This is an analysis of “Retail Healthcheck and Retail Zone Review (Montague Street)” published by Worthing Borough Council, May 2012.
“The main purpose of the study is to assess the retail health of Montague Street in Worthing”.
The following is my own interpretation of the research, both as a resident of the town and as a marketing/branding specialist.
On analysis, the report has a number of shortcomings:
- Firstly, while the study makes reference to other retail centres within the town (including Chapel Road, Portland Road, Buckingham Road, Rowlands Road and the Montague Centre), it considers Montague Street in virtual isolation from these other retail areas. The report equally makes no mention of Warwick Street, High Street, Royal Arcade, South Street, Upper Brighton Road, Montague Place or the tributary access at Arcade Buildings.
To consider one street in isolation – even if it is the main shopping parade – is to exclude the overspill and gateway effects from these other areas.
- Secondly, the document states that “the retail health of the Primary Shopping Area is reasonably good…”. This is based on the percentage of vacant units within the town.
This is only part of the overall picture – if retail health is solely measured by number of occupied premises, it omits spend per consumer (SPC) as a vital part of the equation. Looking at Montague Street’s core offering, it is evident that the presence of Bright House, Poundland, JD Sports and other discount retailers give an overall impression of low SPC. Areas exhibiting stores with low SPC are unlikely to attract stores encouraging higher SPC levels, such as the premium clothing or lifestyle brands.
- Thirdly, the report makes no mention of retail vibrancy, which may be defined as the range and depth of retail offerings. A lack of retail vibrancy would be defined as a high level of homogeneity.
Montague Street’s retail vibrancy is relatively low. The high proportion of mobile phone stores, coupled with an increasing volume of takeaway food outlets, nail bars, hairdressers et al mean that the retail offering is quite limited.
- Fourthly, the study does not mention the effect of the local car parking charges, which is frequently mentioned by both residents and visitors as a deterrent to longer stays within the town.
- Finally, the study makes repeated mention of an “independent and specialised niche retail offer”.
However, there is no indication of what this offer might be, and given the prevalence of national retailers (“particularly at the eastern end of the street”), it is difficult to imagine how this retail mix provides such an offer.
The report does highlight a number of things well:
- The disconnect between the pedestrianised area and the continuation of Montague Street at the junction of West Buildings.
- The need for additional signage to make users of the retail core aware of additional shopping opportunities which they may otherwise miss if they enter Worthing anywhere other than on Montague Street.
- The need for the “right improvements and marketing” to transform the Secondary Shopping Area into a “very desirable shopping location”, especially in exploring who the Secondary Shopping Area can “improve its identity and image to bring people to the area”.
Reading this report gave me the impression that I experience a different town centre offering to that illustrated through the report.
As previously mentioned, while retail health is “reasonably good”, the pervasive presence of major discount chains and low price retailers gives Montague Street a rundown feel with little or no vibrancy and vitality.
While the street might be busy on a Saturday morning, it doesn’t have the ‘hustle and bustle’ of the competing retail cores in Brighton and Chichester. This is not reflected in the report, although I appreciate that one person’s view of ‘hustle and bustle’ will be different to another person’s.
Montague Street does not feel like a retail destination. Although it satisfies a range of needs (clothing, accessories, some food), it doesn’t have the desirability or browsing factor of other destinations. This needs to be addressed.
1) The Worthing retail offer needs to be considered holistically, not just with reference to one street. Visitors to one area are likely to overspill into other parts of the town’s central core and this will have a direct effect on the health of each area.
2) Worthing needs to examine its retail and leisure retail zoning policies and marketing. Warwick Street is developing into the café culture hub of the town, and this should be encouraged. The western end of Montague Street, leading into Rowlands Road, has a high proportion of restaurants and some speciality food stores – this area could become the international dining experience bracketing the town. Other areas can be equally clearly zoned and, with the appropriate marketing and branding, can become desirable destinations within the town’s core.
3) The division between the pedestrianised and non-pedestrianised sections of Montague Street needs to be given urgent attention – which up until now it has been lacking. The West End brand is not strong enough to pull visitors from one side of the road to the other. This could be achieved with signs, road markings (perhaps a zebra crossing) or other gateway tactics.
4) The town needs to create its own brand, which is strong enough to provide differentiation from other retail centres and one which connects with the local resident and business population. The current ‘Sunny Worthing’ proposition provides neither and relies on something that is out of the control of anyone in the Borough – the weather. All artwork and communication needs to be of a sufficiently high standard that it connects with all viewers – recent efforts such as those shown at London Victoria are not strong enough stylistically or conceptually to do anything other than fill advertising space.
5) Following on from this, the town needs to provide a deeper connection between itself and its residents. As a resident of the borough (and having Worthing’s retail core as my nearest retail centre), I experience very little communication aimed at me. Taxis bearing Worthing branding in London may attract some tourists, but with a population of approximately 103,200 people, more could be done to connect the community with their local offering.
6) Finally, the town would do well to consider how it uses the public open spaces – Montague Place, Liverpool Gardens and the square outside HSBC – to deliver spaces which add to the experience of visiting Worthing. While there are small markets and flower sellers, there is rarely anything that encourages a visitor to make a special trip from one retail area to another to experience.
Worthing needs to:
- Understand the needs of the town’s core users, and discover the needs of those who don’t use the facilities, and design a response accordingly.
- Define and design a brand fit for all and flexbile for the future.
- Increase consumer mobility throughout the entire town centre.
- Provide a modern, clean, inviting street scene.
- Increase SPC throughout all areas.
- Investigate all methods of increasing consumer dwell time – including linkages between all cultural, retail and leisure resources.
These are just some initial thoughts based on reading the Retail Study. To discuss them further, please feel free to contact me.
It is my belief that with the right levels of care, attention and marketing excellence, Worthing can become a modern town that caters to the diverse needs of residents, businesses and tourists, generating profit, ensuring vibrancy and delivering a genuine destination experience.
Neil Hopkins is a Marketing and Branding Theorist at heart, and a Marketing Communications Manager by day. His blog – interacter – is the primary location he shares insight and information relating to marketing, branding and advertising strategy.
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