Starting to reap the rewards

Rhys Owen, Leasing Director, Orbit Developments, discusses how Stockport are beginning to attract businesses looking to relocate to a thriving town.

With the recent investment in Stockport starting to reap rewards, it’s becoming clear that the town has always been a sleeping giant when you look at Greater Manchester as a whole.

Four years ago Orbit had vacant office space in the town centre which could accommodate over 1,700 people. Now 80% of that space is full and many of those companies have relocated from outside the borough.

As a reflection of the new types of businesses coming in, the standard of general office space has been greatly improved and it’s something that we as Orbit have strived to do with our own portfolio.

But why are businesses being attracted to Stockport?

Our road and rail links are second to none, which in turn provides a recruitment catchment area, easily competing with some major national locations.

The steps being taken to improve traffic flow and journey times on the A6 are playing a key role in making the town centre and the surrounding district centres easier to access, which also helps the area’s appeal.

Recent physical changes continue to draw positive comment, especially from those who arrive in Stockport for the first time in a while. They are being pleasantly surprised by the new welcome that awaits.

Few town centres have experienced the significant positive repositioning development that Stockport has. Ours is evolving and that’s not something happening everywhere.

The growth of residential development in the town centre will bring many new people in and provide a changed demographic that retailers and businesses require for the town to prosper further.

The Stockport business community is the envy of many other local towns and regions with ideas being copied by others, which is a clear sign of success. We need to keep going.

On the right path

Rhys Owen, Leasing Director, Orbit Developments, discusses Stockport's giant leap forward after recent investments.

The past month seems to have been a real celebration of how far Stockport has come in the last few years.

My recent meetings and conversations with companies currently based in London and South Cheshire looking for property in the town centre, have illustrated that the new leisure schemes in Stockport have delivered the much-needed facilities employees and businesses were craving.

Even negative novelty awards have done nothing to dampen the positive spirit of businesses in the town centre!

My role within Orbit enables me to speak honestly to current and prospective customers about everything that has changed within Stockport and I find positive word of mouth marketing is often more powerful and candid than anything else.

As an ambassador for Stockport, I see it as my responsibility to promote the positive changes to any new office occupiers in the town centre.

Armed with the right tools at our disposal however, it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure Stockport is seen in the right light to drive further changes.
Naturally, property plays a key part in the success of a commercial town centre and we are always talking with and listening to the needs of businesses in the area.

We’ve been very encouraged to see businesses consistently looking at and choosing Stockport over locations like Manchester city centre.
They are now even more aware of the noise this major town just one train stop from Manchester, is making. Awareness is increasing; perceptions are changing.

In honour of the progress made to date, Stockport BID are planning a new Art Trail for 2019 with giant frogs being placed around the town centre. 

So, Manchester might be famous for its association with the mighty bee but the buzz is happening in Stockport. Watch this space as our town takes a giant leap into an exciting future.

Stockport businesses welcome 'confident' new town centre and call for momentum to be maintained

An influential group of business leaders met this week to debate Stockport’s progress as a vibrant commercial and growing residential hub and called for momentum to be maintained.

Hosted by the town’s leading commercial landlord, Orbit Developments, at its recently refurbished 1 St Peter’s Square over 70 members of the networking and publishing group Marketing Stockport expressed their views on the last few years of progress and the next steps for the town.

Leasing Director Rhys Owen from Orbit Developments chaired a panel of some of Stockport’s most vocal supporters – Gorvins Solicitors Christian Mancier, Clarke Nicklin’s Brian Bradley, MD of Grassroots Recruitment Caroline Patten and Stockport BID Manager Paul Taylor.

Meeting at the heart of a visibly better invested town centre the mood was upbeat and positive in marked contrast to business panel sessions of a few years ago.
Rhys Owen commented:  “Back then we would not be even having a conversation about coming into the town centre to shop or enjoy a night out and it was a struggle to sell the wider town centre to businesses, but now all that has changed.”

Caroline Patten of Grassroots Recruitment agreed: “People have seen improvements, perceptions are definitely going in the right direction and people want to talk about Stockport and the benefits of joining a business here.”

“We are also attracting candidates with a few years’ experience looking for longer-term opportunities rather than people just starting out or coming back to Stockport for a quieter commute. We are increasingly competing with Manchester now for those skilled professionals who can get career opportunity in a reinvigorated Stockport offering better quality restaurants, leisure and social amenities. It’s exciting to see.”

The station was marked out as a particular highlight of the £multi-million investment programme. Clarke Nicklin’s Brian Bradley said: “It’s now a bright, modern gateway to the town with striking glass buildings and smart hotel facilities that we are proud to use as meeting points for clients who live out of the area. It’s a great welcome to the town.”

The growth in refurbished or new build residential property was also pin-pointed as a significant development and one that would contribute to a changing town centre culture. Caroline Patten again. “It changes the personality of a place because the town is not just for shopping or working – it’s for living, which then drives change in public realm, services and activities to create a thriving community hub.”

Nobody was under any illusions that the job was done and all acknowledged that the next few years would be even more significant.

Paul Taylor from Totally Stockport, the town centre’s BID campaign, funded by town centre businesses, said there were exciting developments in the pipeline not least in greater WIFI access.

He said: “This is brilliant for people to use wherever they are in the town, but also provides invaluable data on what people are doing when they come in, how they flow around the place, which will help us attract more businesses and shape ideas for events.”

All agreed that in future a focus on better defining key areas of the town like business (Stockport Exchange), heritage (Stockport Old Town), retail (Merseyway) and leisure (Redrock) and signposting between them – even perhaps colour coding zones – would help people have a richer experience of everything on offer.

Reflecting on the progress made to date the BID has devised a 30-strong Frog statue art trail entitled a Giant Leap Forward. Paul Taylor outlined the idea which was to offer sponsorship of the frogs to businesses and organisations, position them around the town in a Trail to be explored and then auction them for charity. “It feels just the right time to be acknowledging how far we have come in a fun, engaging and entertaining way and looking forward.”

Jo Shippen MD of merchandising business Hatters Promotions, also remarked that advocacy from the people in the room – in work and at home with families was crucial. “People can see buildings and environmental improvement, but it’s word of mouth that will continue to make the most difference.”

Summing up Rhys Owen from Orbit said that ensuring people joined up their thinking and efforts and communicated well would be crucial in the next few years. “We have changed perceptions of Stockport for the better, without doubt, and people are now being drawn to its offer which makes it so much easier to convert them into business tenants, or new retailers, or residents or just visitors from out of town. But we need to keep going with all<

What's next for Stockport?

Rhys Owen, Leasing Director, Orbit Developments, discusses how Stockport needs to continue to grow.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last five years talking about what’s coming next in Stockport town centre.

With the major retail, leisure and public realm works now complete and a number of high street level changes taking place, it is now our job to ensure there is a strong and continued momentum going forward.

BBC Radio 5 live recently interviewed Nick Johnson of Altrincham Market fame, about the effect new foodie-inspired events are having on our town centres.

We all know about the success story of Altrincham Market Hall and the positive effect the market regeneration has had on the wider town. And not just on perceptions and footfall, but also on the reduction of the empty retail units immediately surrounding the market hall.

This is something Stockport has taken inspiration from and is in the process of implementing a similar scheme into the Produce Hall. But it is important to recognise that food markets are not the only saviour of the high street.

While they undoubtedly have a huge positive impact – and could justifiably claim to be the catalyst for many other positive developments - we need to be thinking about the next step. I do wonder what inspirational ideas are flowing behind the scenes that don’t involve filling our stomachs!

A successful town centre needs so much more than markets alone and whatever the solution is, it needs to be very much targeted at the prosperous folk living in the suburbs just a few miles from Stockport town centre.

We need to bring these wealthy families back into the centre with a variety of not-to-be-missed experiences. While strong foundations have been laid, there is more to do. The next three years could be the most important in Stockport’s recent history.

Record Breakers

Rhys Owen, Leasing Director, Orbit Developments, discusses how Stockport is attracting more and more businesses to the town centre.

You can’t help but notice the negative press Stockport’s retail sector has recently attracted, but take a look at the office sector of the commercial property market and it’s a drastically different story.

The last five years have been record-breaking for office lettings in Stockport town centre, which indicates the level of confidence businesses have in choosing to relocate here.

On average, the town centre would usually see around 44,000 sq ft of office space let each year, enough to fill the first building at Stockport Exchange.
But 2013, 2014 and 2017 all saw figures well in excess of this. The vast majority of space was taken by companies moving into the area and then expanding.

And it’s not just deals completed at shiny new developments like Stockport Exchange. This development accounted for a bumper year in 2017, but the vast majority of activity stemmed from our own town centre 12-building strong portfolio.

Since 2013, Orbit Developments has let the equivalent of three Stockport Exchanges, with over 1500 jobs saved or created as a result.

Witnessing this kind of growth first hand and the quality of businesses we can now attract prompts further belief in the successful future of the town centre.
This belief has been the driving force behind the investment we have made over the last five years in our Stockport property portfolio, and our current refurbishment project at 1 St Peters Square has notably received greater investment than any other of our town centre buildings.

Its significant refresh will again play a role in the positive cycle of success eg attract new businesses to choose Stockport, bring inward investment, job creation and inspire more improvements in the town centre, including hard-pressed retail.

Message starting to get through

Rhys Owen, Leasing Director, Orbit Developments, discusses that things are looking up for Stockport town centre.

As a property owner across the North West, we are well placed to see commercial letting activity first-hand and there are very few parts of the area that are seeing changes of the size and scale of Stockport town centre.

There are some significant physical differences already, but there are further improvements to come and to areas that will broaden the changing direction of the town centre and the retail/leisure offer.

The message of change is starting to reach those that need to hear it and the constant positive news stories that come from the food and drink venues in the town centre are just some of the ways that show the journey Stockport is now on.

Foodie Friday has long extolled the virtues of Stockport and its unrivalled success together with cool shout outs from The Blossoms rock band continue to shine an exciting light on the town centre.

Key parts of the centre are so close to being an amazing asset we just need the proposed funds for the marketplace and surrounding areas to be released.

The messages need to be stronger though.

At Orbit we continue to talk about the town centre’s improving community to local and national, even international companies. This face to face endorsement is working, converting interest into new jobs, footfall and spending.

To keep up with demand we have recently refurbished our property at 1 St Peter’s Square, offering quality office space in line with what new business owners want and supporting the wider ambitions of Stockport. Things are definitely moving in the right direction.

Stockport needs to support independent stores

Rhys Owen, Leasing Director, Orbit Developments, shares his thoughts on why Stockport  should support the independent stores.

As part of my role as an ambassador for business in Stockport, I have gone out of my way to research the various initiatives and grants available to incentivise companies to relocate into the town centre.

It appears that a large proportion of the grants are aimed at attracting new, independent retailers into the area.
These types of retailers bring variety to a town centre. Visitors get bored of seeing ‘carbon copy’ shopping centres with the same line up of chain stores and products on offer. Instead, their time can be spent discovering unique parts of the town with character such as the market place.

After visiting a successful independent Stockport retailer recently, I was frustrated to hear about their struggle when trying to open their first store in the town centre.

I was under the impression guidance and assistance was available to all retailers with a sensible business plan, yet this store had experienced multiple barriers put in their way throughout their journey.
They were initially told the money in the ‘pot’ for start-ups had run out, next they were informed that they didn’t qualify for another grant, in spite of seeming to tick all the relevant boxes.

After a quick period of success, they were then invited to meet senior representatives at the council to discuss how the process could have been made easier and what other funding was available for their growing business. But they haven’t heard anything since, leaving them feeling very deflated and frustrated.

What kind of message does this give to new start-ups willing to give Stockport a chance? What quality businesses are we missing out on because they faced one too many barriers?

If we want to compete with the thriving towns like Altrincham and really push our unique shopping offer, we need to review the process for new retailers joining the town centre and make their journey an easy one.

Stockport...needs selling better

As Councillor Sid Lloyd commented in the Manchester Evening News last week ‘Stockport…needs selling better’. This is a sentiment I couldn’t agree more with. But what is our aim for the selling of Stockport?

Surely this is to spread the strong positives of our town centre to those living within the whole borough and then across Greater Manchester and ultimately the whole country.

Despite living in Stockport and having a vested interest in the town, I was unaware of recent family-focused events and activities taking place in the town centre over the weekend. If I’m missing the offers when I am actively reading and searching for the information, then who else are we missing and what effect does this have on footfall?

Talking with friends at the weekend at our local Cheadle Makers Market, they were unaware of Foodie Friday, unaware of two new hotels in the town centre, unaware of the full scale of changes taking place in our town centre. Suffice to say they are now fully informed and we look forward to a foray to July’s Foodie Friday.

As a business, Orbit has invested in event sponsorship across the town centre for many years and we have enjoyed successful collaborations with Foodie Friday and the Headlander Festival. However, we have found that most events struggle to make any impact outside the immediate area.

We have a number of new businesses in the town centre now in addition to two new hotels, so to help overcome some of the communication challenges it would be an easy win to target their visitors and flag up these great initiatives.


Stockport's hidden gems

Rhys Owen, Leasing Director, Orbit Developments, shares his views on how Stockport town centre needs to connect together.

When it comes to marketing our properties, I like to eat, sleep and breathe an area to fully understand what it has to offer and with that comes a regular amble around the many corners of the town centre.

On a recent wander with colleagues we started off at the newly developed Stockport Exchange.

Whilst the changes around the train station have been well received, it was noted how the route from the train station down to the neighbouring bus station was very unwelcoming, taking the shine off the changes around the station approach.

We know there is a £40m redevelopment plan for the bus station and this will bring improvements - new shops, cafes and amenities - to the terminal.

However, it needs to be recognised that improving areas in ‘silos’ and not thinking about the connecting journeys will still leave a poor impression in visitors’ minds.

Another area showing signs of this silo thinking is Stockport Old Town.

Despite exciting changes bubbling under the surface, the hotly debated Produce Hall in the Marketplace doesn’t show signs of any upcoming changes, and whilst Underbanks and lower Hillgate have some quality independent retailers they aren’t grouped together, just interspersed with boarded up shops, which left me feeling frustrated.

Again, instead of thinking you’ve discovered the ‘Northern Quarter’ of Stockport, you’re left a bit disheartened by the disappointing journey in between each store.

It’s been said many times before, but we need to work on linking Stockport together and ensuring our visitors leave Stockport after having a positive experience.

We have all the pieces of the jigsaw, but they need to be put together in the right way.

Signposting for Town success

Rhys Owen, Leasing Director, Orbit Developments, shares his thoughts on how Stockport can accelerate its success.

When looking at other local town centres such as Altrincham and Bury, who have both made huge strides in turning around their town centre offer, I see one thing in common that Stockport lacks, which is a well-defined and manageable town centre.

The true boundary of our town centre has always been open to debate, a question the BID spent some time considering when putting together its initial proposal.

There are parts of the town centre which have benefitted from significant investment, not only in cash, but in time and resources too.

This has brought visible improvements to the public realm areas immediately surrounding developments, in addition to healthy marketing budgets providing scheme branding, identity creation and regular communication to local stakeholders.

I have had a number of positive comments from friends and business contacts about these improvements. However they all note how these fantastic new developments still fail to guide and entice them on a full journey from one side of the town centre to the other.

Clear and engaging signposting is a key element of what could link the various parts of the town centre and encourage people to take some time to explore exactly what Stockport has to offer.

We know it is already fairly disjointed and spread over a greater area than many other town centres, and there is the added challenge of various hills and steps as seen in our local topography.

We should look to towns who tell a story through their street signage, in order to get some inspiration for our own signposting challenges.

If we can get visitors moving from one ‘zone’ to another then success is sure to follow.

Building on Stockport's strengths

Rhys Owen, Leasing Director, Orbit Developments, shares his views on the changing face of Stockport's high street and how artisan markets will help boost the town.

It’s a shame to see a high street brand leave the town, but the reality is that if those stores weren’t appealing to customers, and weren’t attractive in appearance or product range then is it a surprise?

There’s a general feeling that some brands have almost abandoned their Stockport branches. They’ve been left looking like temporary stores, without investment, refurbishment or slight improvements, despite other stores in similar towns undergoing  modernisation.

In order to attract shoppers into the town centre, we need more than just the ‘brand name’, we need full investment into the outlets themselves. Retail across the country, if not the world, is changing. Consumers see shopping as a chore, they are looking for experiences.

Consumers want unique and ‘Instagrammable’ products and stores to show friends and family what they are doing at the weekend.

Markets have made a return, but with a twist. They are attractive Artisan markets, food markets or craft markets, stocked full of products that are unique and can’t be bought readily online.

And this is one of Stockport town centre’s strengths that we should take advantage of. Our independent offer is strong and growing and there is a real opportunity to utilise the aesthetically pleasing areas of Underbanks and the Market Place in order to develop and grow this offer.

With independent retailers comes a need for fresh thinking and flexibility is key here in order to help the retail community. We need to create opportunities for start-up outlets maybe through pop-up stores or incentives on vacant space.

Proud to be an ambassador to the town

Rhys Owen, Leasing Director, Orbit Developments shares his thoughts on the changing face of Stockport.

The saying goes that the best form of advertising is via positive word of mouth. So, it makes sense that following recent changes and investment in Stockport town centre, the council is underway with its next marketing campaign – using advocates to drive forward the message that ‘Stockport is changing’.

Recently, Stockport launched two projects; the first being a place marketing campaign ‘Stockport. Change Here.’ with Creative Concern and the second its Town Centre Ambassador Project, to which I am very pleased to say I was invited to join. 

The ambassador programme encourages local stakeholders who are passionate and regularly engage with the town to actively promote the changing fortunes of the centre.

As the largest commercial property landlord in Stockport, we represent the opinions of many businesses here in the town to the Council, but equally we have a responsibility to share the recent changes that have taken place to our customers and pitch Stockport’s changing landscape to new occupiers. 
Recently I had a challenge on my hands with two companies looking at the town centre. Neither had ventured into our historic town for over 10 years and were blissfully unaware of the changes taking place.

Suffice to say, a short drive around the town helped them to see the changes and I gave my little pitch on behalf of our town centre.
With help via marketing material and the new updated Stockport prospectus, ambassadors like myself have been provided with great tools to tell the story of how Stockport is moving into the future.

I’m sure these positive messages are being communicated by all of Stockport's business community and myself and my fellow ambassadors are not alone in spreading the news.