Marketing Strategy / Opinion

Worthing – a town in need of TLC (Response to retail healthcheck report)

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”.

My interpretation.

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.

My recommendations.

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.

Key takeaways

Worthing needs to:

  1. 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.
  2. Define and design a brand fit for all and flexbile for the future.
  3. Increase consumer mobility throughout the entire town centre.
  4. Provide a modern, clean, inviting street scene.
  5. Increase SPC throughout all areas.
  6. 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.
You can follow Neil on Twitter, circle him (like an escaped bull) on Google+ or track him down in any number of other ways.


4 thoughts on “Worthing – a town in need of TLC (Response to retail healthcheck report)

  1. I’ve not been to Worthing for year and don’t know this street but I am highly confident you could substitute most British town centre street names into this report it would be equally valid. I don’t mean useful or helpful. Just valid. Report writing must be very easy – you roll out the same report and just change the name. Just for once though could we have some vision, imagination and passion for the solution? I have yet to see this part. Where is the originality? Each street, each town is in competition with each other; with out of town shopping and most importantly with every Tesco Extra. And the wake up call – you are not just losing to Tesco
    but getting obliterated. This is intentional. It is deliberate, and the town centre is losing. With strategy defined by councillors it is no wonder. It is time to recognise what is at stake here. If you think this doesn’t get worse then look at the hollowed-out shopping areas in US towns and cities. This will happen unless you get serious, get creative and get people onboard who will equally frighten and inspire you but critically help you to define a real strategy to win.

    • So true, Gary. Sad as well…
      (He says with a Tesco loyalty card in his wallet).

      However, you must also ask WHY are Tesco coming in so hard and strong. Partly it’s because the alternatives just aren’t open after work. Where do I go for a bag of carrots my my dinner at 18:30? Not the greengrocers, that’s for sure…
      We chatted about this previously!

      Worthing has potential. Lashings of it. But it needs to be holistically applied with some lateral thinking too.

      It breaks my heart to see such opportunity going to waste…

  2. Email response sent 10th December 2012

    Dear Neil

    First of all I would like to thank you for responding to the Montague Healthcheck Review. I would also like to apologise that it has taken me so long to send a response to you. I wrote this piece of work as part of my work experience for Worthing Borough Council in the Planning department. I welcome any feedback, as I am always looking to improve the quality of my work and to ensure that it is useful.


    This healthcheck looked at the existing primary and secondary frontages on Montague Street, as defined by the Worthing Core Strategy (2011) and assessed whether there is a need to review them. These frontages were formed as a result of background evidence documents, which can be obtained at the link below:

    It is important to continue to monitor the effectiveness of these frontages, to ensure that Policy 6 – Retail in the Worthing Core Strategy remains up to date and relevant. We focussed on Montague Street, in response to a number of planning applications and expressions of interest in changing the use of retail units (A1) to A3/A5. If approved, it was likely that this would have a significant impact on the retail element of this area. Unfortunately, we did not have the resources to conduct a more thorough study of the borough as a whole and it should be remembered that the Council had sufficient Borough wide evidence in place to support the Council’s retail policies at the Core Strategy Examination. By carrying out this assessment, we are confident that the policies are necessary and relevant. For the purposes of these objectives, I think the retail healthcheck is sufficient, although I appreciate that it is limited by only looking at Montague Street.

    I agree that ideally, you should not just look at one street in isolation, that Worthing as a whole should be considered as a unit, in order to understand the footfall flows throughout the town centre. I should note that it is the intention of the Worthing Planning Policy Team to conduct more retail healthchecks in the future when our work programme allows for it. Furthermore, those evidence backgrounds highlighted above were considered at a holistic level across the borough as a whole.

    I think your suggestions of looking at spend per consumer (SPC) is important indicator of retail health, although I must admit I did not have this information to hand at the time. It is an area that I will consider to use in the future, working with the Worthing Town Centre Initiative if we can obtain the information, because I think it could be a useful insight.

    Again, retail vibrancy is an area that is important and I have suggested in the report that there is the need for a range of shops to ensure that Worthing can create a niche specialism. This will prevent it from being a homogenous high street, which is clearly not desirable or beneficial to Worthing, particularly if it is going to achieve a new retail core in the future. As to what this independent specialist niche should be, I think this is something that needs to be considered through consultations with residents and also links in to branding. I was not trying to determine exactly what this should be in the report, merely that this way forward should be considered. There is also a limit to the extent that the planning system (through use class orders) can influence the type of shops introduced.

    Parking availability and costs is an important consideration for Worthing and existing arrangements are reviewed on an on-going basis. I do think, however, that there is also a need to move towards more sustainable transport patterns. In particular, I think cycling should be made more accessible for residents and cycle lanes should be improved, as well as pedestrian links to encourage people to explore Worthing on foot where possible.

    Your comments about retail and leisure zoning are of particular interest. I can see the benefits of creating hubs of cafes and restaurants and speciality food stores etc. and this is an approach that is being supported, particularly at Warwick Street in the Worthing Town Centre and Seafront Masterplan (2006). This document, and other regeneration documents can be viewed at the link below:

    However, I think that in these difficult times, there is also a need for a flexible approach to ensure that businesses not unduly constrained and so this must be appropriately balanced. We currently have our retail zones based on background evidence set out in the Core Strategy, which allows strictly A1 use in the Primary Shopping Area Zone A, A1 and A3 in Primary Zone B, and a more flexible approach in Secondary Shopping Areas.

    I agree that Worthing needs to create a brand and market itself successfully. I also think residents should be more involved to ensure that we get the branding right and it is a true reflection of how Worthing residents perceive their town.

    I think that the comments you have made are valid and important and we will incorporate these aspects into any future work we carry out in Worthing with regards to retail. We are hoping to produce a Retail Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) in the future, and we will also assess whether retail frontages need to be amended in the future, when the new Retail Core at Union Place is delivered.

    Thank you again for your comments,

    Kind regards,

    Hannah Grove

  3. Pingback: Worthing’s Sandy Beach – unlikely to “boost trade” (full media response) | interacter

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