Thinking outside the shop

THE GATES Shopping Centre’s fresh approach to boosting the UK high street experience is a shining example of the predictions made by retail guru Mary Portas in a recent Government commissioned report.


Durham’s main city centre retail destination, which has been open for over 35 years, has been finding inventive ways of creating new revenue for the centre during the recent economic dip.


In her report, retail expert Mary Portas suggested that town centres need to start acting like a business, something which The Gates shopping centre manager Inge Johnson has been embracing for some time; seeing an increase in centre revenues as a result of new initiatives, as well as an impressive 25% increase in footfall over the 2011 Christmas period.


The centre has utilised the fact that it holds the city’s largest indoor car park by offering season tickets for office workers in Durham. Four empty units have also been successfully filled since July and have made use of a further empty unit by giving it over to art groups for community use.


Inge, who welcomes the recommendations made in the report said: “I wanted to add further value to the centre by offering extra services that would draw in new customers. Shoppers, retail business owners and general businesses and workers in the Durham area have all now got something else to come to The Gates for other than retail.


“Using empty shops for community and art projects for free is ideal because it means whilst a retail business is not occupying the unit we can still provide something that customers can enjoy, and also it helps attract new people to the centre who might not otherwise have thought to come here.


“In 2011 we held a Halloween event called Zombiepalooza, a Christmas exhibition and hosted two installations for the Lumiere festival, that’s to name but a few of the activities that show we’ve tried to be more forward-thinking. Lumiere alone saw an 85% footfall increase in the same week in the previous year.


“I want to show the people of Durham how The Gates has changed; we have great value shops and restaurants, as well as a number of fantastic independent businesses, but also provide added value in the form of great value parking, events and arts and culture; and the centre is doing much better because of us thinking outside the shop as it were.”


Another of Mary Portas’ key recommendations in the Government report was to provide affordable town centre parking, of which The Gates has in abundance.


Centre manager Inge said: “We have great sized car parks here with nearly 500 spaces, open from 7am to 10.30pm. As there are limited parking options in Durham City centre, we have opened up an offer of a car park season ticket to local businesses.


“We have so far seen a considerable uptake whereby we had 49 season ticket holders in June 2011 which has now jumped to 124 adding over £7,400 to our monthly non-rental income.


“Mary Portas’ report discussed a national market day to encourage both indoor and outdoor markets – this is something we would definitely consider hosting within The Gates, so is a potential next step for us in 2012. Attracting new retail companies into our modern, city centre retail destination, and continuing to increase footfall with good quality outlets and plenty of things happening in the mall, will be my main focus this year.


“I am excited about what the rest of 2012 holds for The Gates as the UK economy starts to recover, I think we are already in a good position to grow our retail offer this year.”


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