BIDs should not all be tarnished with the same brush

If you were anywhere near London’s West End on Sunday you can’t have failed to notice the fun and frolics on Regent Street. Traffic was banned to make way for Indian-themed festivities that saw a Goan beach shored up outside Hamleys, an Indian Bazaar, food areas provided by restaurant chain Masala Zone and other entertainment such as Manipuri dance and the Jaipur Kawa Brass Band.

The activities formed part of the Regent Street Festival, held each year by the Regent Street Association with the support of the New West End Company. And with a 600,000-strong crowd, it certainly gave retailers a cause to celebrate. Many of the retailers also went one step further and lured shoppers into their stores with special in-store promotions along the Indian theme. Department store Liberty offered discount on Indian Tea and head massages were on offer courtesy of Mamas and Papas.

This kind of activity – staged as the climax of the Mayor of London’s three-month India Now season – is particularly welcome after this summer’s damp weather. Shoppers have been loathe to spend over the summer for several reasons and anything that drives trade is welcomed with open arms.

The ringing in the tills from such events is encouraging enough for retailers to see that making an effort pays off. Yet the drivers of this type of activity, namely Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) such as the New West End Company, are still not registering high up retailers’ agendas.

The general consensus on BIDs is that they are just another tax. Yet another thing that retailers have to shell out for. Many retailers can only see the pound signs.

If done properly, BIDs can not only pull together to organise shopper events, they can also be powerful in helping create a more attractive area for shoppers. Street cleaners and crime prevention groups are just some of the initiatives that can contribute to a better environment.

Retailers are right to be cautious, however. Some BIDs are poorly conceived and should not be given the go-ahead. The strategy needs to be coherent and beneficial to the area and its retailers before it gets off the ground. Each area is different and some may not need a BID at all.

But BIDs should not all be tarnished with the same brush. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) this week launched a campaign to persuade retailers to sign up to British BIDs, the company that is overseeing all the UK BIDs, so that they can find out which of their stores are affected by BID applications. Retailers need to assess each case differently and, if a BID proves successful, they could be welcoming such festivities to many of their stores across the country.