Profile: BCSC Shopping Centre Managers' Conference

Published:  20 January, 2010

Jonathan Doughty and Mark Rumfitt are chairing this year's BCSC Shopping Centre Managers' conference.

The BCSC’s annual shopping centre managers’ conference gathers in Bournemouth at the beginning of March this year and the joint chairmen, Jonathan Doughty and Mark Rumfitt, believe they have put together a programme that will help managers navigate their way through the current choppy waters.

“We know we need to give people a good reason to leave their desks,” says Doughty, Shopping Centre contributor and managing director of catering consultancy Coverpoint, who is in his first year as chairman. “It’s almost a matter of street fighting for centre managers right now. But you never know how far you can go until you’ve been pushed. In these circumstances the exchange of information can be essential for survival.”

And Rumfitt, manager of the Hempstead Valley shopping centre near Gillingham in Kent, is in his second year as conference chair. “We all know it’s been a difficult year,” he says, “but this is an opportunity to look back and reflect. It’s going to be interesting to see how others are coping with the downturn. And equally it’s an opportunity to look forward to a more positive 2010.

“Christmas was a welcome relief for a lot of centres,” Rumfitt observes, “and retailers’ margins seem to have held up, probably because they’re getting better at stock management. I think the product’s generally better – and better priced as well,” he says.

“We’re right in the cold months now,” says Doughty. “And a lot of managers are just looking to get through to half term when things start to pick up.”

But he adds: “The fact that there are fewer retailers left means there’s more spend at those that have survived. Certainly in the foodservice sector we’ve seen the spend gravitating towards the big shopping centres.”

Against this backdrop, the annual Shopping Centre Managers’ conference has been moved to Bournemouth. “We both thought the conference needed somewhere appropriate for the current market – it’s all about being affordable,” says Doughty. “And it was an opportunity to bring the conference back to the South.”

The Bournemouth International Centre is newly refurbished and the town itself is an interesting case-study. “The integration of retail and leisure is increasingly important, and that’s what Bournemouth’s all about,” Doughty notes.

Study tours have also been laid on to some of the varied retail destinations in the area including the Gunwharf Quays leisure and outlet retail scheme in Portsmouth; Hammerson’s West Quay in Southampton and the Castlepoint development on the outskirts of Bournemouth.

And a must-see attraction is the new John Lewis at Home store at the Poole Commerce Centre, the first of a nationwide initiative to bring the John Lewis brand to catchments that are not big enough to support a full-range JLP department store.

In terms of content, the conference will be the familiar mix of plenary sessions and break-out sessions, some aimed at experienced managers and others at those looking for a quick introduction to a particular topic.

Among the highlights, Rumfitt points to Professor Joshua Bamfield, director of the Centre for Retail Research who will look at retail prospects over the next couple of years. He expects retail growth to be strong, though patchy in some areas, and he warns unemployment is likely to continue rising for much of the next year.

“He called 2009 correctly, so a lot of people will be interested in what he has to say,” says Rumfitt.

And Helen Gordon, property director of Legal & General’s Life Fund will give the landlord’s view of the current market. “We’ll be looking to find out just what are owners’ expectations of centre managers going forward, especially on service charge levels and rents,” explains Rumfitt.

The other side of the coin – the tenant’s perspective – will come from Costa Coffee’s property director, Clive Bentley. Coffee shops are still expanding in shopping centres, and Costa’s recent acquisition of Coffee Heaven in mainland Europe gives Bentley a wider market perspective.

Customer service expert Mark Bradley will be presenting one of the plenary sessions, after a successful seminar last year. “Customers know exactly what they’re paying for, these days,” notes Doughty, “so customer service is a way of gaining competitive advantage without paying out a lot of extra money.”

And linked to this, another feature of the Bournemouth conference will be the BCSC’s annual ACE awards, which recognise excellence in customer service. This year the awards have been taken out of the conference hall and will form the centrepiece of the conference dinner, which takes place in Bournemouth’s renovated Pavilion opposite the Bournemouth International Centre.

But as well as the educational content, the SCM conference has become an important social event for many of the UK’s managers. “We’ve made sure there’s plenty of space in the programme to meet and network,” says Rumfitt.

Early indications are that delegate numbers are on a par with last year’s 500, so there’s plenty to look forward to in Bournemouth this year.

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