Interview: SpaceandPeople CEO Nancy Cullen talks Covid, compliance, and pop up retail

Nobody could have predicted the rollercoaster year that was 2020, but it is perhaps safe to say that 2021 will be about picking up the pieces of a world shattered by Covid-19. The world of retail has changed, in many ways progressing 10 years in 10 months.

We spoke to Nancy Cullen, CEO of SpaceandPeople, who gave her thoughts on a world in pandemic, and how we can hope to buld back better.

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

As with everyone else in the industry, the biggest challenges we have faced this year have been the lockdown, the ongoing uncertainty of new lockdowns and keeping track of the varying restrictions in different parts of the country. Since lockdown 1.0, the majority of our trade has been in retail bookings as brand experience and customer acquisition business has remained difficult to implement. Restrictions on media budgets and nervousness about running activations whilst social distancing needs to be maintained has led to a lot of activities being cancelled or postponed until 2021.

We worked closely with venues and property owners to agree arrangements regarding rent and restarting business post lockdown 1.0 and liaised with individual venues, retailers, promoters, and brands to create updated Covid-compliant paperwork, which enabled both venues and bookers of space to restart trading/promoting as soon as it was safe to do so.

When venues re-opened, we were further able to support venues by offering the use of our Mobile Promotion Kiosks (MPKs) to display social distancing messaging when not in use by promoters and installed safety screens onto many of the kiosks to offer both shoppers and promoting staff an extra level of protection when interacting.

We have successfully retained good levels of retail business, driven by the demand for short-term pop-up style activity which can operate without a long-term commitment. This has included our new initiative, Revive, conceived in response to the pandemic, which specifically targets the occupation of vacant retail shops with local, online, and new-to-market retailers. There is real demand for this from property owners and we have successfully delivered our first bookings.

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

Retail property management companies are now more under pressure than ever to create an experience for shoppers that draws them back into shopping centres and encourages them to spend their leisure time there. Due to the pandemic, the public have more widely adopted online shopping and entertainment services they can experience without leaving the house so venues need to offer attractions and an experiential element to their venue that cannot be replicated at home.

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

Our main focus this year has been supporting both venues and bookers of space in a year like no other. This will remain our main focus going into next year too, working closely with our customers through the transition period and the gradual return to much more normal business levels throughout 2021 as the vaccine programme rolls out and people regain the confidence again to go to public spaces.

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

This year has been extremely challenging for all businesses and commercialisation has been badly affected by Covid-19, so we do not envisage a full recovery in revenue until Q2/3 2021. Brand Experience activities have been badly affected during the current lockdown and will take longer to recover so we foresee that the scale of this activity will not improve until Q2 2021 but with a view to activity rising to near normal levels in Q3 and Q4 2021.

Short-term retailing will become increasingly important for brands and local businesses who can choose to pop up at specific locations and at times most pertinent to them. There is also a growing opportunity for conventional high street brands to utilise the flexibility of pop up retail to retain a physical presence in shopping venues but by different means.

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