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Monday 24th August 2015

Part 4 of The Great Altrincham #BIDvRID debate

Welcome to part 4 of our blog series on Altrincham’s proposed BID (Business Improvement District). It’s worth catching up with parts 1-3 before reading this so it all makes sense and you know where we’re up to. Today, we are continuing our look at the proposed projects that were selected by the BID group. These are conveniently the projects that the BID group placed in their survey asking local businesses whether they wanted them or not. Nearly all of those original questions in the survey made it through to the project phase! Part 1:  Are We Voting for a BID or a RID Part 2:  The Business Make Up of Altrincham Part 3:  The Current Bid Proposals Part 5: The Final Score on the BID vs. RID Debate Rediscover Altrincham is the second part of 3 key areas that the BID group want to focus on and that they believe all business are asking for. Our angle here is to work out whether the current BID is too focused on Retail and Leisure. In the previous Business Section, we discovered that all of those policies benefited Retail but only half of them benefited my office-based B2B business. Let’s see how Rediscover Altrincham fares. Ideally, we would be looking for this not to be retail-biased to even things up. Remember that in these sections, the tone is conversational with tongue-in-cheek elements but the principles are genuine and founded.  

REDISCOVER ALTRINCHAM

Generally speaking, I think this is code for knocking down or bringing people back from the Trafford Centre. Lets see what the BID policies are… 1 ) Decorate vacant units. Why would I want to pay for that? Devil’s advocate – I already pay what I believe to be high business rates, council tax and I’m not a retailer. My business does not come from retail and empty units in the precinct have zero effect on whether a customers chooses our service or not. I am not saying that this isn’t important, it is, but we have to look at who this benefits most. If I made it black and white then one could argue that this should come out of the retail pot or companies that rely on consumer footfall. Would it not be prudent to offer local businesses the chance to advertise in these empty shops and decorate that way? Or possibly, if the council allow, have local charities and community groups make use of them. I have seen the latter happening already which is great. What I don’t understand is why my B2B  office based business unrelated to empty units should pay for it. I’m assuming that this is not referring to decorating the empty offices space units on 2nd/3rd Floors? Let’s call a spade and spade and say this massively helps   ground floor retail. I also appreciate that this is an attempt to make Altrincham more attractive for incoming   retail investment. We are trying to solve the see-saw equation of Product (shop units) / Business Rates. I take it then that we’re not going to win any lobbying against the rates so we are trying to make the product as attractive as possible to create better value. All makes sense but is it fair that this cost is split equally including companies who will not benefit at all? Longer term, as mentioned, Trafford council could look to move the shops from Stamford New Road (that seem to struggle) onto the precinct. That would fill the units and then allow for the Valuation Office Agency to revalue the Stamford units as offices and reduce the rates. The dark matter of B2B and office companies can look to take on those units. I’m also sure that those companies would help with decoration of the road especially in return for free parking! I imagine that the BID’s argument is that more shops in the area will then spend money with the dark matter business in the area? Not really, not for us, none of our business comes from Altrincham retail – apart from one client who is a forward thinking bar. On that basis, this is a no brainer, this is a retail policy and one for the RID. BID 3 v 7 RID   2 ) A visitor map or App. Wow, just wow. I’ll be very straight and cutting here for the sake of brevity. People will not download an Altrincham App. Personally, I think this is a disastrous idea.  And please don’t tell me it costs more than 2K. The costs of these projects should be made public to people who pay the levy. If absolutely necessary, would a local business step in and do one for some free PR or contra? Lobby them, use the business voice that you want to create. I cant help feel that the word ‘app’ is in here because someone though its trendy or the council or a marketing agency which is part of the bid has said it’s a good idea. I hope that they are NOT offering to build it as well for the budget. That would certainly be a big conflict of interest.  I don’t know if the Trafford Centre has an app, do you? It’s certainly not on my phone, is it on yours? Of course not. People just go, park freely and shop in the collective group of relevant shops (no cash for gold, pound shops, bookies, etc) before they visit the eaterie-segmented part. Lightbulb. I have made this point before. What research has gone into the consumers who visit Altrincham and their demographic profile? Can someone actually tell me that they have asked for an APP without being prompted by a leading question such as “do you think Altrincham should have a visitor map or an app?” Most people would answer yes to that whether they believe it or not. There are well document psychology reports stating that people like to say “Yes”. They view it as positive, friendly and we are always naturally looking to say ‘Yes’. We subconsciously view the word ‘No’ as potentially harmful, rude or in general negative frame of mind. When you are child, you are pre-programmed by the word ‘NO’ as part of learning and discipline. I think this comes down to Personas – let’s get some down now. I don’t have the time at this point to make this detailed with pictures, names and demographic detail but a proper Persona process would certainly do that.

  1. Local pupils and children visiting the shops. 10-15, groups, like the Gummy Shop near Wilkinson’s and are looking for a central place to hang out. Tech savvy. Know the area.
  2. Local workers and lunchtime visitors – bread and butter and contribute lots to economy. 21 to 50. Cash in their pockets, busy, short on time and already know where they’re going. Shop in a pre-defined planned manner. Tech savvy. Know the area.
  3. Local pensioners – visit the centre frequently for general shopping, socialising and leisure. Vital part of the economy. Know the area.
  4. Non-local visitors – visiting the football, ice rink and market house. A real cross section, will possibly not know the area. Will work outwards from the Leisure Centre car park or Tram station.

I think it could be argued at a push that Persona 4 would be the only one interested in an app. Realistically, if it’s for  football fans (United or Altrincham), these apps already exist for away grounds detailing all watering holes and places to visit. I’m really not sure about paying for this. Even if it actually works (and I think that’s very unlikely), what’s going to be on the app or map? It wont be pointing consumers to B2B companies or printing shops, etc. No, it will be pointing them to pubs, retail and leisure so how can it be fair that I pay for this? Being vicious, would the retailers object if I sent them a mandatory levy letter demanding they pay for some Google AdWords for my business? I could spin it that it would allow me to make more money so I could hire more staff which would potentially spend more money in local retail! That is almost the reverse of the spin that I believe the BID group have of helping retail:  “helps all local business”. In essence, should all businesses pay for more visitors to the retail stores? This is another no-brainer. Another one for the RID. And a bad one at that. BID 3 v 8 RID   3 ) Change perceptions that car parking is expensive. Tricky this one. I would need more information really. If this means reduce prices, I think everyone in Altrincham whether a consumer or business would be 100% behind it. It must help us all. If this means produce leaflets, vitriol, marketing collateral from Trafford Council about the USPs of Altrincham and how it’s good value to park here currently – no thanks. Tangible real help is what we need, not guff. I’ll  pay for first but not the second. Only on Friday, South City Music, an independent retailer closed its doors citing the lack of free parking in the town centre  as the main reason. BID 4 v RID 9   4 ) Accessibility. Agreed – needs to be done. Isn’t this council funding though? BID 5 v RID 10   5 ) Wifi in town centre. Does anyone choose a place to shop based on this? Are their people watching Netflix as they shop in H&M? It may just be me, so asking around, it does seem that the local social media companies can find uses for this and I trust their judgement – they are smart cookies. They tell me that with streaming becoming more important, it would help their business and potentially some consumers would use it. They do go on to say that it’s fairly minor though. The big stores have wifi, the small ones can offer it if they choose by paying. Many new phones are 4G which is totally suitable and 3G is all around. Why would I want to pay for customers of retail shops to use Facebook or browse whilst they shop? Oh I forgot, yes we need it for the visitor app. Ugh. Should Café Nero want to pay for free wifi in my area that my business can use then please let me know and I’ll start a Kickstarter page which can they contribute to. I have not seen one B2B presentation in the centre of Altrincham where someone is pitching for business and they are cursing the lack of wifi. I have set up business meetings myself at the fantastic market house and they have their own wifi. So I could theoretically conduct my business from inside but I wouldn’t hold a meeting on a bench outside of Gregg’s. Let’s look at the personas again. The kids may use it I suppose but they will all have 3G/4G smartphones already. I don’t hear of the local pensioners screaming for free wifi or the local office workers or even the matchday visitors – they can all use wifi in the office,  pub or whatever establishment they’re in. I can only assume that this benefits small retailers which don’t offer it. Thinking aloud though, how many times do you go to a florist and ask for the wifi password? It’s certainly possible that I could be getting this very wrong though and that the FREE wifi  is part of reducing business costs but of course that is massive retail bias, why would I pay for them to get free wifi when I have to pay BT a fortune  monthly for myself? I get the premise, keep people in the centre as long as possible. What would work better is great selection or retail offering products that the public want with no restriction on parking times. But yes, we could go with free wifi if you want. BID 5 v 11   RID   6 ) Cafes to offer free of charge mobile charging. Very much like the previous policy. How does this help my business on the 2nd Floor of the Natwest building? For reference, we already offer free of charge mobile charging in our reception or any plug in our office to staff and visitors. Should I get a sign in the window ;) I am just not sure why my levy is going to help the Cafés of Altrincham. I already give them my business and my staff frequent also. The clever bods @AltrinchamHQ suggested to install lockable public charging units near retail and restaurant area. These could be locally funded by businesses in the immediate vicinity who will benefit and who vote for them.   Summary: We are now at BID 5 v 12 RID. All in all to an outsider who wasn’t consulted and knew nothing about the bid until I   got a letter saying that I   may have to pay £1700 over 5 years….. it seems that Rediscovering Altrincham is retail-focused. To be fair, it doesn’t pretend that it’s not but when so few of the other proposals are relevant to B2B office-based business, then I don’t think that it’s wrong to at least question the current BID. Remember that we discussed in part 2 of this series the business make up of Altrincham and there’s a lot more to it that retail. Tomorrow, we shall be looking at the final part of the BID project which is ‘Experience Altrincham.’ I am not against the BID being retail focused per se but what I would like is this to be more open in the literature and dialogue rather than a Trojan horse. Altrincham Forward’s website is dominated by retail and leisure. The BID’s policies are dominated by retail and leisure. If I am incorrect in my assumption that this is a retail BID, then is it because I am a fool or that the only dialogue with the BID process has been a letter with little information apart from headlining retail-based policies?  Since writing my blogs, dialogue is opening up around this issue with various people in Altrincham – Altrincham Forward, the BID-steering group, et al but even that is slightly irksome that this blog is the catalyst for the dialogue and it was not forthcoming before the letter went out.  I must add that said dialogue has been very positive. To end, my business stands to benefit minutely from these current proposals unless parking is looked at. Why would I pay the same levy % as a shop on George Street? I am getting at best secondary benefit. If I were to reverse that and say the BID was purely focused on my industry, could I argue that in return I will secondary benefit retail by offering free marketing training and help, etc? They simply would not stand or vote for it – yet I’m expected to say yes to secondary unquantifiable bottom line benefit. Remember, I am pro BID and want to vote yes. I just want a fair bid for all.  


Part 1:  Are We Voting for a BID or a RID Part 2:  The Business Make Up of Altrincham Part 3:  The Current Bid Proposals Part 5: The Final Score on the BID vs. RID Debate

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