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Dragon Interview: Amanda Masters, General Manager of Experience Guildford

Published on: 13 Aug, 2015
Updated on: 19 Aug, 2015

Have you heard of Experience Guildford or the Blue Caps? If you are in business in Guildford town you should have heard of them and should want to hear more. But even if you are just a regular shopper here you will be interested to read what the general manager Amanda Masters has to say…

Amanda Masters, general manager at Experience Guildford.

Amanda Masters, general manager at Experience Guildford.

You are a Northern lass, how did you come to be in Guildford?

I left my home town of Blackburn, Lancashire in 1993 to attend Sussex University. I loved living in Brighton, so when I graduated I realised I had to get a “proper job” that would enable me to stay in the South East.

After a short while I began working for a newspaper, which eventually led me into commercial radio and my first job in Guildford was when I moved to work at Eagle Radio in 2000. Since then I have worked in and around Guildford because I love the town. When the role of general manager at Experience Guildford came up I jumped at the opportunity to apply.

What is the background of Experience Guildford how did you get involved?

Experience Guildford is the team supporting Guildford’s Business Improvement District (BID). I was working for Surrey Chambers of Commerce at the time the BID was being developed and was invited onto the board to help promote the concept and get it off the ground.

The board at that point was made up of a number of Guildford businesses who saw the value of having a BID in Guildford. I had seen how BIDs had really had an impact in other towns in the region (there are currently over 200 BIDs in the UK).

In the summer of 2012 a BID co-ordinator consulted with the retail and leisure businesses to ascertain, if they wanted a BID in Guildford what is it they would like it to do for them and the town. The business plan was drawn up from this consultation and then in the autumn a ballot was held which resulted in a “yes” from the retail and leisure community and thus began our first five-year-term.

What does Experience Guildford do?

Every year the businesses in the BID area pay a levy. It is 1% of the rateable value of their business. This money is ring fenced and spent on the town centre. BIDs exist to enhance what is already there. This means we have service level agreements with various agencies who operate in the town; GBC, police, highways, Surrey County Council, etc. We are a private not for profit organisation.

Our business plan as prescribed by our businesses has four objectives:

  • Marketing, promotions and events:  Guildford on Sea Urban Beach, Independents’ Month, Customer Service Awards, Christmas lights, Little Book of Offers, Privilege Cards
  • Safe, clean and welcoming:  Town Rangers, Purple Flag, taxi marshals, Guildford crime reduction partnership.
  • Car parking and access: Free parking for late night shopping Thursdays in December; park and ride promotions; additional pedestrian signage for the town; clearer signage for the side streets (coming soon!).
  • Business support: Free training, social media surgeries, vacant space promotion, website support, PR support, additional hanging baskets and Christmas lights.

Every penny we spend must fall into at one of these four areas.

The Experience Guildford team

The Experience Guildford team

How many do you have in your team, what are their roles?

There are seven salaried staff. Myself, general manager; Stuart Craggs is the night time economy manager and my deputy; Charlotte Whitaker, project manager; Lauren Dunican, business support manager; Pete Lambert town ranger team leader and town rangers Richard Fisher and Rosie Duhig.

I would really like another Town Ranger too. I am guided by a board of volunteer directors, all of whom are levy payers, and the board is chaired by Kevin Lorimer general manager of The County Club.

Tell us more about the blue caps. What do they do? Can anyone ask for their help if they see them in the street?

The town rangers, or “Blue Caps” as they have become known locally, are in the town seven-days-a-week. They are there to support our businesses by keeping them up to date with our events and promotions, helping them with issues which can vary. For example, loud buskers outside their shop or even to advise on the likelihood of their premises being haunted – yes, really!

They also help with Townlink radio training, processing memberships to the Guildford Crime Reduction Partnership, (run by us and in partnership with GBC and the police) and train the staff on how to redeem offers on our Privilege Card scheme.

For the public, they are on hand to give directions, administer first aid and keep an eye on anything which might potentially mar someone’s perception of the town. I would encourage anyone to approach them for a chat and certainly if they need assistance. They are a friendly bunch.

Tell us more about the BID, why is it important for Guildford’s economy?

Business Improvement Districts are funny beasts. We have an odd business model. Where most businesses start with nothing and make money, we start with money and spend it – in accordance with the business plan of course.

Everything we do must improve the experience of coming to Guildford, whether that is for visitors or employees. It is imperative that we provide a service to our businesses that supports their growth in some way. That could be their active participation in say the customer service awards or an individual request to remove rubbish or tackle an anti social behaviour problem outside their door.

My advice to the traders is to simply, “ask us”. If we are not delivering something that is actively helping their business then tell us what would. Footfall in the town has been steadily growing for the last couple of years, we want to make sure that continues whilst encouraging consumers to part with their cash in one of the many fabulous shops and venues we have.

Guildford truly has something for all ages and for all pockets, and we are a beautiful town. But we should not rest on our laurels. The retail offering has to remain vibrant, and we will promote that until the cows come home. But we want to cement Guildford as an ideal location for the wider business community in order to create jobs and prosperity.

What is your view of the prospects, over the next decade, for Guildford’s retail sector? What changes might we see?

Planning and development in the town are hot topics currently and done well, the retail offering will be enhanced. I think more residential space in the town centre will assist with keeping the vibrancy of the retail offering.

The online shopping boom has and will continue to impact on Britain’s high streets. However, we want to support the businesses who realise that the internet is not going to go away and that to have a competitive edge over the Amazons, etc of this world Their physical presence has to be outstanding and their online offering has to complement that, not undervalue it. For this reason we provide free training and guidance from experts in this field for our stakeholders.

I think we will see more and more shops develop their online businesses to offer similar but not exactly the same products as they have in store. “Click and Collect” is growing and the additional sales retailers make when consumers collect after clicking is quite astonishing.

The BID backs a change in the business rates system for high street retailers. Central government needs to make it fairer for those who currently pay higher rents and rates because they choose to have a physical presence in our town.

Online businesses have few overheads and generally much lower rates. We need to level the playing field in order to keep retailers operating. Moreover a fairer system will make it easier for independents to open their doors. Luckily we have over 120 independent traders in Guildford currently. We want to see that number continue to grow.

If you had some magic dust what one change would you like to make?

Only one?!

If I had a way of assisting our stakeholders by providing free parking for their employees without filling up the car parks before the shoppers arrive and while making the parking cheaper for customers and still deliver the revenues GBC need to invest back into the car parks, I’d be a happy woman.

And I’d change the business rates system.

And get more landlords to let me hang more Christmas lights from their buildings.

That’s three isn’t it? [Yes, you are lucky that we like you. Ed]

Amanda Masters 3 with Flavia crop

Amanda with former “Strictly…” star Flavia at a publicity event to raise money for her favourite local charities.

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Responses to Dragon Interview: Amanda Masters, General Manager of Experience Guildford

  1. John Robson Reply

    August 14, 2015 at 9:52 am

    GBC and SCC have plenty of money. This is the economic powerhouse of the UK and the Conservatives continually tell us Britain is booming.

    Town centre retail staff should be given free access to the Park & Rides; they are currently under-utilised so this wouldn’t increase the running costs.

    Amanda Masters may have more trouble GBC moving on reducing the costs associated with the car parking cash cow though.

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