As the name suggests, the essence of Affinity Lancashire is connection. So how can stores operate safely whilst maintaining true to Affinity’s ethos? Cross-learning and connection across the industry is essential, so we caught up with Catherine Holmes – Centre Manager at Affinity Lancashire for her insights and to learn about their approach to reopening.
Set on a tranquil marina, it is easy to see why Affinity Lancashire is attracting customers to return for its offering from fashion to furnishings with a bit of that much needed feel-good factor.
“Since the reopening we have achieved 70% of footfall and like-for-like sales growth of 14% which reflects the confidence our customers have in us” says Catherine Holmes, whose approach prioritises the safety and wellbeing of customers and visitors.
Following advice from the government and Public Health England, the team has implemented one-way systems, utilised floor graphics, installed hand sanitising stations and information points, removed seating and closed children’s play areas. “These changes are also reflected in each of our stores across the centre to maintain customer safety throughout their whole journey with us.”
Part of that journey, is a return to the simple but necessary comforts offered at destinations like this. “Our customers are looking for some sort of normality, providing it is safe. Whilst many public bathrooms across the UK remain closed, at Affinity Lancashire we understand our customers often travel some distance to visit us and these facilities are important to them, so we are working to keep them open. Customers can use them while maintaining social distancing and they are cleaned hourly.”
From the customers, to the team and tenants, Catherine says: “the foundation of any relationship starts with trust.”
“For team members, we take the time to set individual goals which are tailored to their skillset and support them in achieving these through coaching and development, allowing the individuals and the centre to flourish as a result. It’s equally as important to forge relationships with our occupiers from store managers through to regional and head office. As a centre team, we must understand our occupiers, their business model and their objectives to ensure we can help their business grow.”
Analytics help centre teams manage, grow community and map recovery, and long before the pandemic Affinity Lancashire has used Retail Advantage to track sales performance. “At a local level, this helps us make strategic decisions and determines how we operate. The data, for example, is used to review sales performance and densities to compare categories geographically across the centre, allowing for identification of areas which would benefit from additional footfall. This in turn can be utilised to turn these quieter areas into hubs of activity through innovative use of space such as soft play, picnic areas and events. We are now adapting these areas to be COVID Secure to maintain the customer journey and experience as restrictions are lifted.”
So, what advice would Catherine give herself before starting her career in retail?
“Staying team focused is the key to any business success, you need a diverse skill-set to run a retail outlet which needs to work for an entire community. I take pride in what we’ve built at Affinity Lancashire and all the team genuinely want our customers to have the best experience. I like to remind myself that going the extra mile for a customer means different things to different people – whether it’s helping a customer who’s car has broken down or assisting a family who have lost a child’s toy. It is the kind of service which creates a legacy for years to come.”
Catherine Holmes – Centre Manager at Affinity Lancashire