Confessions of an Unconference Virgin…

This post was originally published on Catherine Turness’ LinkedIn.

I’m very much looking forward to the Winchbiz Unconference on Friday although I have to confess, I am an unconference virgin! So akin to a curious teenager asking their peers who have proudly lost their virginity, what does it feel like?, a sense of intrigue washes over me.

We are promised by organisers, Winchester City Council that it’s ‘not business as usual’ but an important message for me in my role as Executive Director of Winchester BID, is that Winchester is ‘open for business, as usual’ as there is huge change on the horizon for the city. Over 360 million pounds of investment is earmarked over the next 5 years, in the shape of the Central Winchester Regeneration and Station Approach development schemes.

Some folk are understandably apprehensive about this change. Some have formed an opinion that due to the national retail stories that continue to plague our screens and store closures having permeated to Winchester, with Jaeger, Shoon and Jones the Bootmaker shutting in recent months, (note to retailers – perhaps rethink your brand if it begins with a J!) we don’t need any more shops, but that is simply not true.

Winchester has one of the lowest High Street vacancy rates in the UK – recorded at 3.9% in the BID’s latest business barometer report, and actually several industry professionals claim that a vacancy churn of 5-6% is relatively healthy. It affords new businesses the opportunity to move in and consumers to test drive a new experience. And it’s that experience that should be the driving force to diversify retail and make an important shift from a mere bricks and mortar only experience to an integrated omni-channel brand experience, which whets the appetite and leaves consumers coming back for more, time and time again.

So with that in the forefront of my mind, the two questions I will be asking delegates on Friday are:

1. As a customer of your favourite shop or a visitor of your favourite place, what experience has made you return for more?

2. What can the BID do to help our Members deliver this experience now, and ensure we tempt brands/attractions who embrace diversification and support the curation of a Winchesterness experience within the regeneration schemes?

Serving as Chair of the Southern England BIDs group and as a Council Member of The BID Foundation, I know we are not the only place looking to crack this nut, but if we can be bold and think creatively, I am confident that Winchester can and will remain ‘open for business, as usual’. With the caveat being that ‘the usual’ must adapt in order to survive.

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