Pitfalls to avoid during a hotel refurb

We are seeing how increasingly, hotels are responding to these changes, with many focusing on becoming social hubs for the local community and destinations to work, eat, meet and relax. More corporate guests are extending their stay into weekends , giving rise to what has become known as the ‘bleisure’ trend. This in turn is driving the need for hotels to be flexible with their social spaces, such as bars able to be transformed into meeting rooms, or restaurants into night clubs. It is the hotels that respond to these trends and changes by embarking on a rejuvenation scheme approximately every seven years, which are the least likely to experience a dip in profit.

When done properly, renovations can take considerable investment, both financially and with time. It is important to have a well thought out plan of action, with clearly defined steps. Criteria to consider include ensuring that refurbishments align with low reservation periods, to help reduce or avoid hotel revenue loss. But rather than closing the hotel entirely during the works, another option could be to close it in sections, commencing with the lobby and ancillary areas, and then dividing the bedrooms into smaller unoccupied sections, to try to avoid noise disturbance impacting on guests.

Having a strong procurement plan and committing to a programme with realistic deliverables and timescales is essential to help drive value engineering. Nobody wants to waste time by tendering a project for a desired scheme, only to find out that it comes in over budget. If as built information is not available, it helps to undertake a thorough dimensional survey and MEP survey of the entire building. This is where it is prudent to obtain the support of an experienced Project Management and Cost Management team.

One could say that choosing the right team with a ‘can-do’ attitude and experience that reflects the project type and having them in place from the beginning, is key to the success of the entire project. After all, there is no point in undertaking a rejuvenation scheme if it becomes sabotaged by spiralling costs and unnecessary delays.

Tenders for Main Contractors (MCs) with the correct pedigree, need to be carefully considered and they should be able to demonstrate previous experience of the project type. It is advisable to lock them into the tender and to check their financial status and the project value against their turnover and current order book. MCs also need to submit a detailed programme with their tender, including a description of their logistical plan and most importantly a weekly prediction of their labour resources on site each week. This is again where an experienced Project Manager who is familiar with a host of local MCs can offer pertinent advice before awarding the contract. It is also prudent to ensure that the correct type of Contract is in place with the Main Contractor before works commence, to avoid potentially a multitude of unexpected costs and complications arising during the refurbishment scheme.

Knowing who the clientele is and how to accommodate their needs is paramount. From this, a clear concept can then be developed, with the help of an experienced design team. A good Project Manager will be able to work alongside a design team, utilising their experience to ensure that realistic solutions are achieved, without compromising on the creative elements that will give a hotel its own robust brand identity and customer appeal. Whilst schemes should require an initial sample room fit-out for sign off, an experience Project Manager will help to ensure that the physical delivery of the concept is right and kept within budget, as it is rolled out to other areas.

Good communication cannot be underestimated and having a good Project Manager in place, enables all communication to be overseen and communicated through one individual, which will help facilitate a smoother process all around. The old saying ‘you get what you pay for’ rings very true when it comes to refurbishment projects and it is advisable not to skimp on consultant fees, as they are employed to look after the best interests of both the client and the project.

There is no denying that embarking on a refurbishment scheme can be challenging. However, by having the correct team in place and ensuring best business practice and good communication from the beginning, it should result upon completion in a profit increase, through being able to potentially charge more per night and attract new audiences, and ultimately to drive occupancy rates.

Airport lounges are transforming – let us help you with yours

Business travel can be dreary and time-consuming and airlines, airports and other institutions are increasingly seeing the value of investing in better airport lounges to help make this experience more enjoyable, which attracts repeat business and enhances profitability.

Airline lounges have been around for a while, offering a place of respite, some light refreshment and internet access away from the hustle and bustle of the terminals, but opportunities are afoot to make these lounges destinations in their own right —think fully-stocked bars, spa services, gourmet meals, private TSA and immigration, and being chauffeur driven across the airfield to your flight.

We are also seeing a different design approach, with what were previously rather mundane spaces, now being approached by designers in the same way that a high-end residential or hotel concept would be. They are gearing towards creating more unique and personal atmospheres, with design elements that are not generally seen in commercial projects.

As travellers prefer a sense of the location they are in, consideration is increasingly being given to the design of lounges, to embody local flavours, rather than being identical around the world. As an example, last year’s winner of the Priority Pass Annual Lounge Awards was Club Kingston at Jamaica’s Kingston Norman Manley International Airport, which includes artwork and décor sourced from across the island, as well as traditional Jamaican food and drink.

Lounge buffets are also getting makeovers, with more stations manned by chefs and an increase in grab-and-go selections, or fine cuisine from a made-to-order menu. For those travellers with more time on their hands, options for distinctive dining are also on the increase.

When it comes to technology, airports have fast become some of the most technologically advanced buildings in the world, with biometric enabled self-service check-in facilities and apps that help navigate airport processes. Airport lounges are moving into the digital field too with the likes of Etihad, Emirates and Aviapartner introducing VR entertainment technology. More than a form of entertainment, these airlines anticipate that this type of technology will enable more personalised end-to-end solutions and an enhanced user-experience.

The introduction of premium lounges is not limited to airlines; and we are seeing a wave of independent lounge programmes being launched all over the world.

rpa:group has extensive experience in terms of designing and project managing various types of Airport experiences. From First and Business class lounges to Retail, Restaurants, Airline check-in and Security combs and more, we are the ideal partner for your next airport lounge project. If you would like to know more, or need our help, please get in touch.

The 15-minute city

Perhaps the only advantage we can extract from the recent global pandemic is that we have learned to be more “local”. We have worked from home, shopped in the vicinity and learned to extract the most we can from our immediate neighbourhoods – and this notion seems to have stuck as we return to some form of normality.

In my own small village, I have recently seen new wine bars, eateries and a number of artisan shops open that sell local produce. This is breathing new life into a tired little high street and is helping to create a thriving local community that answers local needs.

The notion of a thriving local hub that fulfills the needs of its community isn’t only restricted to small communities such as my village. I recently heard about the concept of the “15 minute city” and having delved deeper, have learned that entire cities can also serve their local communites within them,  when they provide everything the local community requires within a 15 minute radius.

The concept “The 15-minute city” has been inspired by French-Colombian scientist Carlos Moreno. He believes that in cities both large and small, our sense of time has become warped by all the hours that we spend navigating our urban landscape. He feels that cities should in fact be responding to our needs, rather than vice versa.

His concept highlights that it can and should be attainable for people to have access to everything they need within a 15-minute walk or cycle of their dwellings. The six essential functions within this radius should provide living, working, commerce, healthcare, education and entertainment. This in turn makes neighbourhoods ‘human-sized’, accessible and easy for all who dwell within them.

The framework of his model lists the four components to consider as density, proximity, diversity and digitalisation. In regards to density, Moreno cites the work of Nikos Salingaros, a renowned mathematician known for his work on urban, architectural and complexity theory and design philosophy. Saligaros theorises that an optimal density for urban development exists, which encourages local solutions to local problems.

Proximity refers to both space and time. In an increasingly “time-poor” society, having everything we need in close proximity aids our quality of life and reduces the amount of space and time necessary for each activity. We can also consider the environmental impact. Simply put, less driving means less pollution.

Diversity refers to mixed-use development and facilitating diverse and multicultural neighbourhoods, both of which can inherently improve the urban experience and boost community participation in planning processes.

The final element is digitalisation, which is a key aspect of the 15-minute city. The mammoth enhancements in technology in what we may call the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”has given us all access to a connected and virtual world. Online communication and shopping makes everything easily accessible from our own homes.

When these four components combine on a mass scale, the results are accessible cities, which provide a higher quality of life and that are green and sustainable for all who live in them.

What’s next for retail?

Pre-pandemic, engagement with global environmental issues was mired in a false sense of security and widespread apathy. Brands were unsure how to authentically drive their environmental agenda, and customer engagement was hampered by sporadic profiling.

During lockdown, while fundamentally removed from the ‘white noise’ of social engagement, individuals had time to reflect on the external world and reassess their internal motivation and life choices. The fall-out of the pandemic shattered long held perceptions of personal security, economic stability, and social systems – so we sought comfort in shared values to reinforce a sense of stability.

As we emerged from the pandemic, we started to rebuild and redefine our relationships, including those with brands. Our reflection and personal accountability has challenged brands to respond in an authentic and engaging way. Technology is helping to clarify customer aspiration that was lacking pre-covid and hails a clear call-to-arms for brands

The smart brands are responding with a human-centric focus, engaging with common values, whether they’re based in wellbeing, sustainability, or inclusivity. They’re investing time, money and effort – they’re experimenting and learning and curating genuine friendships with their customers.

Leading the way however are ‘Parent’ brands, the ones that will eschew simple ‘friendship’ with the customer to garner a deeper, long-term relationship. ‘Paid Returns’, for instance, introduces a psychological cue in the online purchase process. Correctly presented, it prompts the customer to truly invest in their decision to buy, enhancing perceived value and loyalty and allows brands to prevent wastage throughout the whole-life cycle.

It is a bold and mature move? It may not be consistently popular in the early days, but which Parent is?

The department store dilemma

So, what is to become of these extinct department stores? Clearly something needs to, because space that is no longer fit for purpose has a materially adverse effect on society. Mark Burlton, MD of Cross Border Retail Ltd, a global independent retail real estate business agrees. “Even though many have heritage and are significant landmarks to which people hold an attachment, empty or abandoned buildings emit a sense of local economic distress and impact the perception of the surrounding area.”

This is when we can draw inspiration from the past. For hundreds of years, our high streets were buzzing and multi-faceted hubs, serving the local community with a thriving mix of retail, residential, services and hospitality. Over time, retail cannibalised these and the bubble has now burst.

Nigel Collett, CEO of architecture, design and cost management consultancy, the rpa:group states that what the pandemic has emphasised, is the value of community. “During lockdown, we have spent an unimaginable amount of time in our own neighbourhoods, relying far more heavily on local shops and services during this time.” He adds that this feeds into something referred to as hyper localisation, where the services providers and retailers of a community can directly understand and respond to the needs of the people living within it. “As the new normal will see many more of us working flexibly and spending more time at our homes and surrounds, it is the right time to reintroduce more community relevance and empty department stores can help,” he says.

This is because as we live a more local existence, our essential needs all need to be met and there is still a requirement for some retail, but it will be condensed. There is also opportunity for the introduction of more pop-up, adaptable event spaces, leisure and hospitality and the provision of fitness and healthcare centres. With flexible working becoming the norm, there is going to be a need for co-working spaces and “business hubs” and childcare facilities to support these, which can be accommodated by vacant department stores. “Large empty stores are usually spread over three of four floors and the space can be carefully divided up. Natural daylight is a challenge as their floor plates tend to be large, but there is scope to introduce light-wells, which make the spaces more versatile”, states Nigel.

“Structurally, many department store buildings having flat roofs, and there is opportunity to build onto these and have outdoor entertainment spaces and roof gardens or airspace hotels or residential units,” adds Nigel. Mark agrees  “Airspace construction tends to be more modular and more easily supported by the existing structure of the building. Including residential will bring more people back into towns and city centres, which is what we need.”

Like anything, there are challenges that need to be overcome.

At the onset, a detailed study would need to be carried out to foresee exactly what the needs of the local community surrounding the empty store are and to prevent any replacement being a “five minute wonder”, as Mark puts it. “Staying relevant and responding to these is the most important first step, to ensure the social and economic benefits of repurposing the retail space. A local solution needs to be taken into account and this will result in diverse outcomes”, explains Mark.

As an example, the old Debenhams site that occupied 80,000 square feet in London’s Southside Shopping Mall is being transformed into London’s first active entertainment venue, which includes a Japanese E-karting area, bowling lanes and various hospitality offerings.  Further afield, an old Macys store has been transformed into a secondary school. “In both of these instances, how these buildings are repurposed is in direct relation to answering a local need,” states Nigel.

Like anything, there are challenges that need to be overcome. Mark warns that landlords will need to be convinced that a change of use is in their best financial interest. “Local councils need to lend their support to help uplift the area. From a planning perspective, the recent government guidelines stating that planning permission is not needed for change of use needs to be approached with caution.” Nigel agrees and adds “Architects can help ensure that the character of the building is not lost and that the space is divided and utilised in the best way possible, with full safety and quality practices in place.“

We also cannot ignore the fact that repurposing multi-level retail stores is expensive and architecturally challenging and all the more reason why an experienced architect is essential. And yet, done properly, these present a strong opportunity to transform dead spaces into engaging and commercially viable ones that are adaptable and future proof, no matter what may lie ahead.

What will 2021 and beyond hold for Architects?

A RIBA statement in October last year, revealed that over £3.5 billion of work was scrapped, with a further £7.5 billion on hold. There is no doubt that times are tough and as a result, competition is fierce, which is bringing about a “race to the bottom” on price. It is up to the industry to retain consistency and standards without compromising on quality, which occurs when costs and corners are cut.

For architects involved in retail, there are additional challenges due to the pandemic escalating the popularity for online shopping. The customer journey is changing, and we need to respond to this across both the retail and hospitality sectors, by looking into placemaking and taking a multi-faceted approach. The role of designers should be transforming experiences and collaborating in a more community-driven environment. There are going to be opportunities for architects as spaces need to be repurposed to adapt to the rapidly changing market and make them work differently.

Post pandemic, making people feel safe is going to be an important criteria in how space is utilised. Airport lounges for example will increase in numbers and popularity, as people feel safer in less crowded spaces and will be prepared to pay for this premium.

The pandemic has highlighted the opportunity to be innovative. We will start to see the regeneration of town centres, with vacant office and retail units making way for more placemaking facilities, with spaces for people to live, work and play.

What of rural areas? There is concern over the impact that Brexit has had on these communities, which have seen funding all but disappear. Rural estates need to be optimised to work a little harder, and to look into opportunities for change of use, such as including holiday accommodation, conference, leisure and lifestyle facilities.

And what of London and the larger cities? Interestingly, certain sectors respond more slowly to change, and what is referred to as “critical impact” can take up to three years. What we will start to see more of is changes to the profiles of buildings and some environmental changes, with more and more green spaces.

Overall, there is optimism about the residential sector. The large government debt will see the need for more jobs to be created, to generate taxes to help the economy recover. This will result in more employment in the construction industry. Advancements in construction methods will be explored more than ever, prioritising the use of off-site modern methods of construction (MMC) to deliver homes at a faster pace than traditional methods.  Schools can also take advantage of this form of construction to speed up the shortfall.

However, off-site needs to think very carefully about the environment and sustainability, for what is basically moving boxes of air over vast distances. A way round this is to source things as locally as possible.

There is no doubt that sustainability is going to be increasingly important regardless of sector. With government targets set to achieve net zero carbon by 2050, advancements in technology can support this initiative by utilising collaborative tools such as BIM level 2, which gives an accurate picture of  initial costs and whole life costs, encouraging clients to implement sustainable solutions upfront. BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) will become an increasingly important factor in architecture, being the world’s leading sustainability assessment method for master planning projects, infrastructure and buildings.

In conclusion, there are certainly going to be challenges, but also opportunities that arise from the shifting needs for buildings and spaces and how we will use them.

Why hoteliers should be refurbishing during a pandemic

This is when operators who have planned for a refurbishment scheme have the upper hand. One of the key factors when undertaking works is to avoid disturbance to guests.  With many hotels now at low or zero occupancy, disruption is at a minimum and works can happen more quickly and efficiently.

The government is currently assisting the hospitality industry by helping with staff costs, and this support offers an added reason why hoteliers should be using this time to carry out refurbishments, if they can afford to – it’s as simple as that.

Having a strong procurement plan and committing to a programme with realistic deliverables and timescales is essential. This is where it is prudent to obtain the support of an experienced Project Management and Cost Management team. After all, there is no point in undertaking a rejuvenation scheme if it becomes sabotaged by spiralling costs and unnecessary delays.

Thinking ahead, what customers will need more than ever is reassurance that the hotel they are checking into is a safe place to stay. Aside from reconfiguring guest flow and ensuring communal spaces adhere to social distancing guidelines, some operators are installing thermal CCTV systems, where cameras can take up 30 people’s temperatures as they walk through the door.  Guests are also more likely to spend increased amounts of time in their rooms, where they feel more secure and so these need to offer more than just somewhere to sleep. This could require repurposing areas of bedrooms, for the provision of adequate working facilities. Other increasingly important criteria will include proper entertainment, fast and reliable Wi-Fi and up to date technology.

So, whether hotel operators can embark on large-scale refurbishment schemes, or a series of small but important upgrades, they should be using this time to implement these, ready to entice and reassure future guests when normal travel resumes.

transforming office blocks

As we all experience the profound impact of Covid-19 and the changes we have had to make, it has probably had some of the greatest impact on our working lives. Previously, flexible working was mostly pioneered by a few of us who had “earned our stripes” and the right to work remotely. Forced into this situation, what has undoubtedly been proven is that we can all be adaptable and productive, while working from home and that this seems here to stay. Already, a BBC study has discovered that at least 50 major UK employers have no plan to return all their staff to their offices on a full-time basis.

Of course, remote working isn’t suitable for everyone and there are circumstances when face-to-face communication is the most effective way to get things done, but this won’t be on the same scale as before. Many large companies are already dramatically saving costs on office space and associated utilities, by having most of their work force operate from home. Employees also benefit because they save on commuting costs and gain the ultimate gift of time.

As architects, we at rpa:group believe that this major shift towards working from home will have a significant impact on the built environment and begs the question; what is to become of vast office blocks, as the need for them and the demand for commercial office space declines.

We think that an obvious solution is to repurpose them into homes. According to the BBC’s Housing Briefing, it is estimated that we have built 1.2 million fewer homes than we should have, and the need for more homes is increasing. Calculations suggest that it will take at least 15 years at current building rates to close the gap and more concerningly, not enough of what is being built is affordable.

Office blocks lend themselves to this cause for several reasons, with a prime benefit being that so many are open plan. Partition walls can easily divide vast spaces into new living areas. Another key advantage is the existing health and safety standards that would have been in place when the buildings were used commercially, which surpass residential guidelines. Repurposing buildings also benefits the environment as there is less need for new materials and land to be utilised.

Structurally, large open office spaces tend to be solidly constructed and surround a central service core containing lifts, plumbing, ducts and risers, fire stairs, bathrooms and equipment. Wet areas located against the core can easily be connected to the building services and systems. Most modern office buildings already have the advantage of a 3-meter floor to ceiling height and large windows to allow plenty of natural light. There is also often scope to move various exterior walls, in order to create outside spaces.

Many office buildings accommodate ground floor shops and restaurants that rely on high levels of commuting office workers to survive and who are suffering as their trade dries up. Converting office spaces above into residential will provide a steady stream of local customers. Add to this the scope to include sports facilities, health centres, hair and beauty salons and childcare centres, among others, will result in the formation of micro-communities, breathing essential new life into the business districts of our towns and cities.

However, this all comes with a word of caution. The influx of vacant office spaces available is enticing developers to take advantage of the new Permitted development Rights (PDR). What this means is that offices can be converted into residential units via a “fast-track” process, without planning permission. As attractive as this new planning system seems to be, it comes with limitations and conditions.

Firstly, prior approval must be sought from the local authority to ensure that PDR can be allowed. Without the expertise of consultants, there are growing concerns about the increase of micro flats, lack of amenity space and little or no consideration for the needs of the local community and how this can impact negatively on them. Low-quality housing and inadequate housing standards are also on the rise and being reported with inconsistencies in the delivery of PDR developments.

We at the rpa:group strongly believe that what should never be compromised when transforming office blocks into homes, is the creation of environments that have been sensitively designed to provide a high quality of living. As architects and experts in the planning process, we can help realise projects and assist with all important prior approvals, helping to achieve a successful scheme that considers the wider community, and safeguards and maintains better housing standards for all.

UK high streets need to be more about creating communities and less about just retail

On a recent trip to Scotland, the difference between the high streets of two of the towns I visited was remarkable. My partner comes from the West Coast town of Ayr and when we decided to spend an afternoon shopping, he became increasingly despondent about what had happened to the high street. “This place used to be buzzing” he said as we walked past copious boarded up shops. Dotted between them, a few were still open, but so empty that the smiles of the shop assistants looked more desperate than welcoming.

Unfortunately, Ayr’s high street is just one of many in the UK suffering the same fate. According to the British Retail Consortium, vacancies in town centres climbed to a record four-year high of 10.2%. Rows of empty shops don’t help the situation because they deter consumers and this puts even more pressure on neighbouring retailers to try and attract business, who are often themselves forced to close, through lack of sales and so the vicious cycle continues…

The one part of Ayr’s town centre that was still thriving and seemed to have sucked in the majority of shoppers was Ayr Central shopping centre. It boasts the usual big name retailers such as Debenhams, Next, Primark and Topshop etc. that we have come to expect from larger towns, but here they are all located around a large, glass covered and pedestrianised central area, interspersed with places to eat and various public seating spaces. What this sheltered central area has created is a communal space, without pollution from passing traffic, that invites people to congregate – and groups of people having fun and socialising attracts others do the same.

In complete contrast to Ayr’s high street is the high street in Bridge of Allan in Stirlingshire. Here, it is lined with artisan galleries and independent restaurants, pubs and cafes, boutiques, gift shops and homeware stores. In fact, I did not see a single big name retail or hospitality brand anywhere, because these are all located in nearby Stirling – and yet the Bridge of Allan high street was bustling with shoppers. It is safe to ascertain that the very reason for this success is because it isn’t a replica of every other high street. Instead, it celebrates its uniqueness and its local authenticity – and in so doing it has become an integral part of the local community it serves.

One could argue that Bridge of Allan is an upmarket town, and its residents have plenty of disposable local income, which benefits businesses – but the fact remains that regardless of local wealth, high streets that celebrate being individual and cater for their local community are far more likely to be successful.

So, what do Ayr’s Central Shopping Centre and the high street of Bridge of Allan get right? Both are different to each other, yet both answer a growing need in consumers. This is because people don’t want town centres to be clones of each other anymore. The “one size fits all” approach no longer works and it is now about celebrating and offering individuality that is as unique as the lifestyles and the needs of the people they cater for. This is why retailers and other high street businesses will need to put in the work to really get to know the communities they serve. People are far more likely to respond to brands that have made a conscious effort to respond to their local needs; designing and creating environments that are synonymous with this.

The time is ripe to focus on creating varied communities in towns, that cater for the people who live in them. Other factors will help drive this. Rail fairs are continuing to increase and will mean that more people will be tempted to find work locally, or with the aid of technology and the advancements of 5G, will spend more time working flexibly in neighbourhood communal work spaces or from home. Also, fewer people are owning cars – and in the long term, this will create more opportunities to pedestrianise high streets, making them less noisy and polluted and therefore more effective in enticing people to spend time in these spaces – something Ayr Central shopping Centre has already got right.

It is time to return to the root of what people want; the creation of multi-faceted communities offering variety and meeting a diversity of local needs, rather than being purely retail. These communities will attract people and breathe new life into the area, but first, vacant retail spaces will need to be repurposed to serve a new function and answer a new need. High Streets need to share retail space with residential, working, leisure, health and educational spaces. These communal “hubs” will form part of a symbiotic community that won’t shut down at 6pm, so that around the clock there will always be life and purpose to them.

getting ahead in the fitness industry race

You don’t need to read these types of reports to know that the fitness and health club industry is on a continuing growth path and that an exciting future lies ahead, for both budget and premium fitness businesses. Stroll along any high street and you will encounter a shop that has been replaced by a gym. Offering high spec equipment, no hefty membership fees, the convenience of 24 hour accessibility and the ability to join online and on-site, allows people to begin their fitness journey within minutes. The prediction is that the fitness sector will continue to break all barriers as the consumer gets easier access, with more personalisation, localisation and easier sign-up and payment options.

With bricks and mortar retail increasingly under pressure, and store closures in evidence daily across many UK towns, these new gyms also breathe life into struggling high streets. They can absorb vacant shops and help save high street communities that would otherwise face the risk of turning into ghost towns.

Businesses like PureGym are perfectly placed to take over vacant space near transport hubs and on UK high streets, with a model that has helped them become the first operator to reach 200 clubs and impressively pass the one million-member mark in 2018, with no signs of slowing down.Naturally, transforming a previous retail or business space into a suitable fitness hub, requires necessary design management, development management and cost expertise. When combined, these go a long way in supporting business such as PureGym and helping to ensure that their expansion is not compromised by poor time keeping on delivery of roll-outs, or being at risk from poorly managed budgets.

Various factors come into play, where good PM and QS services can prove invaluable in helping deliver an expansion programme. A recent example of this for us has been a change of use from office space into a gym, that required extensive negotiations with the landlord and a structural engineer, to overcome weight-loading issues – vital, when considering that gym equipment is far heavier than office furniture. A solution involving a new floor sub-structure and additional support to the existing structure, ensured that the building was safe and fit for its new purpose.Other factors overseen by a project manager include acoustics and soundproofing and also the strength and suitability of floor surfaces and how these will withstand impact. Then there is planning, signage and being the key negotiator between client and contractor. Because some gyms are open 24 hours, safety is paramount and has a different set of building regulations, such as remote monitored CCTV, panic alarms, help points and the correct implementation of all fire and safety requirements.

Where in many instances internal teams can differ, it is up to the PM and QS to ensure that there is consistency in the delivery of the final product, through efficient communication with contractors. Similarly, because multiple sites are often underway simultaneously, a PM and QS can apply their learnings from one contractor to another, instilling best practice across all.One might argue the need for external support, if the client already has their own in-house PM? To this our answer is simply that the additional support from an external PM and QS, will in fact offer greater savings, through their efficiencies and contract negotiations. You could say that a good QS and PM can save you more than they cost!

The opportunity to develop and to meet the increasing demands of today’s fitness market is vast and whilst competition is strong, there is ample room for change, diversity and progression in years to come. There truly has never been a more inspiring and rewarding time to invest in fitness.

essential retail design trends for 2019 that can’t be ignored



The speed at which things change visually with shopping websites and the constant advancements in technology, mean that customers have come to expect the same frequency of change in physical stores. This means that with the exception of grocery stores, (where customers want and expect familiarity), “Bricks and mortar” retailers need to allow for the customer journey and experience to be refreshed regularly. Because, when it comes to retail environments, flexibility drives engagement so there is a very real need to create environments that are easily adaptable. This means that the displays, the spaces around them and how these are used, is more important than ever.


It is during the design process that the need for flexibility first needs to be considered, and it is both the designers and the manufactures who need to fully understand what the retailer motivations are. There is essentially a hierarchy of needs to be taken into account. These are: delivering engagement, experience, flexibility, convenience and using quality materials that are fit for purpose, all of which when implemented collaboratively, will generate well designed, flexible and engaging retail environments.


Store design must support experiential and personal environments, that resonate with each consumer on an individual level. We are sensory creatures and sight, sound, touch, taste and smell when utilised synchronistically, deliver an engaging sensory experience that naturally leads to empathy. This in turn creates longevity of a relationship with a brand. In other words, stores need to be created to “sell from the inside, as well as the outside”.


With many physical retailers continuing to pay premium rents, stores need to be designed to allow for the maximum use of space and purpose. With customer perspectives of physical space in stores also changing, selling space is morphing into experiential space – and the proportions of purely sales versus engagement space, needs to be adapted as such.


We are seeing stores becoming show-rooms and distribution centres, as well as conventional purchasing platforms. Offering fulfilment services such as “click and collect” is increasingly important and innovative physical retailers are merging online and offline experiences with the offer of convenience and ease of access. Here, customers can choose how much they wish to engage with the store. They can obtain product information directly from knowledgeable staff members face-to-face, (something online shopping cannot provide), or simply pick up a pre-ordered online purchase from a locker, while passing by.


An increasing number of online retailers are opening physical stores. The function of these are not necessarily to buy product, but to provide an all important physical interaction with the brand, offer customers product trials and the opportunity to acquire product knowledge from informed brand representatives. This strengthens the customer relationship with the brand but for this to truly work, the design and fixtures need to bridge the gap between the online and physical stores – creating an easily identifiable synchronicity of themes and colours that are inherently recognisable within both the online and the physical stores.


Technology used accurately, will continue to go a long way to deliver engagement. The use of touch screens, in-store tablets, virtual reality and devices such as smart mirrors, are all helping to deliver this. Mobile usage continues to grow and retailers are increasingly seeking to capture the attention of customers in-store by utilising tools such as iBeacon technology, to “push” information specific to them. Some brands are opting for portable tech, which continues to create opportunities for brand interaction, even when the customer is no longer in the store. Tommy Hilfiger, for example, is using smart tags in their clothing, that the customer chooses to activate. These then track how often and where the item is being worn, rewarding the wearer accordingly.


If anything, good service interactions are as critical as well-designed environments and also need to be “designed” to form part of the entire store experience. Training and support is becoming increasingly essential, to ensure that staff have the brand and product knowledge that allows them to be a key part of the delivery of the full sensory experience to shoppers.


What politicians could learn from retailers…

In sharp contrast, the fast-paced retail industry welcomes the competition that makes it focus on brand building and customer delivery. The old adage that customers vote with their feet is never far from mind, and every retailer knows their success depends on securing a ‘vote’ for their brand 365 days a year. If one compares the general management style of our politicians to the world of retail there are some interesting comparisons to be made. First of all, retailers are campaigning all the time. Their media and marketing machines, design, research and development departments and customer insight experts never stand down or drop their guard. They know that you are only as good as your last customer interaction.

By comparison, political parties market themselves every few years at local or general elections. Polls happen all the time of course, but they reach their apogee over a few weeks of electioneering. One could argue that the typical voter, is most receptive at those moments when they will either ‘buy’ one political brand or another. As a consequence politicians know their voters far less than retailers know their customers. As retail designers we make sure that customer insight lies at the bedrock of a retail brand’s existence. If you can’t deliver to consumers the products they want, in an environment where they want to shop, with a great customer experience, then you will fail. Brands have no mandate that will last them until the next election. Their values, their manifesto if you like, are based on an understanding of the desires and needs of customers.

I cannot think of an example in the retail industry where a CEO (Theresa May) and two managing directors (personal advisors) have conducted a strategy that ignores the company’s entire management team (the cabinet) and ultimately the company’s customer base (the electorate). Somebody pointed out that May had been too ‘presidential’ in her campaign and insufficiently ‘collegiate’. As all those who work in retail know, a ‘collegiate’ management style – working as a team, and putting the customer at the heart of all you do – is the template for success. We also saw social media, particularly Facebook, used by the Conservatives and Labour in very different ways. The Tories ran a campaign where hundreds of different messages could be delivered at a granular level, targeting people down to their postal code. Campaign content amounted to little more than blunt character assassination. On the other hand, Labour engaged with the battle weary electorate by using positive imagery and messaging.

Of course, the retail industry is no stranger to social media and spends millions on sophisticated personal profiling and targeting, but I cannot imagine a situation where one leading brand would run an ad telling you how bad a competitor’s products are. Sadly, in the UK we have almost arrived at a Hobson’s Choice and something is needed to sharpen and energise Westminster. Perhaps taking a closer look at the retail sector and how it engages with customers might improve the thinking of parties and what they deliver to all of us?


retailers need to be more “chameleon”

The answer appears to be no. Many retailers are embracing omni-channel in a token way. All too often the mindset is bricks and mortar + online + the brand, frequently the missing ingredient of ‘us’ the consumer. Retailers should act more like one of nature’s triumphs: the Chameleon. This fascinating animal is seamlessly and constantly responsive to its local environment and adapts to external factors in an incredibly agile way. It is one of nature’s most flexible and responsive creatures. Omni-channel requires a more flexible and Chameleon-like response to the consumer and the crucible for this interaction is the store space itself. The physical shop should be every bit as flexible as its digital counterpart and both should be mutually relevant to the consumer. Brands need to understand the relationship between physicaland digital experience better and allow themselves time to experiment, innovate and find what is right retailers need to be more “chameleon” In a world obsessed with separation it’s refreshing that retail at least supports an ecosystem fuelled by inclusivity and interaction.

I am of course referring to omni-channel. Here, borders cannot be closed, evolution cannot be halted and output should signpost the desires of future generations. But I have to ask, do retailers really understand how to fully exploit this dynamic ecosystem? within their own ecosystem so they can be flexible and responsive. Apple demonstrated this in 2001. The brand introduced collaborative side-by-side selling with passionate, knowledgeable staff who could respond to customers’ needs, demands and preferences. In essence the brand had created its own customer laboratory, a test bed where customer experience could be placed under the microscope. Since then we’ve seen most other retail sectors adopt the same key concepts. In a word, to be more Chameleon-like. But how many retailers have a store that allows for speedy reconfiguration in response to what shoppers actually want in that particular country, city or specific locality? Some have used a kit of parts approach whereby a new look store can ‘pop up’ through clever used of graphics and modular elements.

Foot Locker’s Sidestep brand, for example, is agile, collaborative, and happy to bury its ego. At the same time, it is able to reflect its core message, react with authenticity and evolve naturally within a unique brand ecosystem. Sidestep has created an engaging environment using storytelling, an ancient and universal form of immersion, as a base concept. The ‘style editor’ staff form an integral part of the experience by garnering feedback. This has allowed Foot Locker to experiment with content, adding and subtracting collateral and gaining feedback from the fiercely loyal customer base before committing to permanent stores. True brand immersion relies on authentic storytelling, skillful editing and the sharing of brand essence. It can be used both to reinforce the brand and to evolve it.

If you get the formula right it can be just as powerful in a Pop-up as a flagship. The only caveat is that the message has to be genuine. Some are getting it right and have understood the Chameleon concept totally, while others’ lack of adaptability and customer sensitivity makes them stick out like a sore thumb. Wherever you find yourself, the end goal should be to use your store as a learning environment, to reflect your customer’s thinking and desires and, most importantly, to be flexible and responsive with the knowledge you have gained. Being a Chameleon doesn’t mean losing sight of your brand truths. It means being able to reflect the thinking of your customers in the appearance and functionality of your store.

the perfect store is the result of a ‘right’ brain ‘left’ brain balance…

Store design and brand thinking has gone astray for many retail brands and it seems that stores are either being too creative or too analytical and are missing out on a blend or balance of the two. The most successful stores achieve a balance of the two hemispheres.

Former Burberry CEO (now at Apple) Angela Arendhts rather tellingly pointed out that Burberry cherished both the right and left-brain, but more importantly relished thinking that was a union of both. Her current partnership with Apple’s design guru Jonathan Ive is already revitalising the look of its stores and taking the brand into new territory that fits a changing product base. The store in Belgium, for example, is filled with trees and boasts huge glass walls, doubtless very creative. However, it is bringing the outside world into the store, thereby underlining the unquestioned mobility and freedom of Apple’s products, which shows the logical left-brain at work.

It’s a big statement that is ‘on brand’ and the result of both hemispheres working together. Achieving this balance is easier than you may think. It simply requires designers to understand more about how consumers think and behave. This is easily achieved if designers work with retail marketers, psychologists and digital specialists to address a store’s ‘big picture’, thereby enabling the space to deliver everything the customer wants. Increasingly, this means understanding the basics of what makes shoppers ‘tick’. A retail psychologist, for example, will be able to tell you that your fate is sealed in just 1,000th of a second, as that is how long it takes for people to get their first impression of your store. And a digital expert will tell you that IT ‘bells and whistles’ should not be too prominently on display, but available and on demand and strategically placed. What will change the fortunes of flagging brands on the high street is the creation of a team where both left and right brains are given an equal shout, a team that decides the retail destiny of the brand. I think that more collaboration in this style will throw up some unexpected and enviably successful retail projects.

pop-up comes of age

The Telegraph revealed recently that almost a third of new businesses launched in the UK over the next two years will start life as a pop-up and reminded us that UK burger chain Meatliquor, now valued at £20m, started life in various car parks and vacant lots with just a van and a Twitter account. Like most successful brands, they happened to hit the zeitgeist but their success is not just inspiring a new generation of entrepreneurs, it is also putting some fire in the belly of more established brands who are also hoping to catch the wave.

The line between pop-ups and traditional retail has all but disappeared and yesterday’s transient and sassy retail concept has now become a central plank in the strategy of the biggest brand names. The benefits are obvious, pop-up stores, by their temporary nature, have a novelty value and are often seen as an edgy accompaniment to the main brand or as an attempt to ‘reach out’ to the customer. They also provide a good venue to break new ideas and products and remain flavour of the month with the press.
One established global brand that has used the concept to great effect is Foot Locker, which employed a pop-up strategy to evolve and define their Sidestep brand. Sidestep launched three pop-ups in Europe, made from a ‘kit of parts’ that could be re-jigged to suit customer preferences, a fine tuning strategy that allowed the store to act as a retail lab, in which design and presentation could be changed to suit customer behaviours and needs.

Foot Locker followed on from this activity by building the same flexibility into their new Runners Point stores across Europe. Pop-up is now a profitable vehicle for bringing innovative retail experiences to life, and the names we see popping up around us are getting bigger. With brands like Foot Locker, Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton and Nokia investing in the trend, we are perhaps only at the beginning of the pop-up revolution.

generation z – connecting with ‘Screenagers’ before its too late

And yet surprisingly, Gen Z is still seen as no more than a small blip on the radar for most high street brands, which seems crazy as they are the world’s fastest growing consumer group and currently make up 25% of the UK population. Gen Z has massive spending power, will soon represent 40% of consumers and by 2020 will make up 40% of the population in the world’s biggest markets, including the USA, Europe, China, India, Brazil and Russia.

How can retail connect with this important, marketing aware group that literally represents its future? Firstly, there are a few things that need to be understood and challenges that must be faced. Gen Z has been targeted by advertising from birth and has an aversion to being treated as just another another ‘sale’? JWT’s research stresses the point that any brand producing even a hint of self-interest or cynical behavior will be quickly found out, and for that reason we will have to design stores that not only fulfill their desires, but also meet their expectations. Retail destinations will not only have to provide ‘theatre’ but also a welcoming and honest interaction with the brand. Above all, we must remember that Gen Z wants to enjoy the retail stage but isn’t in the market for huge amounts of brand ‘fiction’ or storytelling. Obviously, retail needs to get on the wavelength of this age group right now and evolve stores accordingly.

Perhaps it’s a matter of evolution rather than revolution? For example, we should possibly be seeing the tired old free phone charging point and low end computer for customer use, currently tucked away at the back of the store, become genuine ‘Dialogue points’, where conversations with the brand can be initiated Maybe, shops should have chill zones where Gen Z can sign in with a thumb-print, the ultimate unique identity badge, to get personalized bargains and enjoy the kudos of being part of a brand fraternity.

Gen Z’ers would be happy to work with designers on what tomorrow’s stores should look like, they are natural ‘collaborators’ and ‘doers’, so why not enlist their help? Retailers should be exploiting that collaborative characteristic right now, so they can build shops that Gen Z will truly value.

if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product

Personalisation is now widely regarded as a way for “bricks” retailers to offer customers a seamless experience between the digital and physical worlds. However, brands need to be aware that we need to feel comfortable with how things are marketed to us.

Recent research illustrates that British shoppers are embracing technology: 14% of us would use cameras in fitting rooms to share with friends via apps or social media, 22% are interested in on screen offers in fitting rooms and 40% of us want to check if a products is available in-store via an app. But all of these things are baby steps and as easy for the average shopper to accept, as contactless payments or click and collect.

The really big stuff is just around the corner with brands planning to get ‘closer’ to us through improved personalisation. Some developments currently being mooted have the ring of science fiction about them, for example fashion and accessories that can ‘read’ emotions as we journey around a store, enabling the shop to suggest purchases or activities in line with our moods. Perhaps a calming massage on the fifth floor or a hot beverage in the basement?

This makes me question whether the store is coming too far into our personal space. Is it all a bit creepy? After all, what we all want, is to feel that our relationship with a brand is on tap – a conversation that we can start if we want to and more importantly switch off when we feel like being alone.

Accenture’s Technology Lab has a word for the creepiness that many of us feel, it’s ‘hyper-personalisation’, a devastatingly accurate data cocktail leading to a level of consumer understanding that would shock most of us. It seems as if personalisation is about to cross a marketing Rubicon into territory where progress is not answering consumer demand but is progress for its own sake. Maybe it’s time to let the consumer catch up?



For millions across the globe ‘Britishness’ is a significant part of the authenticity of the brand they choose to buy.  It can mean everything from the heritage and cut of a Savile Row suit, to the embossed Connelly leather of an Aston Martin. Fundamentally, ‘Britishness’ has become an iconic, hard to define quality, and those brands that embody it, and succeed in turning it to their best advantage, truly stand out in the international marketplace.

We asked a straw poll of consumers what exactly ‘Britishness’ meant to them. Many said that it meant craft and quality; a sense of understated sophistication. Others expressed the fact that it is traditional, yet modern. A surprising number highlighted practicality, something well made that can be depended upon, and others said it was a creative ‘spark’ that made something unique. Asked to define the quality of ‘Britishness’ through their own choice of products, manufacturers or designers, responses ranged from The Mini, to the Rolls Royce, from Burberry raincoats to Alexander McQueen’s skull prints, and from Stella McCartney’s fashion brand to Oliver Sweeney’s funky yet traditional shoes.

All have managed to infuse their brands with a ‘Britishness’ requiring not only marketing expertise, but a ‘brand story’ that is rich in association. For Aston Martin it is the 50 year link to James Bond, whilst for Savile Row it is the sartorial image of English gentlemen ranging from Prime Ministers to Princes. Whether the brand story is rooted in nostalgia or a unique vision of the future, if it is authentic and can amplify the right elements it will succeed; but only if it’s delivered in the right way. This type of storytelling is how brands need to connect with the hearts and minds of today’s consumer.

adapt or become obsolete…

British Land has made a statement recently, to coincide with the announcement of its yearly results, that acknowledges that retailers, and therefore landlords, must adapt to the rise of digital shopping or become obsolete.

The company owns and manages over £16.4 billion of UK properties making it one of the largest listed managers of property in Europe with a portfolio focused primarily on high quality UK retail locations. It sees that stores will remain central to UK retail in a world increasingly dominated by online shopping, but warns that physical and digital shopping must be integrated, with stores becoming showrooms, as well as pick-up and return points.

Reporting a fall in full-year profits, British Land said its UK retail business had been hit by the “twin challenges” of lower consumer spending and the growth of online sales and that it was now key for both retailers and landlords  to adapt to the changing way that people shop: rational (purpose-led) and emotional (experience-led). We all know that the internet lies at the heart of these changes, not only because of the immediacy of being able to buy online, but also because of the way it enables consumers to compare prices and quality, share their opinions and shape the development of new products and services. The line between online and physical sales is getting increasingly blurred with the majority of sales more likely to have some sort of digital aspect.

From now on British Land will be expanding its digital platform and exploiting technological innovations for the benefit of both retailer tenants and consumers. The company cites a recently-struck long-term partnership with BT to introduce free Wi-Fi to all its shopping centres and extend Wi-Fi across retail parks as a first step. It’s good to see that enlightened landlords are coming to accept that it is vitally important to have the right assets, the right approach and an ability to adapt to a fast-changing retail environment and all the challenges that it brings.

all change at apple

After all, every so often, a company changes our lives, not just with its products, but with its ethos and there’s no doubt that Apple is very much the poster child of the marketing community right now. It’s worth taking a moment to consider the revolution that the brand has brought about in customer service and store design. After all, brands like this change our behaviour: how we buy, how we communicate with each other, even whether we speak with each other. Currently the biggest brand in the world, Apple has reinvented stores and created a genuinely new experience for shoppers, attracting more than a billion shoppers since the stores launched in 2001 and driving US profits of $3million per store, per quarter. Apple’s stores are designed in a very specific way, featuring large, “kitchen style” tables, which allow customers to trial as many products as they like and get to know how they work. So successful has the design been that it has been copied (illegally) in China with fake Apple stores and also adapted by Samsung in Canada.

Store employees are trained to be experts in the products, meaning that no question is too big or too small. Apple also employs roving sellers who allow customers to pay through their iTunes account on an iPad, anywhere in the store. This removes the potential for large queues and makes the overall experience more personal. In addition, it is another opportunity to showcase what the technology can do. Now Apple is hiring Angela Ahrendts, who was until today the CEO of Burberry. She is a ground-breaking thinker, having overseen a very successful revolution of the Burberry brand.  At Apple she will lead the retail and online stores effort and be responsible for the strategic direction, expansion and operations, which will further enrich the consumer experience on and offline. So are we to expect a revolution at Apple?

Angela is the second fashion CEO Apple has poached in a matter of months. Paul Deneve, former CEO and President of Yves-Saint Laurent, was hired back in July. At the time, there was much speculation as to why Deneve, who led YSL’s retail expansion, was not joining to spearhead Apple’s retail efforts, but rather as a vice president in charge of “special projects.” Apple followed up Deneve with the August hire of Enrique Atienza, a senior vice president at Levi’s, who now leads Apple’s US retail efforts. Apple says it is thrilled that they have the ex-Burberry boss on board as she shares their passion for innovation and customer experience. It will be interesting to see what ideas the ex-fashion industry ‘big guns’ will graft onto the Apple tree.

Clearly there is a very clear agenda for how Apple conducts its business, so much so that books have even been written about ‘The Apple Way’.  Maybe we are to see an expansion of the brand into related areas? Fashion? Accessories? With a brand this strong it could almost be all things to all men, thanks to the commonly held belief that what underpins most purchases are the twin concepts of trust and respect for a brand – Apple of course has these by the shedload. So, with huge monetary success and an almost evangelistic customer base, where will the triumvirate lead the brand? We predict product range extensions and a morphing of the physical Apple store into something hugely exciting and truly unique. Let’s wait and see…..

brand new friend?

More than half of the respondents said they would be “devastated” if their favorite brand went away. Not just annoyed or disappointed, but actually devastated. It’s interesting to think about what a brand is doing to develop such a deep and meaningful relationship with its consumer. Results like these are obviously nectar to the brands that would be sorely missed, but for every cherished brand there is a host of others that would love to be our best friend, but just don’t know how to go about it.

Currently, the retail world is undergoing a fundamental transformation: consumers are hyper-connected, expectations are sky-high, marketing fatigue is just another pop up ad away. The connected consumer can be fickle, treats your store like a showroom, and, thanks to social media, pays more attention to a friend’s experiences than to your promotional gambits. It’s no surprise then that traditional business models are rapidly becoming extinct, and that the relationship between retailers and consumers is shifting dramatically not day by day, but minute by minute. So, how can retailers understand, let alone keep up with this pace? Simple, they are turning to experts in other fields to help them out. One thing that is being considered is Neurological Connectivity – creating an addictive, irresistible shopping experience, from pre-shopping anticipation to consumption. Experts have determined that a brand or store has a neurological connection with customers if they approach the store visit as they would a visit to the home of a good friend. The trip requires almost no perceivable effort, because they know it is going to be a fun and enjoyable experience.

Basically, using research in this way is all part of the Holy Grail of attracting and keeping customers and increasing brand loyalty. As the emotional connection stakes are raised I predict there will be even more talk in 2014 of retail brands as ‘friends’.

airport retail is ready for take-off…

There’s no doubt that we are seeing a massive expansion of the non-aviation side of the increasingly profitable airport business. Airports such as Heathrow, where there are 5 applicants for every retail space, have become the most sought-after retail locations in the world.

However, the experience of our interior architects and designers has shown that retailers are often challenged with the ‘square peg in a round hole’ scenario. Whereas shopping centres are bespoke, airport terminals can throw up awkward spaces, which need to be carefully designed to allow retailers to express their individual character and brand values. Airports like Gatwick are redeveloping space to optimise their retail offering and at the same time elevating expectations of what retailers need to achieve. Spencer Sheen, Head of Gatwick Retail, sums it up,  “Passengers expect more from airport shopping, especially with what’s on offer in some of the airports in the Middle East and Asia. They want more choice, availability and diversity. Competition is really key for us; we want to be right up there with the likes of Westfield and Bluewater.”

However, whilst an airport presence is immensely attractive to a retailer, the trading environment is nothing like the high street. Customers are in a more ‘affluent’ state of mind at the airport, with spare money to treat themselves and their family. Plus, each shopper, around for just 60 or 70 minutes on average, comes with the expectation of an easy to navigate, exciting shopping environment. Our experience of working on 5 UK airports shows that even though shoppers may be a captive audience they still expect the hotel experience to start in the terminal itself. This means that, “No frills” retail just won’t fly!

As Spencer points out, passengers are now demanding more choice, availability and diversity, all topped off with an engaging experience. Waiting for a flight, with time to kill and money to spend, they want to be entertained. Which calls for even greater contributions and innovation from retailers, not only in product mix,  but also in store design. Airports once criticized for their interchangeable retail formats, are always looking to raise their game and recruit ‘A’ list brands like John Lewis, Harrods and Selfridges to add to their retail mix, brands that are not yet represented at other airports, or which underpin the airport’s unique profile.

For the retailer a coveted airside store means increased online business and enhanced brand recognition with an international audience. With so much to gain, there is little doubt that airport retail will increasingly become ‘best in class’ for retail store design and customer delivery over the coming years.


M&S’s Plan A broke-even long before its projected date, and by 2009-10 had added £50m worth of net benefit to the company. Smart companies have expanded their CSR and sustainability on many diverse levels, looking towards the horizons they operate within. With their green message driven home through media saturation the consumer is preached to daily. However, beyond the process of promotion and sales of goods or services, businesses generally remain disconnected from the communities they operate in. Localism remains a mystical notion to big-business in Europe. It is seen as a challenge – whether in urban communities that rally against the latest incursion by a coffee or supermarket chain or a European state refusing meat imports. Where ‘safe’ standardisation drives profits, addressing individuality is perceived as an expensive pursuit.

The diverse nature, of urban communities in particular, confuses perception exponentially. The recent nationwide riots saw great numbers of people contributing to the clean-up and restoration of areas damaged by their disenfranchised ‘neighbours’. On the other side of the world, in the emerging Indian market, the approach to localism is simpler but so much more relevant to the whole of the society.

In a report produced for Mumbai’s ‘Forum for the Future’, sustainability company Futerra reports Indian attitudes to green issues as being “filed firmly in the box labelled “nice to have – but non-essential”. Bucking the trend however, is a young company by the name of Abellon, an energy provider  that seems to have identified the missing link within business models worldwide. Where M&S have defined a sustainability approach within the European market, Abellon have pushed further. Firmly establishing its global responsibility, amongst its business model headings, alongside Agrisciences, Bio-energies and Waste Management Policy is an intriguing heading: ‘Poornakumbha’.

Poornakumbha symbolically represents an ‘empty pot’, “ready to receive and collect all that a community has to give after having enriched and enhanced its riches multifold”. Its roots are based in Ghandian philosophy, spirituality and entrepreneurialism – phrases you will be hard pressed to find in European business strategy. At its most basic, Poornakumbha promotes empowerment of communities by sharing of
inherent intellectual and financial wealth of big-business. Poornakumbha provides education and tools to drive local initiatives such as ‘wealth from waste’ – a cradle-to-cradle process that encourages re-use of waste energy products.  In a society that acknowledges such obvious social divisions of class and caste, Poornakumba represents an inclusive notion of sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Maybe this innovative business model  offers a form of
engagement and community healing that the West may benefit from?