Friday 21st August 2015

UPDATE:

Since this  blog was posted,   this article has been published by the Manchester Evening News  about another fantastic, influential local business that’s been forced to close its doors due to the problems mentioned below, including a lack of parking and the looming presence of the Trafford Centre turning the high street into little more than a collection of pound shops and charity shops.   This is the third installment of our ongoing series analysing the proposed Business Improvement District in Altricham, to read parts 1, 2 & 4, click here: Part 1: Are We Voting For a BID or a RID?  Part 2: The Business Make Up of Altrincham Part 4: Part 4 of the  Great Altrincham #BID or #RID Debate Part 5: The Final Score on the BID vs. RID Debate  


 

 

Part 3: The Current Bid Proposals

Today’s blog goes into more depth on the proposals that were detailed in the BID brochure. I have no further information about these proposals other than the brochure so I’m also assuming that not many other people have either. It is possible that one can make an incorrect assumption from the scant information provided, so that should be noted. With that in mind though, I can only give my interpretation and deductions. As yesterday, we discussed how the BID boundaries are carefully cut out around the retail dominated streets, it’s difficult not to interpret these policies as retail first and secondary benefits to business that may or may not support retail. I think that the BID group are hoping that B2B and online companies all have lots of retail customers – newsflash, we don’t. Some do but many don’t. The BID have split “our” monies into 3 pots:  Business Altrincham, Rediscover Altrincham and Experience Altrincham. The BID board which was chosen or voted (and apparently representative?)  will choose which projects and priorities go forward. I think that for clarity, the BID board and backgrounds should be posted on a website with clear details as to what businesses they represent or have links to.  In  regard to the three pots, as long as there is forward thinking, quick action and they genuinely target Altrincham’s real problems then I will be on side. A caveat on that would be that these problems should be experienced by the majority of business in the area, regardless of industry and proximity to George Street, and secondly  that the solutions should have clear, tangible and demonstrative trackable value for ALL business. One example of a tangible problem with trackable solutions would be the issue of high Business Rates. These are set centrally so local councils can’t change them but they can increase the value on the other side of the equation by making offices and shops better value for money. To be fair, the new interchange and improving road infrastructure helps with this. Rates is an example of a problem which affects us all (over small business rates relief) not just retail and leisure. With the central control of rates, I imagine that its well out of scope of BID to get them reduced. We have to put policies in place to make us money to help pay them. It’s not a reduction in rates, it’s making them easier to pay which is the problem we can solve AND that the BID can help with. Free Parking  also seems to be an issue that affects the majority of business in Altrincham – whether it be a lack of customer parking  or, in respect of my company,  no staff parking  with companies buying up space and charging nearly £1000 per annum to use. I understand that retail may also have an age-old problem that is  the  Trafford Centre and not hitting those   pre- 2007 heights but I would imagine that the identity work and parking would solve much of that.  That would be more of a retail focus   which    is fine, per se – it’s just that not all of the policies should have a retail bias. If we can solve the issue of the empty retail units as well, I think everyone will be happier. Again  that has no actual benefit to my business, but I would certainly be willing to help retail and leisure as much as possible in balance.  

The BID – Point by Point. Is it a RID?

  Business Altrincham. I’m really excited about this aspect of the BID, as this is my bag. This must directly speak to me as I’m a business owner in central Altrincham.  I’m hoping that my business challenges are going to be met head-on. Let’s see what it has to say. For the purposes of this section, the tone will be more informal and more conversational with elements of tongue-in-cheek. The wording may be divisive but the principles are legitimate. 1 ) General appearance of town centre. I think we’d all like a nicer looking town but let’s be open about who stands to benefit most from this: Retail. My business doesn’t benefit 1% from   more fauna or styles of paving or cladding   but I certainly understand why Retail and Leisure would. I’m sure the BID group would convince me that a nicer town centre would generate investment with more business coming into the area and spending money over all the place, which is certainly logical, BUT the fact remains that it doesn’t help my individual business. So, playing devils advocate:  why should business outside of the main drag pay for that? Wouldn’t it be   fairer to suggest that the retailers and  businesses who stand to benefit the most pay a different proportional levy for this policy? Is there even an option to have this subsidised by the chain stores on George street like  Costa, Debenhams and Boots? Personally, I don’t think they should pay more per se, but others might. I’m not a planner of course, or have knowledge in this area, but I am a marketer and understand presentation. I know that marketing can really make an impact and branding can make a decent product a “must have” which is great – it gives us options. Altrincham is a decent product and we can take it to the next level to be the UK’s finest market town. Move over Harrogate, et al. One thing I would question, though, is: If it’s as simple as re-doing paving and planting more trees in the centre then why has it taken so long to achieve this? Surely, it should have been done years and years ago? I do wholeheartedly approve of the @MarketHouseAlty and surrounding area – a roaring success, near enough perfect.  A real buzz and excellent. They have created urgency (smart business sense) as you can never get a table and the product and ambience is spot on. We all love it and will continue to support that regeneration. It makes sense to have that locale as recreation and leisure area. The product in this area is fantastic – artisan ales, food, @honest_crust pizza and crafts. It speaks to what Altrincham clearly wants and it’s working. We are all looking forward to trying the new pasta place @Sugo_Pasta. Area Segmentation works in that respect. Question – Why don’t the council make Stamford New Road 80% B2B and office-only as there’s no parking for consumers? (That would still leave a parking problem but we could get subsidies from the large car parks). Let’s get the pedestrians on the precinct near the market by having the retail and leisure confined?  At the moment, we have stupidly high rates and constant closures on Stamford New Road with many a  business not being able to find good cost effective office space. It tooks us months to find our current office. These are just musings and thoughts. Tongue in cheek –  I would not ask Costa Coffee to pay for decoration for my office or lampposts outside it, etc . They’re welcome to do so but I wont mandatorily ‘ask’ them for it. I believe that Altrincham centre and George street specifically will look much improved and that will leave visitors with better opinions but this is one for retail and leisure and not one for B2B or online or dark matter companies. BID 0 v 1 RID   2 ) Council Cleaning Standards. I pay nearly £10,000 in business rates per annum. We don’t even have a bin. Thank you, Trafford Council!   We take our rubbish home EVERY NIGHT and to the tip at our own cost. You can imagine my general frame of mind when now there is a levy demanding I pay extra to raise council cleaning standards. Just being  standard using the money you have would be good enough for me. Since the BID district are largely retail only then who stands to benefit from this the most? If it   was made sure that every business in Altrincham (based on the Altrincham Strategy Map and not the RID map) has access to waste and recycling (regardless of industry) and there are fines for tippers – then that would be BID. At the moment, it seems just RID. BID 0 v 2 RID   3 ) Staff parking discounts and bike parks. Excellent. A bike park does not discriminate based on industry nor does staff parking. I believe that this is a great idea and one that hits one of Alty’s key issues – parking. Please go the whole hog and secure free parking or very low annual staff permits. If this is just for the retailers on the high street then there would be mutiny but if this can help all the offices in the area as well then fantastic. Feel free to read the link below – make no mistake, free parking is a key area and will vastly help retail and all (mostly retail though). http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/591556/Cardigan-town-centre-shopping-boom-thieves-smash-parking-meters BID 1 v 3 RID   4 ) Reduce business costs through advertising on the website and newsletters, first aid training, utilities, waste etc. This is a tricky one. On the face of it, this would seem like it would help everyone  which is great. I’m afraid for the reality though as it’s harder to get it right than wrong. It will only work if we are forward thinking, cutting edge and utilising experts in the respective areas mindful of marketing companies happy to take budget chunks and not delivering return. If I were to warn of potential dangers, then it would go something like this: Are we in 2007? Advertising on a website – a directory of Altrincham business? There are lots of directories out there already, some of them focused on Altrincham and not one has brought me a jot of business – and they won’t. When someone switches on their iPad and mobile, their homepage is either BBC, Facebook or Google. For  the older generation (and I appreciate many older people are beyond tech-savvy) statistics say they are less likely to even do that. Their first thought will not be to check out the new Altrincham directory unless there’s some really amazing reason to do so, like flash sales, exclusive pricing, tickets to exclusive events or directly putting money back in their pockets  There’s a reason why Tesco sits in Altrincham like a evil spaceship – it’s convenient and has nearly everything under one roof, like it or not (and you get 3 hours free parking – erm, lightbulb?)  If people want to check out some information then they will use Google to find the latest video game prices in Grainger games or the  price of a suit in Next. Next knows this as well. The big businesses in the area will go along with this for PR purposes – it would be a disaster if they didn’t. You can imagine the outrage if Boots or Costa said what they actually may or may not think about it.  Their PR message has to be that we all have to support your local economy but if it were really that way then they wouldn’t undercut independent retailers or plough into certain towns. Like a vampire, if you invite them in   then  you have to accept the consequences. Do we honestly think that H&M are crying out for a local directory? They could build one overnight if they thought it would increase their sales. They haven’t built one and probably won’t. They will continue to put their marketing budget into online: AdWords, social and content marketing whilst we decide what paving pattern we should go for. Newsletters – Quite an antiquated approach but still can be successful with dazzlingly targeted, timely and relevant content. I imagine, however, that the newsletters are not going to be talking about marketing data and email marketing helping my business. I imagine it will be focused on the food and French festivals, events etc. None of this brings a penny to me to pay for rates or save me any costs. All of these events will directly help retail and leisure. As it happens, I love the events and, as a consumer, I want more, but let’s not kid ourselves to say that they help all business. I know this all seems fairly negative but I’ve only had about 24 hours to even contemplate all of this. Given time, I understand that positive feedback and critque is needed – and I welcome any ideas people want to submit. A policy that I do like and would possibly help everyone is sensible procurement regarding Utilities. This is tangible cash-saving for all!  Well done, clear thinking and not retail focused. That and bulk buying on red tape products such as H&S posters – great. But it has to really work. Please do not waste my money on bland newsletters. I work in direct marketing and fully understand how it all works with response rates and the benefit (or lack of) from directories. Directories work for tradesmen and shops – not B2B organisations. If an standard email newsletter is at the forefront of our thinking then we might need to rethink. I am 100% capable of doing my own marketing and newsletters, etc. If others cannot then is there a bigger problem? A reality is  that I could spend £1700 (my levy ) on marketing my own company and get a £10,000 return. So I could argue that this levy is costing me £10,000. Do I really want a BID group to take my marketing budget and use it in a way that they see fit? Get the product right first and worry about the advertising later. We are small and not here to take on Tesco, our smallness and maneuverability is our strength.   Be innovative, quick, witty, personable, daring, many things that the big business’ are scared of doing. Don’t do something as mundane and ineffective as a directory. If any marketing agencies have pitched this especially ones that have staff or links to part of the BID group, I think that should be public knowledge. Done correctly, this should benefit all. BID 2 v 4 RID   5 ) Business loan scheme. All makes sense. I  like this one. Bank of Dave. The key here is who gets the loans? Business go bump all the time because of rates and cash-flow, borrowing has be carefully watched and managed. Don’t just give loans to an organic hemp-made t-shirt company who wants a unit because, guess what,  they wont be here in 12 months as Altrincham can’t locally sustain their product (unless they have fantastic online sales). This brings me to a key point – remember our limits and our strengths. We are not London, Manchester or Bath (yet). We currently have a glass ceiling.  I believe we can all do brilliantly and that the glass ceiling is very, very high but lets keep focused. Niche products need to be unique and not easily sourced from Amazon at 30% of the price with free next-day delivery. Understand that Tesco has lots, simpler and quicker. Putting up leaflets in our windows saying ‘Buy Local’ will ultimately not do enough to prevent consumers from convenience and saving money. It’s just prolonging the inevitable. Einstein famously said that the definition of madness is to do the same thing over and over with posters in windows and expect different results. Ok – I am being silly with the posters bit but you get the picture. People DO want to buy local but they can be apathetic as well, we need to push. I have often mused in a playful manner that there will be one company in the end – a bastard of Tesco, Google and Amazon  – TeAmGle. I don’t want this to happen but in order to defeat, survive and flourish, we have to understand limitations and our strengths and weakness. Amazon is not quivering over Google Earth looking at our new crazy paving and trees. As lovely as they are, they just don’t care.  PS – whilst on TeAmGle, please hold on @WaterstonesAlty, you are the last bastion of a civilised age. We need books. I will always support you. Databroker Loves Waterstones. Getting back on point, if you want me to pay for loans for new business, then I want a say in who gets what. Not going to happen is it. I think this one could benefit all industries. BID 3 v 5 RID   6 ) Safety in Altrincham Important of course. I never knew it was a big problem. Always felt safe, touch wood.  Working with the pubs is a good thing. Changing binge-drinking society is another. We all know that the Downs triangle can be a bit tasty midnight onwards on a Saturday but is it my responsibility to pay for the policing of it? Outside of my council tax? Or is it my money and job to help Boots tackle shoplifting and pickpockets? No one wants an unsafe Altrincham but with our B2B and online business that doesn’t rely on footfall, is there an argument to say that this benefits retail more than others? I am inclined to say it does. BID 3 v 6 RID   7 ) A Business Voice to lobby on our behalf at strategic level. I normally ignore anything that has the word ‘strategic’ or ‘holistic’ in as they are they type of buzzword you see on a PowerPoint or a sales pitch. I believe that if businesses worked tangibly and in the short term solving genuine business problems as we go then we would all be better off. Strategy and diagrams can be useful but only get you so far. The lobbying of course is interesting but who we we lobbying and what for? Is it the council? The council that we complain to about the lack of parking and have  no clue who B2B businesses are and what they contribute to economy? Would they listen to my challenges? They might listen if I went bust and as a result a new dusty shop front appeared in a prime area but not currently. Who is going to pay for the lobbying and who will do it? Are they the right people to do it? It’s all a bit mysterious at this point. Benefit of the doubt though as I assume there will be some kind of public discussion around the formation of this voice. What examples of from other BIDS can be shown from succesful lobbying? Why would the powers that be suddenly listen now due to us being a BID? Is this not something that we could set up now almost for free – just get some dialogue going, a couple of meetings, letters and petitions to the council? Why am I paying for it? Should it get the go ahead, then please lobby on free parking and business rates ONLY to start with. Depending on what gets lobbied is dependent on who benefits from this. Call this one a draw at this time. BID 4 v 7 RID  

Summary:

As we can see, not all of these policies speak to me directly but I would anticipate that nearly all speak to Retail. That is not a problem as, to reiterate,  it’s really important to help retail, but this is the Business Altrincham section. Out of the 3 sections, this is the one where nearly all policies should speak to me and help as the other two are far more retail focused. If the BID is currently behind the RID in points now, then there is no way back. We shall take a look at them in more detail on Monday. It would be very interesting to work out what personas the BID group came up with for this research. How did they go about working out the consumer socio-demographic profile of Altrincham? I could of course provide this but I’d be interested to know what they think it would be. Are the policies that we will discuss next week  relevant to those personas and the actual people who frequent this great town? Of course, the above interpretation of the policies is very much ‘me me me’ focused as it cant be anything else, this is just a personal opinion. I do appreciate that and I’m not intending to offend or put down anyone’s hard work around this BID. I just think that it’s such a fantastic opportunity for Altrincham that I just want to check that there aren’t lots of ‘me me mes’ there who wish that the BID was more reflective before it goes ahead. Let’s get this spot on and watch Altrincham fly! We can safely assume that 99% of retailers are going to vote YES for its current guise and if the turn out is anything like the research surveys then let’s get the champagne in now for George Street – but please please buy it locally.  


  This is the third installment of our ongoing series analysing the proposed Business Improvement District in Altricham, to read parts 1, 2 & 4, click here: Part 1: Are We Voting For a BID or a RID?  Part 2:  The Business Make Up of Altrincham Part 4: Part 4 of the  Great Altrincham #BID or #RID Debate  

UPDATE:

Since this  blog was posted,   this article has been published by the Manchester Evening News  about another fantastic, influential local business that’s been forced to close its doors due to the problems mentioned above, including a lack of parking and the looming presence of the Trafford Centre turning the high street into little more than a collection of pound shops and charity shops.

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