The differentiation game

Almost every market that you can think of has its heroes. They’re the people that lead by example; the professionals that their peers and even their competitors look up to. They might have created or led their business onwards and upwards to greatness. Or, they could be the latest to head up an organisation that, from generation to generation, performs in an exceptional way.

One leader who fits this description is Andy Street. Street is the managing director of the John Lewis Partnership, an employee-owned business that has for decades set new standards in excellence in UK retail. Whether it is their department stores, or their Waitrose food supermarkets, JLP continues to be the benchmark by which the retail industry is judged, and the standard that most of the rest of the market aspires to achieve.

So, when Andy Street says, “sexy car parks will be coming”, it’s vital that the specialists in the parking industry sit up and take notice.

This is the full detail of what Mr Street said on a recent episode of the BBC’s business in focus programme, The Bottom Line.

“Watch this space – sexy car parks will be coming. You want a sign that says ‘welcome, Mr Davies – this is your car park space’. All I am saying is that this will come, because everyone has to think about differentiation.”

While that is quite a bold (and, for the sector, a very encouraging) prediction, the broader context of Street’s comments within the rest of the show is even more compelling.

The programme considered how retailers should be developing new strategies to survive and thrive in a future in which online is set to take an increasing share of sales for both food and non-food offers. The contributors to the programme, which also included former Marks & Spencer CEO Sir Stuart Rose, spent time spelling out that while the demise of the traditional store and shopping centre had perhaps been exaggerated, it was time for retail businesses to really accelerate the way they innovated their offer, and how the importance of all aspects of the retail experience were key.

That’s when the debate turned to examining just how vital car parks were likely to be in the fight for future consumer loyalty and advocacy.

Both Sir Stuart and Mr Street highlighted the point that for many shoppers’ point of view, their retail journey started and ended with the quality of their parking experience.

Rather than regarding parking as a commodity that should be delivered for the lowest possible cost, it should be considered as an integral element of the total mix. Recognise and invest in the value of this facility, and it could add thousands of pounds of additional revenue each year from every shopper.

Underappreciate its importance, and risk seeing customers migrate to competitors or transfer their loyalty to online competitors.

So when Andy Street focuses on “sexy car parking”, my view, quite naturally, is to give him three cheers. After all, he is a retail professional who is not only at the top of his game; he also happens to be leading one of the UK’s – one of the world’s – most successful retail operations. He should know what he is talking about, and the fact that he has recognised the value of car parking as a key component to retail differentiation should be a clarion call to the parking industry to respond in an imaginative and positive way.

The scenario that Street describes is exactly within the compass of what a business like Smart Parking is able to offer both to retailers like the John Lewis Partnership, as well as to operators of multiple tenants shopping centre locations.

What’s more, Smart Parking can overlay our technology capability with an in-depth knowledge of car parking management.

By combining the technical know-how with our experience in making the car park operate efficiently and cost-effectively for our clients, we are in an ideal position to make a contribution to the way in which retailers can secure the differentiation that Andy Street has so clearly identified as being key to the future.

For more information on how Smart Parking can transform the experience of your customers, contact Gavin Mullen at