We’d love to learn more about how your interest in placemaking and retail marketing began. Can you talk us through your personal and professional journey to where you are now?
My family has been in the retail industry my whole life, so I’ve grown up around it, which naturally spurred my interest.
My Dad owned a chain of retail stores in North Queensland with my Aunty and Uncle, which was where I got my first experience in the industry. It was called ‘The Drunken Goat’, selling everything from beer and sports team merchandise, such as t-shirts and bar runners, to Borat mankinis and party gifts!
“The Goat” was a much-loved institution in the North growing up, and I spent most of my school holidays working in the stores. But over time, trends changed, and they were eventually pushed out of the shopping centres by the national franchises, who could pay more rent.
It certainly gave me an appreciation of the challenges retailers faced, seeing it firsthand, and I guess I’ve been motivated to help them succeed ever since.
After leaving school, I spent time studying and then in the property and construction industry, but I always wanted to come back into this sector.
After some chance meetings with like-minded individuals whose passions aligned with mine, the chance to set up a business came up and here we are nearly ten years later.
You founded The Place Agency with a vision to help high streets, commercial precincts, public realm, and retail destinations thrive and connect with their ideal customer base. How has that vision changed over the last eight years?
This is cliché, but I honestly, hand on heart, can say our vision hasn’t changed.
We started out working on our local high streets and mixed-use retail precincts to help them in competition with the bigger shopping centres. And ten years later, we are still doing just that.
However, how we deliver those services with a clear focus on creating a holistic service experience that sits across both physical and digital channels has changed.
Previously, we couldn’t compete with the more prominent retail players on a digital scale, so our focus was solely on the in-store experience. Today the playing field is well and truly level.
Our team provide services from initial strategy through execution and ongoing management, so we’ve really developed into a full-service agency, which I’m proud of. We’ve also expanded into Sydney with several great projects and precincts we now manage up there, which has been a significant endeavour in itself.
But at our core, we still help businesses and property companies elevate their retail experience, and I’m not sure that will ever change.
As consumers increasingly buy online, how can we support businesses in the retail sector and facilitate the meaningful evolution of retail? What are some of the changing customer experience requirements to win business and remain relevant?
I say this to many people, but consumers can help by getting out of their comfort zones.
We are creatures of habit and love easy routine and familiarity. Going to the same stores, parking in the same spots, and purchasing from the same brands is comfortable for us.
In many ways, this is a legacy from the monopoly market the big brands, and shopping centres have had for on us for over a decade now. They are incredibly good at making the routine as easy as possible to maintain and likely reward you for it as well.
But times are changing. The smaller players, boutique brands and quirky hospitality businesses are coming back in a big way. The new world of accessible online business creates opportunities for many more bespoke brands to provide products and services feasibly. And COVID forced people to try new things and break long-formed habits.
Therefore, this creates renewed competition, which is great for us as consumers.
And for the first time in a long time, it’s less about the smaller brands needing to innovate or pivot; instead, it’s the more prominent players who are radically changing how they operate to stay viable or retain market share. Whether that be David Jones’s ill-fated play into F&B or Ikea recently opening its “Planning Studio” offering.
So, I think our role as consumers is to enjoy the ride but, of course, to shop around, get out of our comfort zones and explore the tidal wave of fun and exciting new offerings coming our way.
How does placemaking factor into this? Can you define placemaking in 10 words or less?
To be brutally honest, placemaking as a term has reached a point of proliferation. Its definition is now washed across three or four different disciplines, and its original purpose, in my opinion, has been significantly devalued and confused.
But for the point of delivering an answer, I’ll use it in terms of designing great public places.
Placemaking is crucial in creating a place experience that promotes foot traffic, increases customer sentiment, and builds community, allowing people to spend longer in our retail precincts and public spaces.
The challenge has always been that shopping centres have been doing this incredibly well over the last decade. Centres such as Rouse Hill in Sydney’s Hill’s Shire district are designed to feel more like a community civic centre rather than a privately owned shopping centre.
This quality placemaking, such as great public open space, public amenities such as furniture, water fountains and dog-friendly areas, as well as a consistent calendar of activations and events for the local community, promotes a level of customer engagement that builds place stickiness, which in turn helps build economic resilience.
Which raises the big ugly challenge behind placemaking.
You need bucketloads of money.
Placemaking on a budget, as hard as we try, just doesn’t cut it.
Which is where our main street precincts fall down. They don’t have the financial structures in place to be able to fund and facilitate the level of placemaking required to match it with the big guys. And whilst our local councils are slowly stepping up (some more than others), the fundamental issue remains that new models should be explored to allow precincts to compete within this space.
Some interesting concepts on the horizon address this, however.
Australia is poised to have its first BID (Business Improvement District) encompassing prime Sydney locations such as Barangaroo, Walsh Bay, Darling Harbour and Pyrmont. The idea is that businesses within this district would pay a levy, with the funds supporting placemaking, marketing and infrastructure improvement initiatives which would return benefits to the investing businesses.
If it works – it could be a game-changer for local retail precincts.
Can you please give an example of placemaking activities that may help a place define its identity and strengthen its position in a highly competitive market?
This isn’t very objective, but I am loving what the City of Melbourne is currently delivering to help reactivate retail precincts across the city and in places such as Docklands and Carlton. It provides a fantastic platform for up-and-coming brands and businesses to get into what is traditionally an incredibly competitive marketplace.
Essentially it provides a service that businesses can apply to occupy vacant retail space for short-term pop-ups or activations. The City provides funding to help the business fit out the space and supports it through ongoing marketing and communications support.
It kills two birds, so to speak.
On the one hand, it helps fill vacancies in the city and improve the place experience for visitors. And two, it connects with hundreds of brands and businesses that may have never otherwise engaged with the city, creating a network that can be considered for future retail planning.
Good concept and delivered exceptionally by team Place Agency!