The leisure and tourism sector is constantly evolving, and the North East in particular has been through numerous changes. Newcastle and Gateshead are at the epicentre of a food-based revolution, but with the sector flourishing, competition is at an all-time high.
It is therefore vital for venues to distinguish themselves from the pack; prime locations are no longer essential to success, providing your offering is distinct and your brand message can be widely and effectively communicated.
The success of basement and rooftop bars and restaurants has illustrated that being different can work, providing you have the experience to back it up, regardless of whether you are at street level in a so-called prime location or not.
Any USP needs to set leisure brands apart from the crowd both physically and socially, and the key to achieving this is to think about what is most likely to appeal to the customer and attract footfall from the outset. It is naturally important to have the operational processes in place to deliver, but good, on-brand design will maximise front of house and minimise support space and therefore improve the effectiveness of the offer.
In the North East, there has been significant growth in alternative venues and locations. The Wylam Brewery is a striking example, converting the former Palace of the Arts into a craft beer destination in a £500,000 project. Lane 7 also illustrates how a venue does not have to be slap bang in the city centre to attract custom, with its distinct offering of food, drink, bowling and ping-pong encouraging customers to venture up to St James’ Boulevard and away from the more established locations.
The success of these and similar establishments means that we are now seeing venues pop up on a frequent basis, with forgotten buildings and spaces becoming new destinations and seemingly innocuous doors on the street leading to intriguing bars that hark back to prohibition era speakeasies.
Of course, the key challenge that comes with opening such a venue is first getting it on the map. Social media and other digital channels are essential to breed advocacy and – providing the venue has the consistent quality and atmosphere to back it up – can continue to attract new customers, as well as retaining existing ones, through word of mouth and a quality offering.
The key is to ensure all bases are covered at the outset. It doesn’t just mean choosing the right building in the right place. It requires a clarity of vision in what you are trying to achieve and then delivering a venue that strengthens the message and allows you to differentiate yourself from the crowd.