As the world’s largest arts festival, The Edinburgh Fringe, heads into its closing weekend, organisers and performers will be lauding another hugely successful event.
Now in its 70th year, the organisers of the month-long festival of comedy, theatre, music, circus, opera, and everything in between, say it now hosts one million people – an attendance only topped by the Olympics and football’s World Cup.
But what can retailers learn from the longevity, popularity and diversity of The Fringe?
Turn your store into a theatre
In the modern retailing world, much is made of the need to create experiences, retail theatre and so-called ‘retailtainment’ in order to drive customers offline and into stores.
But are retailers doing enough to make that shift?
“House of Fraser-owned Jenners already welcomes performers from The Fringe into the department store to host intimate stand-up comedy gigs for around a dozen people in its old boardroom”
The Edinburgh Fringe offers a plethora of concepts – shows, exhibitions and performances – that have the potential to translate to larger stores.
Indeed, House of Fraser-owned Edinburgh department store Jenners already welcomes performers from The Fringe to host intimate stand-up comedy gigs for around a dozen people in its old boardroom.
But it hosts other events, such as art exhibitions and wine-tasting events, all year round to provide a host of reasons for shoppers to visit.
John Lewis is actively looking to build its experiential credentials, too, after hiring a manager of brand experience for its new Oxford store, who will be responsible for running an event on every trading day of the year.
After House of Fraser named leisure and hospitality specialist Alex Williamson as its new boss earlier this year, expect more large stores to pursue the experiential path.
Remember your roots
When the first Edinburgh Fringe took place in 1947, it did so as a protest against the inaugural Edinburgh International Festival.
Eight performers were refused permission to perform at the state-subsidised event and instead started their own equivalent.
Many festival-goers and supporters believe the Fringe has stayed true to those anti-establishment roots, but others argue it has become too big and expensive.
Some critics even suggest it now focuses too heavily on comedy acts, when the original Fringe was centred on more serious amateur theatre performances.
With an array of corporate sponsors now on board and many venues raking in profits from rental fees and ticket sales, the festival is now a world away from its humble beginnings.
Although it remains hugely popular, there is a danger that some potential attendees will be turned off by the bigger machine it has become.
The Co-op fell into a similar trap, but under former group chief executive Richard Pennycook and his successor Steve Murrells, the mutual has returned to its community-focused roots to help it re-engage formerly alienated customers and, consequently, grow sales.
In an increasingly competitive retail environment, businesses have to be prepared to roll the dice now and again in order to beat the competition.
Whether it’s a Game-like shift in strategy by betting on esports and gaming arenas, or Argos’ move away from catalogues to online, plenty of retailers have shown they aren’t afraid to take risks.
“Of the near 3,500-show line-up at the festival, many push conventional boundaries, with a cabaret show hosted by a man dressed as Margaret Thatcher among those to have raised eyebrows in recent years”
But many more could take a leaf out of the Fringe’s book.
Of the near 3,500-show line-up at the festival, many push conventional boundaries, with a cabaret show hosted by a man dressed as Margaret Thatcher among those to have raised eyebrows in recent years.
The festival has a history of rewarding such acts who push the boundaries and drive artistic innovation – and such an approach can bear fruit in retail, too.
Name any famous comedian and the chances are they performed at the Edinburgh Fringe in the infancy of their careers.
Michael McIntyre, Lee Evans, Russell Brand, Billy Connolly, Steve Coogan and Noel Fielding are just some of the big names who started out with performances there.
But their respective rises to stardom did not happen overnight.
Years of effort went into writing and refining their material in small venues, performing to tens rather than the thousands of people they now have in their audiences.
That degree of patience and persistence should serve as a lesson for retailers.
In a world where shareholders demand results fast, some retailers have proven the value of a long-term, patient approach.
Discounter Aldi took almost 20 years to make a big impression in the UK, but it stuck to its retailing principles, while Uniqlo also took its time to crack the British market, retreating from these shores, learning lessons from its failings and returning with a more finely tuned offer for the British shopper.