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.

The Impact of Litter on Place Attitudes

Litter is one of the scourges of modern society. In the United Kingdom alone, more 30 million tonnes of unofficial litter (i.e. not in bins and recognised disposal units) are collected from streets annually, costing UK local authorities some £885 million to clean up.
In a new study, published this week in in the Journal of Marketing Management, I have investigated (along with my co-authors Professor Dominic Medway and Professor Stuart Roper) how attitudes to places are affected by litter. For the first time, by adopting a quasi-experimental method with over 600 respondents, this study has provided evidence of a causal relationship between litter and place attitudes, at the level of the individual. The place chosen for the study was a park.

This, we hope, will be helpful information for local authorities making budgetary decisions. Councils have been cutting their investment into litter collection and street cleaning – but this study is the first of its kind to show that seeing litter does reduce attitudes. We go on to argue that as many of the other forms of place marketing (associated, for example, with inward investment) have not proved their worth, in ROI terms, then public money is better targeted at more basic interventions, like litter clearance, if a place wants to have a better image.

Finally, the study concludes that there is nothing contentious about clearing up litter. Unlike other physical incivilities, such as graffiti, everyone hates litter! Likewise, its removal is very straightforward and isn’t associated with any displacement effects. This is in contrast to interventions such as CCTV which are costly and complicated and which have been associated with relocating rather than reducing crime.
The Journal of Marketing Management is offering FREE ACCESS to this article. You can access it here.


The Digital, Rural, High Street

Often, as a Professor, you get to read some really interesting projects and dissertations. Ed Dargan, one of our MSc Internet Retailing students, has just completed his thesis on the role of technology to enhance food shopping in rural areas. Because of this I thought he was well placed to give us his views on the Digital High Street 2020 report. Along with the recent High Street Information sheet we sent out earlier in the week – it seems like traditional retail centres are being offered a new lease of life by technology. What does Ed think?

Guest Blog


Ed Dargan, MSc Internet Retailing

The Digital High Street 2020 report identifies that the digital revolution has significantly impacted high streets by offering local consumers alternatives to transacting in a physical fashion. This is interesting because for my MSc dissertation (MMU Business School), I have just researched consumer and food producer/retailers attitudes towards the use of online food purchasing options. Although the area of study was limited to rural South Shropshire, the findings seem to be relevant.

Most of the consumers interviewed had bought online from the main supermarkets but had reverted to in-store shopping mainly due to the lack of reliable order delivery and inability to select the nature of food items, for example ready to eat bananas.

Don’t get to choose what fruit and veg you have and you end up getting green bananas which you can’t eat that day as not ripe or they replace things you don’t want replacing – we tried it for convenience but would rather do our shopping whilst we’re out and about rather than pay for it to be delivered here

Most supported the local shops, especially speciality shops such as the butcher and greengrocer because of the freshness, quality and trust in the produce. All valued the social interactions made whilst shopping whether with shop owners, stallholders at the farmers market or simply bumping into people they know.

“At the weekend we like to walk down the town and get our meat and have a look around – like to have a mooch”.

For most of the consumers, planning their food consumption on a weekly basis was important. Reasons given included saving money, reducing the amount of wasted food and eating more healthily. However, some were far more spontaneous enjoying making use of what was available in the local shops.

“Try and eat healthily so plan things so saves cost and reduces waste and did find we used to waste a lot of food. Spent far more on weekly shop and now we plan it’s much more efficient”

Trust in food produce was viewed as important and best established face-to-face with the producer or retailer as consumers valued the ability to sample food, talk to the retailer or producer, especially if unknown.

“We buy our meat locally as fussy about it”

The retailers and food producers reflected this finding in identifying that customer acquisition was best driven by direct interactions with consumers and not digital channels. For the food producers in particular, local markets and food fairs were the preferred venues for customer acquisition. Where websites existed, returning customers were the main users.

My experience is, everyone buys it where they can see it, touch it and talk to someone and if you can get interest and discuss and start to talk about a particular producer and it’s history, then people engage and more interested in what they want to buy”

For the food producers and retailers interviewed, most of which were two person micro businesses where resources were already stretched. The idea of managing a shop, attending farmers markets and/or regional food shows, maintaining an ecommerce site, fulfilling online orders and serving customers in store was perceived as unachievable. Employing more staff was not viewed as an option due to lack of income and also a desire to not expand beyond being a family business. Many cited issues with business rates, landlord rents, a lack of collaboration between businesses and a lack of regional and local leadership.

“We don’t want to get bigger, we don’t want to be high volume so we focus on quality within a limited capacity – we’re a family run business”

From a digital perspective, the idea of having a town website where all the shops and local services can be viewed was received positively and thought to be useful for people new to a town in particular. However, most consumers stated a preference to buy in-store rather than online. Yet, the idea of a centralised click and collect point where consumers, particularly those that commute, could pick up their orders from various producers and retailers on the way home, was considered useful. Of course, the research is based in a rural community, and a small number of respondents (9) and so issues such as car journey length are prioritised.

However, comparing my findings with those of the Digital High Street 2020 report raises an important question. How do we ensure that small rural market towns are included in such a programme and not overlooked to the detriment of the local retailers and the rural economy?

Join us in Poland to share the latest thinking on sustainable, liveable and connected places

The 3rd Institute of Place Management Conference will be held at Poznań University of Economics (Faculty of Management) on the 6th-8th May 2015 in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University, Poznań University of Economics and Stockholm University (Stockholm Programme of Place Branding).

The conference is titled “Sustainability, liveability and connectivity” and the three main themes of the conference will be place management, place branding and the influence of global trends on places.

As place management, marketing and branding develop both as academic inquiry and as professional practice, the conference will be an opportunity for academics, practitioners and policy makers to explore how theory and practice help places deal with the conflicting pressures of global forces with a need to pursue sustainability outcomes – to increase the quality of life of place residents – all within the context of increased connectivity – real and virtual.

To make sure the debate is as interdisciplinary and inclusive as possible we welcome papers that explore the themes of the conference from any discipline perspective and from both academics and practitioners. Please see the full call for papers here.

The conference will be fully accredited as Continuing Professional Development by the Institute of Place Management. In addition to the conference, there are a number of other social and networking events. A full calendar is available on the conference website. The best papers from the conference will be published in a Special Issue of the Journal of Place Management and Development..

The conference will take place in Poznań in Poland at Poznań University of Economics. Poznań University of Economics, founded in 1926, is both a teaching and a research institution with a long tradition in education and strong academic standing, and is also famous for its credibility in economic analyses. Poznań is among the oldest and biggest cities in Poland located in the west-central part of the country. Poznań is one of the largest Polish centers of trade, industry, sports, education, technology, tourism and culture. It is particularly important academic center, with about 130,000 students.

The Conference Chair is Dr Magdalena Florek (FIPM, UEP).

Important dates

15 November 2014
Deadline for abstract submission

15 January 2015
Review announced

15 March 2015
Full paper submission deadline

Abstracts between 400 and 450 words should be submitted to Dr. Magdalena Florek (m.florek@ue.poznan.pl) and Dr. Anna Augustyn (anna@augustyn.pl). Contributions will be double-blind reviewed by the conference scientific committee members on the basis of their relevance, quality and originality. Abstracts should be submitted as Microsoft Word documents and should feature a title and the names and affiliations of all authors. Please use Times New Roman 12-pitch font, double spaced, 1-inch (2.5 cm) margin all around.

Improving High Street Performance through Collaboration

There is little evidence to link collaboration between stakeholders and retail centre performance, although this premise is central to much of the town centre and place management literature. For example, Sweeting (2002) notes that “local leaders have to play the roles of entrepreneur and facilitator; generating consensus/collaboration”,

Our research found that collaboration came 19th out of 201 factors that influence the vitality and viability of the high street. So it’s really important!
What do we mean by collaboration? Well, something along the lines of ‘co-marketing alliances or lateral relationships between firms at the same level in the value added chain’ (Bucklin & Sengupta, 1993; page 32), through, for example, the creation of Business Improvement Districts (Steel & Symes, 2005) or retail associations (Coca-Stefaniak et al., 2005). In other words, a form of ‘working partnership’ defined by Anderson & Narus, (1990; page 42) as the ‘…mutual recognition and understanding that the success of each form depends in part on the other firm” – a conscious recognition of agglomeration economics and the benefits these brings to traders and consumers (Hotelling 1929; Harris & Shonkwiler 1997; McLafferty & Ghosh 1987).

Collaboration implies stakeholders are willingly participating in activities that benefit the High Street – in a way ‘management’ does not. Perhaps that’s why our experts thought it had more influence on place performance than town centre or place management. Is it time we changed our name?


Anderson, J. C., & Narus, J. A. (1990). A model of distributor firm and manufacturer firm working partnerships. the Journal of Marketing, 42-58.

Bucklin, L. P., & Sengupta, S. (1993). Organizing successful co-marketing alliances. The Journal of Marketing, 32-46.

Coca-Stefaniak, J. A., Parker, C., Barbany, A., Garrell, X., & Segovia, E. (2005). Gran Centre Granollers–“city, culture and commerce”. International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, 33(9), 685-696.

Harris, T. R., & Shonkwiler, J. S. (1997). Interdependence of retail businesses. Growth and Change, 28(4), 520-533.

Hotelling, H, (1929), Stability in Competition, Economic Journal, 39 (1929), 41-57.

Ghosh, A., & McLafferty, S. L. (1987). Location strategies for retail and service firms. Lexington: Lexington Books.

Steel, M., & Symes, M. (2005). The Privatisation of public space? The American experience of business improvement districts and their relationship to local governance. Local Government Studies, 31(3), 321-334.

Improving High Street Performance Through Business Support

The shopping centre, town centre and place/destination management literature argues that management can and should involve business support interventions, such as training and advice.

There are some studies which have investigated business training and support within particular locations (e.g. Parker et al, 2003), but the provision of business support is not an explicit objective of most town centre partnerships. Whilst there are other structures and agencies that provide business support to the retail sector, the take up by businesses and individuals is significantly lower than in other sectors.

In our town workshops in Holmfirth, Morley and Barnsley last week, many improvements to the town centre were identified that need the full cooperation of retailers. These changes included adapting opening hours to meet the needs of the catchment and improving the overall customer experience when shopping in-town.

Retailers, especially independent retailers, are sometimes reticent to change their operations – but as consumer behaviour changes, so retailers need to adapt. Programmes of training, education or ‘sensitisation’ are used effectively in other sectors to support change.

Our previous research demonstrates that there is better take-up of these initiatives if they are packaged as ‘business support’ rather than training. Retailers need to be confident that investment in these activities will impact on the bottom- line. So, the provision, types and take up of business support and its impact upon both retail and high street performance are important areas for further research (Parker, Ntounis, Quin and Grime, 2014). This will enable a more convincing evidence base to be build to encourage High Street businesses of the benefits of getting good advice, training and support.

We will be presenting all the factors that impact upon high street performance and their relative influence at our conference in Manchester on 10th July 2014. The conference will also be streamed live of the Internet.

Please register your place by clicking this link


Parker, C., Anthony-Winter, T and Tabernacle, D. (2003). Learning by stealth: Introducing smaller retailers to the benefits of training and education in Barnet. International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management.

Parker, C., Ntounis N-F, Quin, S and Grime, I. (2014). High Street Research Agenda: Identifying High Street research priorities. Journal of Place Management and Development

This blog entry was written by Cathy Parker, Nikos Ntounis and Simon Quin and is part of the ESRC funded High Street UK 2020 project.

Barriers to expansion on the High Street

Following on from yesterday’s review of barriers to entry and the High street, we now move on to expansion. Again we have evidence that the structure of existing locations can act as a barrier to expansion. “Location strategies of multiples have shifted the retail center of gravity away from the High Street” (Karamychev & van Reeven, 2009).

However, there is evidence for expansion of specific sectors on the High Street , e.g. convenience stores and independent stores; Local Data Company’s Openings and Closures 2013 report has covered the rise of independents on the High Street (over 2000 stores) and the exiting of multiples towards out-of-town retail parks and agglomerations.

The convenience sector has also expanded its presence on the High Street, and whilst there has been criticism of the dominance of multiples in this sector, a Competition Commission report that concluded that it could “not find any significant distortions in competition between large grocery retailers and convenience store operators”. As a result, it did “not consider that the expansion into convenience store retailing by large grocery retailers such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco is having an adverse effect on competition” (Competition Commision, 2007, p. 14).

Wrigley et al. (2009) suggested that the opening of a big supermarket in the city centre can generate urban buzz (Storper & Venables, 2004) and positive spill over effects to the High Street as a result of ‘linked trip’ behaviour.
However, they found it can also accelerate the exit of small stores from isolated/peripheral elements.

A ‘non causal linkage’ between growth of population and household income in the catchment area and supermarket entrance and increased trade is supported by Experian/Goad and highlighted in Wrigley et al.’s (2009) work. Significant increases in the number of small stores can be seen in town centres/high streets with a more slowly growing catchment which was simultaneously experiencing population-composition change in terms of increasing ethnic diversity. For example, increases in independent convenience stores are linked to catchment-area expansion of Central/Eastern European, Asian, and other groups; what Guy (2008) refers to as the `Polish grocer’ effect.

In conclusion, Wrigley and Dolega (2011) proved that higher floorspace occupancy by key/`magnet’ retailers on the High Street does not affect expansion, and also increases resilience. In addition, our High Street UK 2020 identifies the role of local management in reducing barriers to entry and expansion. Business improvement districts are engaged in various business retention, expansion and attraction efforts (Gross, 2005).

The relative influence of all these factors will be explained at our free High Street UK2020 conference in Manchester on 10th July 2014.

Register here

Barriers to entry, new entrants, churn and the High Street

In 1961, Jane Jacobs wrote “recent emphasis on entrepreneurs and innovation as sources of economic growth has led to the renewed recognition of city centers”, thereby positioning centres as locations for entrepreneurship and innovation. However, the structure of many retail centres would seem to be barriers to entry for new entrants whilst also not supporting retail expansion. We deal with barriers to entry first.

We have found plenty of evidence that “landlords prefer multiples” Golisinski & West (1995). “Britain has a group of national durable multiples which dominate comparison shopping to an extent unmatched elsewhere” (Schiller, 1994).

The particular barrier to entry for new entrants has been the difficulty with which they can rent retail floorspace in areas associated with the highest footfall. One of the retail experts who took part in our High Street UK2020 research told us “high rentals and associated high rateable values is certainly a real barrier to new businesses in a great many established traditionally primary and secondary High Streets”.

Clarke, Bennison, & Pal (1997) noted the difficulties associated with entering an already established area in terms of size and location. These spatial, and most times finite, structures act as barriers to further accumulation (Harvey, 1985) and affect the High Street’s competitive strength and future strategic options. The lack of new entrants may be having a detrimental effect as place management or ‘urban husbandry’ “seeks to strengthen existing assets prior to adding new elements, typically by involving many entrepreneurs”. (Robertson, 1999).

Wrigley & Dolega (2011) believe that policy proposals and instruments that aim to remove or reduce barriers are unlikely to be best achieved by attempting to reset town centres/high streets to their configurations before the partly regulatory-induced (town-centres-first) and partly consumer-lifestyle-induced (convenience culture and on-line e-retail) reconfigurations of the past decade.

Nevertheless, vacancy rates supplied by the Local Data Company suggest that availability of floorspace is no longer the barrier to entry it once was.
Higher vacancy rates can mean more opportunities for new entrants. There has been a dramatic fall in the length of leases on commercial properties over the past six years. Before the recession, the average length of a high street lease was 10 years. There’s no doubt the economic climate has meant property owners have had to offer more flexible lease arrangements – a third of high street leases are now less than 5 years. And that’s good news for independents and smaller chains.

With shorter term and pop-up leases, rent and rate relief, more independent retailers are being attracted into premises that would not have been feasible for them before. However, like other small business, their failure rate is high. A small shop has about a 40% chance of being in business 5 years after opening.

In a survey we did of 600 small retailers in the UK less than a quarter had a business plan, many of them had no previous retail experience and did not invest in training. We found a significant relationship with having a business plan the number of years the shop was in business and turnover.

Without a business plan and some grounding in retailing, new entrants may be making the wrong location decisions – based upon supply side factor considerations like the price of the unit, rather than whether there is real market demand for their offer and whether the shop is in a location that attracts enough footfall.

So, in summary, higher vacancy rates have reduced a key barrier to entry meaning an increase in new entrants – with a higher churn rate – i.e. more retail businesses open and closing.

Barriers to entry is one of 200 factors we have reviewed that influences the viability and vitality of the High Street. Our High Street UK2020 project has established a model which establishes which factors matter most.

We will be launching our findings at a free conference in Manchester on July 10th 2014.

Please click on link below for more details

High Street UK2020 Conference

Free conference for repositioning, reinventing, rebranding and restructuring your High Street. 10th July 2014. Manchester


In a free half-day conference at Manchester Metropolitan University on Thursday 10th July we investigate:

1. The major forces of change that impact on the High Street.
2. What change can be actually be managed at a local level.
3. Strategies for repositioning, reinventing, rebranding and restructuring the High Street.

Please register using this link (including webinar access)


0900 – 0930 Coffee/tea and registration
0930 – 1000 Factors that influence High Street change and identifying priority action areas – Simon Quin, Institute of Place Management
1000 – 1030 Understanding High Street change and forecasting the future for your High Street – Cathy Parker, Manchester Metropolitan University
1030 – 1100 Break
1100-1130 How to reposition your High Street – Steve Millington, Manchester Metropolitan University
1130-1200 How to reinvent your High Street – John Pal, University of Manchester
1200-1230 How to rebrand your High Street – Mihalis Kavartzis, University of Leicester
1230-1300 How to restructure your High Street, Deborah Peel, University of Dundee

Diversity on the High Street

We found 26 studies that investigated retail diversity. This measures the variety of comparison goods outlets. Many studies identify the importance of ‘tenant mix’ (e.g. Teller & Schnedlitz, 2012). “From the literature there is an underlying feeling that retail diversity is desirable and may benefit town centre vitality and viability” (Findlay and Sparks, 2010).

There is less in the literature about diversity across types of outlet (i.e. non-retail) but some studies investigate linked trips to other types of offer, such as leisure. This represents a range of uses or ‘mixed-use’, with centres being multi-functional rather than mono-functional. These factors along with retail diversity, availability of alternative formats, range/quality of shops, tenant mix, tenant variety, attractions and non-retail offer were investigated further in our HSUK2020 model – and were identified as the 10th strongest influence on centre vitality and viability.

Very specific measures of diversity, on their own, such as independents vs multiples have less influence. Diversity, by it’s very nature, is not something that can or should be prescribed.

We will be releasing our findings into all 201 factors that influence high street performance at a half-day conference in Manchester on 10th July 2014. Tickets are available from this link