Responses to my Footfall concerns

Thank you to the two Dartmouth people who responded to my recent letter in the Dartmouth Chronicle about footfall. Both Simon Drew and Cllr. Tony Fyson responded and I reproduce their letters below with my response following:

Firstly Simon Drew:

Simon Drew

 

Footfall doesn’t measure reality

By South Hams Newspapers Ltd in

I am perplexed about Paul Reach’s obsession with footfall figures, Letters, November 3.

I cannot see how they bear any connection with reality. We certainly haven’t seen any decrease in our business this year and others I talk to agree. There also seemed to be just as many people at the food festival and I would be surprised if the fantastic organisers of the festival thought there was a 27 per cent fall in numbers, as these strange figures claim to show.

One of the cameras – there are only two – is in Foss Street, between our gallery and our old shop, that we closed last Christmas.It’s no exaggeration to say that, with seven members of staff moving between the two shops, at least 100 trips per day were registered on the camera in that way. Footfall cameras are notoriously ineffective measures of real business.

If Paul wants more visitors, we need look no further for town improvements than the wonderful team at Dartmouth Green Partnership. They slave away to keep Dartmouth so beautiful and do more good than 100 adverts.

Simon Drew

Foss Street, Dartmouth

Response:  Firstly Simon, as I said in my last report the Fosse street camera is no longer operating so all of the comparison figures I have published relate to Dartmouth Quay only. The cameras used by Springboard have been independently audited to be 98% accurate. See the extract from their website below:

Footfall Counting

Springboard counting data has been confirmed to be 98% accurate by a third party auditor. In addition, our data team check every line of footfall data each day to verify the accuracy of the data before it is uploaded to the system or sent to you.

I am of course pleased that you have maintained your business levels but as a business that sells merchandise through other agents and distributors I would expect you to be less effected by drops in footfall. My own old gallery has not been adversly effected because they can make full use of the internet and constantly improve their offer to their customers. However there are many businesses in town such as the cafes, ice cream shops etc that are directly effected by drops in footfall and I have spoken with a few who confirm the scale of the problem. I would also expect the accommodation providers to see a reduction in occupancy rates so it would be interesting to hear from some of them if that is the case.

Of course the Dartmouth Green Partnership do a great job but if the visitors are not coming here then they cant appreciate our fabulous displays. The point I was making was that the Town is just as fabulous as it always was, partly thanks to the Green Partnership, but we are simply not marketing it effectively.

As I said in my letter the first step towards solving a problem is recognising that you have one. Sadly I suspect you do not agree with my concerns about the developments in Dartmouth, but until we work together to address them I am afraid the trend will continue. Remember I started the Dartmouth BID because I was concerned about a consistent 10% drop in footfall every year for the preceding 5 years. So this is not a new problem and appears to be worsening.

And now Cllr. Tony Fyson:

Figures show rise of Townstal

By South Hams Newspapers Ltd 

Cllr. Tony Fyson

Paul Reach’s records of declining footfall in Dartmouth’s retail streets, Letters, November 3, are always interesting but may not bear the interpretation he places upon them.

His confident assertion that the town is in the throes of a disproportionate reduction in visitor numbers is unsupported by any analysis of exactly whose feet have gone missing in recent years.

To answer this question we have to consider a relevant but largely unnoticed restructuring of our town that appears to be well under way and is affecting the residents’ patterns of behaviour, as well as the attractions of the place to tourists.

This phenomenon is centred on the rise of Townstal as the location for new shopping, education, recreation and other service facilities, with the planned medical centre and new housing in the pipeline.

Increased investment in Townstal is welcome and long overdue in an area known to suffer pockets of deprivation. The downside may be undesirable impacts on the economic and social future of the historic lower town.

Mr Reach is wrong to imply that the town council is unaware of all these issues, including the knock-on effects of falling numbers on the streets and the importance of tourism.

One Townstal councillor reported recently that he now rarely finds a reason to go down the hill and another claimed that, as the oldest district, Townstal seems set to reassert its dominance of centuries ago. Yet it is the lower town’s historic attractions that visitors come to see and enjoy.

It is likely that the town’s neighbourhood plan will need to address this problem on the basis of sound research rather than hunch.

Whether a steep decline in visitor numbers is the only or even the main reason for the observed footfall reductions remains to be discovered.

So it seems to me that Mr Reach is exactly right to call for more direct evidence of trends in tourism activity in the town. But he would do well to obtain it before reaching a conclusion.

Cllr Tony Fyson

Above Town, Dartmouth

Response:

Thank you for your observations Tony. I agree there has been a shift in the retail focus in Dartmouth over the last 5 years with the opening of Sainsburys and Lidl at the top of town and this will certainly have changed the pattern of shopping of many residents and visitors. However the comparisons I am publishing relate to only last year so this effect should have stabilised by now. I also believe that tourists will mainly be visiting the lower town as I cant see them sitting on benches alongside the Sainsbury’s car park.

I also agree that it is dangerous to analyse the footfall figures without more research to understand what they really mean. But I am just one bloke with no budget, access to footfall numbers and a healthy concern for the town I love. Without analysing the numbers I still think a 20% drop is something we must be concerned about. Having worked in the past in the IT industry I have seen too often the effect of complacency when the market has changed. Many of the businesses I worked alongside have disappeared now because they did not respond to market changes quickly enough.

I am simply flagging one indicator that Dartmouth is losing its visitors in the hope that people with the money and the responsibility for Dartmouth’s economy wake up and respond to what I see as a big challenge. I also know you, The Town Council have the funds to help but choose to spend them on refurbing the Guildhall for instance.

At least someone has engaged with the debate so I will battle on!

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15 Comments

  1. Your comment about the town council refurbishing the Guildhall strikes me as snide, and is beneath you. I have a feeling that had we not done the very necessary work, you would criticise us for allowing the building the to fall into ruin. Do you really think that we should have a public building with chunks of its ceiling falling down?

  2. my concern david is priorities. Given the choice between stimulating the towns economy by investing in more marketing compared to refurbishing an undistinguished and under utilised building, I know what my choice would be, I don’t believe the Council has the will to make the Guildhall a successful venue.

  3. Oh dear! If I had been seeking an example of the sort of negativity that has held this town back, I doubt I could have done better than your remarks about the Guildhall. To quote: “I don’t believe the council has the will to make the Guildhall a successful venue”. How do you know? You know nothing of our strategy but you still try to attack it. To make this town a success again, we need to work together. A marketing strategy is a lot more than simply putting posters on railway stations. I know you will want the last word – after all, it is your website – but a shot of positivity would be welcome. Sniping from the side-lines does the town no good at all.

  4. The fact I know nothing about your marketing strategy for the Guildhall actually says it all David. No one is more positive about the town than I am but I do despair at the failure of responsible organisations to recognise the towns problems and act to solve them. The town deserves better David, thats my point.
    Hand over to you for the last word.

  5. Paul. I have been viewing your footfall figures recently with confusion because the visitor centre footfall figures have been holding up very well and certainly don’t show a massive decrease similar to the town’s footfall figures. When Simon Drew commented recently that his business shows no sign of falling footfall I was very encouraged. So, I spoke with Jon Burnett from Springboard, the company that provides the figures, and asked him if Dartmouth was about to shut up shop because we aren’t attracting visitors anymore. He said that, in his opinion, it was the position of the camera that was to blame. He thinks that if we relocated it to outside the Station Restaurant we will get a fairer representation of the number of visitors that are arriving in town. We would also get a more representative figure if the camera in Foss Street was put back online.I hope that the opinion of the guy who understands all about how to read footfall statistics will allay your fears that Dartmouth is dying. The fact that Townstal residents don’t come down into town as much these days will certainly have an impact on the one camera on The Quay.

    • Gina I have now had a response from John regarding the siting of the footfall camera. It is not quite how you described it above. I extract a few words from his email here:

      Hi Paul

      We have had a few calls from Gina trying to understand why footfall is in decline and I’m happy to assist where possible, although limited in terms of the town itself as we don’t work directly with people on site anymore. Gina may have misunderstood my explanation about where the counter is located.

      I actually asked if the environment or the way people use the town centre has changed? If so then the counter may not be best placed in that location to now monitor these changes, especially as we are only collecting data at the one location. I also gave the example that if you came from Foss St or even the waterfront is there now a sufficient pull to make people walk past the location compared to last year or the year before when the National Trust shop was in situ?

      As you know we are currently providing this data free of charge, if Dartmouth was a paying client then we would work with you to understand and address the changes taking place to put the footfall into context with how the town is possibly changing.

      I do not want the data we are supplying to cause issues between stakeholders, especially as we are unable to allocate resource to assist in the understanding of it and the data supplied is limited to % change only.
      I am going to discuss further with my directors about the future supply of the data and will come back to you shortly.

      Kind Regards

      Jon Burnett | High Street Account Manager

      So Gina I think you misinterpreted his comments and I am now concerned that the Board at Springboard may withdraw my right to access these figures which was granted exclusively. Please don’t contact them direct again as we are not paying for support from them. If you have questions I will be happy to channel them through to Springboard for you but I suspect it is becoming more of a nuisance for them than they initially expected.

      • Mr Reach. All the time that you insist on using data, as in this case, or you start setting up polls, such as the one you are doing now about the transfer of assets, without giving the full details and using your personal opinions to run down the visitor centre, the town council, SHDC, etc, I will be checking your facts, data and comments with a fine toothcomb. I have already managed to prove that your ridiculous warning that the town is dying – or dead already! – is untrue. I did not misunderstand Jon’s comments and I suspect that we are reading a heavily edited version (you say that you are extracting ‘a few words’ from his email), which is your usual MO in my experience. I have called Jon three times over many months and he is always very happy to chat and has encouraged me to call if I ever have a query. I suspect that you bothering him because he has spoken to me has made him think again about the service he is giving you and, if I think that any of your claims are inaccurate I will call whoever I like to check it out. Actually, I think that I have proven that one camera on The Quay is not an adequate way to monitor footfall, which is why Jon suggested having one outside the Station Restaurant, so losing the one on The Quay won’t be a problem. You recently suggested that some of the groups in town could do a proper survey of the town’s businesses but when I replied that I thought it was a good idea, all I got was silence from you!
        You obviously have a lot of talents that could be used to good effect in the town but for all your professed ‘love’ of Dartmouth, all you seem to do is find fault. Why not spend some time looking at finding some positives and perhaps you’ll get more support and less reprehension.
        PS Please be careful about attempting to use results of your poll about the transfer of assets. A lot of people are ecstatic that the town is regaining its parks and are more than willing to pay the 64 per cent increase, especially as it is LESS THAN £1 A WEEK, which sounds far better than your unquantified 64 per cent, doesn’t it? Your negative comments are coming from a minority of councillors, please remember that the majority are vastly in favour of making Dartmouth great again.

        • I have not claimed the town is dying, just that footfall is dropping. You can interpret that how you wish but my only motivation is to get people to work together to respond and find solutions. If You are happy burying your head in the sand, that’s OK.
          That was the entirety of John’s email which I can forward to you privately.
          I don’t understand how you have proven that one camera is inadequate please clarify as I have seen no evidence to support your view. The footfall numbers are the only evidence we have today so please show me more.

          I am conducting a poll because the council has refused to consult the community about the decision and I am being lobbied by readers to carry out a survey.
          The 64% came from the Chronicle article earlier this year, if the maths is wrong blame them.
          I am not finding fault, I am identifying problems so we can respond. It’s basic good management that I am sure you would have used in your business career.
          A survey is a good idea so I hoped you would pick up the challenge as I am just a one man band with limited resources. I reacted now because the Council appear to be considering a proposal next Monday so I though I should respond by giving my 350 readers a chance to comment. The council can use the result how they wish but I suspect people will not engage with the poll in big enough numbers. Transparency seem to be a weakness with this Council.

          £45 per year is a lot of money to some families in Dartmouth.

          Thanks for responding but disappointing to see your personal attack on me.

  6. interesting points but the annual fee is £6500 which I can’t afford. I also see no reason why station cafe will provide more accurate figures than the quay. Also if we move the camera we must wait a year for meaningful comparisons. If the Council paid the fee we could start again but I don’t think they see it as priority. its worth noting that Jon is not technical he is sales so it is not surprising he is keen to get us back on board.

  7. Ah! Jon told me £3,500. The reason why he thought the Station Restaurant would provide more accurate figures was that so many people arrive by ferry. I believed him because he is the expert! I think that we will have to just remember that the figures aren’t a genuine representation of the town’s visitor numbers. I will wait for Simon Drew to tell me that his takings are rapidly decreasing, or the visitor centre’s footfall counters show signs that we are attracting less visitors before I worry too much.

  8. Discounting the existing figures is irresponsible in my opinion. Why don’t you check with your accommodation providers and other subscribers see what their experience is. DVC visitor numbers are also a poor measure of footfall. I’d love to be proven wrong but we cannot ignore these numbers.

  9. I undertook a ‘straw poll’ of a few reputable businesses in town … in fact ones that locals favour as well as tourists. The information I was given backs up concerns that numbers in town are dropping. Of course best measurement of this is the bottom line…. profit. We can all draw many conclusions and what is really needed is for the businesses in town to collaborate to help glean more evidence so that we can make sense of the many factors that affect the footfall numbers.Less visitors would be fine if businesses remain buoyant. Of course it could be there are less locals coming into the town. Those businesses that are immune from the lowered footfall numbers may not be at mercy of passing trade but are selling online. …. there are so many factors.
    It would be good to understand more the background to the footfall numbers so that we can see this in the context of the sustainability of businesses in town.

  10. perhaps the Council, DVC, Chamber of Trade and Dartmouth business News could jointly carry out a survey both online and face to face. Lets try and understand the problem better.

  11. My takings are off last year’s, like most of my neighbours in the Old Market too. I have noticed fewer visits by the second home owners. Fewer of them in the Square full stop. I used to recognise them coming through periodically even if they didn’t visit me. This has been going on for several months now. Could be they are concentrating their shopping elsewhere in the town because the Old Market has been an ongoing disappointment re: drawing in vibrancy. During festivals–it’s absolutely fine. The Old Market could be a destination the rest of the year, but it’s not treated that way.
    Best people to ask are the two cafes and Mark Lobb and Linda in Dartmouth Pet Shop and the Home and Hardware for a view on numbers because they all have the length of time on site to prove what their takings are over time.

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