and wrote obituaries for their town. According to the BBC, Drvar’s mayor, Stevica Lukac, “appeared at the mock funeral at the local Serbian Orthodox church but urged the crowd not to lose hope”. Many branding experts study the personification of brands – in other words how customers ascribe human personality characteristics to brands. This collective ‘mourning’ certainly demonstrates a strong sense of feeling and attachment to Drvar – and also how people see the negative consequences of job losses at a town level (rather than just what it means to them or their family). This collective involvement in such a symbolic act as a funeral for a town is, to my knowledge, the first of its kind. Maybe debating whether or not towns are brands is missing the point somewhat when they can achieve anthropomorphic status.

Special Issue of Journal of Place Management and Development

Volume 6 Issue 1 is now available on early cite. This is the Special Issue: The Business of Place: Critical, Practical and Pragmatic Perspective that contains selected papers from the 3rd International Place Branding and 2nd Institute of Place Management Conference which is taking place 13th and 14th Feb. Congratulations to all our authors.

My Place is not Your Place – Different Place Brand Knowledge by Different Target Groups by Sebastian Zenker and Suzanne C. Beckmann

My City – My Brand: The Different Roles of Residents in Place Branding by Erik Braun, Mihalis Kavaratzis, and Sebastian Zenker

A Study on the Delivery of City Branding Advertisements in China: City Branding Advertisement on CCTV, 2007-2010 by Chunying Wen

Developing a Collective Capacity for Place Management by Tore Omholt

Slum Tourism, City Branding, and Social Urbanism: The Case of Medellin, Colombia by Jaime Hernandez-Garcia

The Tools for City Centre Revitalization in Portugal by Pedro Porfírio Coutinho Guimarães

Volume 5 Issue 3 of the Journal of Place Management and Development now out

The most recent issue of the JPMD is now out.  This means we have 5 years of Volumes now, so thank you very much to all our authors, reviewers, Editorial Board members and Editors. This issue contains the following articles:

Branding slums: a community-driven strategy for urban inclusion in Rio de Janeiro by I Torres, Government of Federal District, Brazil

Place marketing and phases of the image : a conceptual framework by S M Zavattaro, University of Texas at Brownsville, USA

Towards a theory of place marketing by T Niedomysl (Lund University) and M Jonasson (Halmstad University), Sweden

Unraveling the complexity of ‘city brand equity’: a three dimensional framework by A Lucarelli, Stockholm University, Sweden

Place brand equity: a model for establishing the effectiveness of place brands by B P Jacobsen, University of Dundee, UK

“We love the Gong” : a marketing perspective by G Kerr (University of Wollongong) , K Dombkins (Tourism Wollongong)and S Jelley (University of Wollongong), Australia

Members of the IPM can access the JPMD as part of their membership package.  If you would like to join the IPM then please contact me at c.parker@mmu.ac.uk

UK Retail Markets 2012

I am back at the National Association of British Market Authorities’ Annual Conference. I am listening to Krys Zasanda present the heading figures about the state of the sector.

279 markets contributed to the annual figures. 75 indoor and 204 outdoor. The survey was a traffic light system, asking Market Managers whether things had remained stable, increased or decreased with regards to stalls let, traders standing, market days, footfall, income, staff, bottom line and investment.

So, aggregating all the measures in 2012 74% of all markets replied stable or increasing 16% in decline. This was an improvement in last year.

In other news, like 2011, outdoor markets are doing better than indoor. Similarly Farmers’ Markets are doing better than traditional markets again this year.

Regionally the performance by region shows markets in The Midlands fare the worst with London ones doing the best (no surprise there).

The overall improvement could well be due to the Love Your Local Market and National Market Day initiatives, as well as the work Mary Portas did to raise awareness of markets. The Love Your Local Market national website got 14,000,000 hits!

So a bit of good news in what has been doom and gloom in terms of many retail statistics and news from The High Street.

Keynote Speech : Rob Hopkins and “the biggest urban brainwave of the century”

ImageWe are delighted to confirm Dr Rob Hopkins, co-founder of the Transition Network and Transition Town Totnes as a Keynote Speaker at the 3rd International Place Branding and 2nd Institute of Place Management Conference.

Rob Hopkins brings humour, imagination and vision to the great challenges of our time, and argues that what is needed, above all else, at this time in history, is “engaged optimism”.  The rapidly-spreading Transition movement which he was pivotal in establishing, is an embodiment of that.  Nicholas Crane, presenter of BBC2’s recent ‘Town’ series, recently referred to Transition as “the biggest urban brainwave of the century”.  Rob’s experience with community-led approaches to strategic place management and branding will be an inspiring addition to the conference.

Rob is the author of the newly-published “The Transition Companion: making your community more resilient in uncertain times”, and previously wrote the best-selling ‘Transition Handbook’.   He was the winner of the 2008 Schumacher Award, is an Ashoka Fellow and a Fellow of the Post Carbon Institute, served 3 years as a Trustee of the Soil Association, and was named by the Independent as one of the UK’s top 100 environmentalists.  He is the winner of the 2009 Observer Ethical Award for the Grassroots Campaigner category, and in December 2009 was voted the Energy Saving Trust/Guardian’s ‘Green Community Hero’.  In February 2012, Rob and the Transition Network were among NESTA and The Observer’s list of ‘Britain’s 50 New Radicals’.

He blogs at transitionculture.org, tweets as robintransition, speaks widely on Transition and peak oil, holds an MSc in Social Research and recently completed a PhD at the University of Plymouth entitled ‘Localisation and resilience at the local level: the case of Transition Town Totnes’.   He recently became a Visiting Fellow at the University of Plymouth  and lives in Devon where he raises both children and various vegetables.

Ilminster – The Only Town in England to not have an empty shop?

Ilminster – The Only Town in England to not have an empty shop?

Ilminster claims to be the only town in England that doesn’t have an empty shop. BBC Radio Somerset covered the story this morning and interviewed me about the benefits of supermarkets in town centres and retailers owning their own premises.  You’ll find the interview 1:47 mins into the Breakfast Programme.