Interview: ‘Be more agile’ – Access Point’s Diane Whalley talks Covid, Commercialisation and 2021

Whilst the events of the past 12 months were impossible to have predicted, we spoke to Access Point‘s head of commercialisation, Diane Whalley, on what 2020 has looked like for them, and their plan of attack for the year ahead.

What have been the biggest challenges you have faced in 2020 and how did you overcome them?

Even the greatest of scenario planners would have struggled with what 2020 delivered. Following the initial lockdown it was then a moveable feast going through the tiers and understanding what could happen where and when and what safety measures the promoters would need to follow. Communication was key; understanding the requirements of the retail parks and shopping centres, creating Covid guidelines to ensure promoters could trade safely and diversification of the offering to allow an agile response. If anything 2020 has brought us closer to our clients and customers as we found a way to make things happen.

What do you think are the most significant pressures retail property management is facing going into 2021?

Occupancy: bringing in both cash and customers. A smart scheme, looking to the future, will encourage local short term commercialisation occupancy. Consumers love supporting more local and regional companies, it has been heading this way for the last five years or so, COVID-19 has just accelerated the process. Less miles, less middlemen, less overheads – consumers get it. It is in their interests. Local businesses support local economies, they pay taxes, they have proper employment contracts, they themselves use other local companies in their supply chains, they buy local too. It works.

What do you expect to be the main focus for you in 2021?

All of the signs that we see, the enquiries and requests for information that we receive point to the fact that small, nimble operators are moving further into commercialisation and filling the space left by the larger brands. As landlords are now focussing on building relationships with more niche, local operators so must commercialisation. Commercialisation has always been attractive to/ for local companies, it’s what we built the business on 23 years ago and still stand by today. Now is the time for them to thrive in venues that previously may have had a closed door to them.

How do you think the industry will change in the next 12 months?

Schemes will start to help by investing in removing one of the biggest blockages to market; activity units. By purchasing classy, elegant units, built to a set specification, it enhances the overall look of a space and allows niche, market testing operators to rent and not tie up capital they so desperately need. It also makes set-up at a shopping centre or retail park far simpler. A one-size fits all safety certificate is far better than having one for every unit used.

The problem with switching to a more locally focussed commercialisation offer for a venue is lack of access to these traders. It takes investment in time and resource, it requires knowledge of how best to target local companies and what approach to use. Just being there, available to rent, is not enough. Smaller operators don’t have access to marketing departments, no big budget for stand design and build, no deep pockets for brand awareness, no HR dept to fulfil personnel requirements – we need to get out there, help them, advise them and where possible support them financially across all asset types.

Larger agencies will need to be more agile, more able to process higher volumes of invoices at lower prices and more approachable to local business operators. Those agencies like Access Point who have built up their portfolio of strong local operators across a wide range of industry types will benefit from the trust and loyalty of their customer base and be able of offer stronger fulfilment levels as our clients offer more opportunities in their venues.

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