The retail industry is constantly evolving – from thriving high streets, made up of independent retailers to out of town mega-malls, full of chain stores – it is always striving to anticipate the next trend to meet consumer needs.
In recent years, the future of the high street has become increasingly at risk … under constant threat from online retailers with lower overheads, with the tantalising promise of delivery in as little as a few hours. Exacerbated by the Covid-19 global pandemic, consumers have been actively avoiding face-to-face retail experiences, forcing many smaller retailers (and some significant larger ones) to pull down their shutters for good.
While it sounds pretty gloomy, there is something exciting happening behind many of those boarded-up windows. For once, it’s not just another charity shop – there’s an entertainment revolution happening right beneath those sorry-looking hoardings, and it just might be the key to the high street’s revival.
The rise of retailtainment
The concept of retailtainment is not completely new. Many large brands have achieved success in recent years by incorporating live events and personalised elements into their customer buying experience. Innovations such as Story at Macy’s, which has seen collaborations with brands such as Levi’s Kids x Crayola (custom patch designs for kids’ denims) and MAC Cosmetics (make up workshops and ‘create your own colour palette’ experiences) have been around for some time now. The aim being to give consumers another reason to return to the store, rather than simply a change in season.
However, added-value experiences aren’t often viable options for smaller retailers and it’s clear that this alone will not save the high street. More is needed to fill those empty retail spaces. In Bristol, where Rugged’s sales office is based, we have seen the sad decline of the Galleries shopping centre, along with the loss of many large stores, including BHS, a four-storey Debenhams and the recent closure of Marks and Spencer’s after almost 70 years of city centre trading. These sad stories are replicated around the country, but it’s not all doom and gloom… just take a look at what’s happening in the old Debenhams store in Wandsworth…
Destination leisure has landed
Long established in the UK’s trampoline park market, Gravity Active Entertainment have now leapt at the opportunity to mix things up and have been instrumental in transforming a defunct department store into an entertainment space for all ages. By day, family activities include bowling, e-karting, golf and e-gaming; by night, adults can also enjoy cocktails and dining options.
Picture courtesy of Landsec
This transformation of unloved retail real estate into a multigenerational fun space, where experiences are shared, and memories made has certainly changed the face of this high street. In addition, it brings much-needed foot traffic to the area, increasing the opportunity for a boost in sales to other local enterprises. ‘Destination leisure’ has firmly arrived in Wandsworth – how long will it be before this is the norm all over the country?
Creating the greatest space
As demand grows, more venues will be looking to diversify their offerings to draw in a larger audience. Variety is super important, and a combination of interactivity, gamification and challenge will ensure customers play longer and return more often. Operators may opt to have different sections within their venue, with activities such as go karting and mini golf accessed via a ‘pay and play' model. Alternatively, they might adopt a theme park approach, charging a single-entry fee that gives players access to a mass of activities under one roof. Whatever they decide, carefully selecting games and activities that appeal to a wide audience is the key to ensuring return visits.
Rugged’s interactive games have already proved to be a crowd-pleaser in trampoline and indoor entertainment parks, now next generation installations such as Freedom Gaming and FaceOff look set to take the destination leisure world by storm.
Freedom Gaming blends tech and action perfectly in a fast-paced, ‘hunt the lights’ team game, while the highly addictive FaceOff is a fast and furious 1v1 challenge where players face each other to compete on transparent, back-to-back reaction walls. Although at opposite ends of the spectrum for space and gameplay, both products are based on the concept of gamification, with players competing to achieve a high score. This gives operators the perfect opportunity to run competitions where ‘points mean prizes’. Plus, there’s now a score to beat and a leaderboard to top – perfect for social media posts.
Any down time in an entertainment centre is opportunity lost and revenue missed. So, finding a way to appeal to diverse groups, such as parents and toddlers, teenagers and corporate event hire, is key to a thriving venue. Installing games and attractions that appeal to multiple age groups adds versatility and encourages repeat visits from families, groups of friends and couples alike, thus securing a broad customer base from morning through to evening.
The high street might still be a little tired in some neighbourhoods right now, but it looks like the tide is turning and we’re about to ride the new destination leisure wave.