Meet the IPM: Interview with Prof Cathy Parker

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Cathy Parker is Professor of Marketing and Retail Enterprise at Manchester Metropolitan University as well as Chair of the Institute of Place Management and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Place Management and Development. She has worked at Manchester Metropolitan since 1997 when she joined as a Senior Research Fellow. Cathy has managed over £10m of research projects – all focused upon strengthening town and city centres, in terms of their offer and governance structures and processes. Her research interests include retail, place marketing and the impact of litter upon both brand and place attitudes. Cathy is a regular keynote speaker and media commentator talking about the changing retail landscape and how town and city centres are adapting post-Internet. 


“The places we live, work in or visit carry a huge amount of meaning and this cannot be quantified economically.”

Ares Kalandides: Prof Cathy Parker, you founded the Institute of Place Management ten years ago. What was your motivation?

Cathy Parker: After spending many years researching the decline of the independent retail sector across Europe I realised that in some locations smaller businesses, especially those that help define the character or identity of a centre were actively supported and championed. In many of these places, against the odds, family businesses and other more ‘quirky’ traders were not only surviving but actually performing very well. That got me interested in how the management of places can affect their prognosis. I then started working closely with Association of Town Centre Management in the UK and other similar organisations in Europe, USA and Australia. I soon realised what a difficult job being a town centre manager was! Coming from a research and education background I thought there was more I could do to help – that’s why we founded the Institute of Place Management as a joint venture with ATCM, with a lot of help from Emerald (publishers of the JPMD).

Ares Kalandides: You have worked a lot on markets. Are markets still important for towns even today where we have so many other shopping possibilities?

Cathy Parker: Markets are very important spaces in towns and cities. They have inherent flexibility, adaptability and excitement – unlike fixed retailing which is always so much slower to adapt to changes in consumer behaviour. Unfortunately these special spaces are not always valued and managed appropriately. There is no point having flexible space that is then permanently filled with out-of-date traders. We have seen in our research that a busy market can act as an anchor to a town – just like many retailers do.  But a market that does not attract customers is likely to have an inappropriate offer – and may even detract from the whole town experience. Markets should not be immune from basic retail principles – if you don’t sell what customers want, give them the service they expect at a price that’s right you will go out of business. We are trying to help professionalise market management, through offering specialist training in partnership with the National Association of British Market Authorities – and I would very much like to see a European standard and qualification for all market managers – to help them adapt their market offer to the expectations of today’s consumer.

“In many locations, we are seeing a renaissance of the multi-functional high street”

Ares Kalandides: How do you see online shopping changing our town centres? Do they still stand a chance when facing such strong competition?

Cathy Parker: There’s no doubt online shopping is having an impact on our town centres. In many smaller locations comparison shopping (clothing, shoes, electrical goods etc) is disappearing. But that brings the opportunity to reinvent that space for something more appropriate – be that services, employment, housing or even community use.  One of the factors affecting the performance of the high street has been the difficulty with which new operators and innovators can trade in existing retail areas. Now, in many locations, we are seeing a renaissance of the multi-functional high street – offering retail, services, food and drink and leisure etc.  Of course structural change is often painful – and not everywhere is going to adjust and survive. But that’s normal when we take a long-term view on place change. My advice to anyone worried about their centre is to count how many people live within a 5 minute walk – and plan to meet the day-to-day needs of this very local catchment.

Ares Kalandides: In your publications and in your own blog, you keep insisting upon the importance of place. What exactly do you mean by that?

Cathy Parker: As a marketer I saw how the word place was being used to merely mean a channel by which goods travelled to market. Likewise the old adage in retailing is that it is all about ‘location, location, location’ yet the retailers had very little appreciation of the place around a site they were locating in. To me place is more than a geographical area to exploit. The places we live, work in or visit carry a huge amount of meaning and this cannot be quantified economically. The social and cultural power of place is very undervalued. When I say places are important I mean every single one of them!

“We do what we can to help our members make their places better”

Ares Kalandides: What do you think that the IPM has to offer its members?

Cathy Parker: The main benefit of becoming a member of IPM is that you join a community of people who are passionate about places. Like other professional associations membership also reflects your level of experience, skill and knowledge. We also offer lots of knowledge and insight, so, for example, members get access to the Journal of Place Management and Development. We know place management is difficult – for practitioners, because all places are highly contested; for academics, because the area is so interdisciplinary and for policy makers because the relationships between economic, social and environmental goals are highly complex. We hope we make things a little easier by offering the research, continuing professional development, qualifications, conferences, study tours and, just as important, we do really care! We take a genuine interest in all our members, and do what we can to help them make their places better, improve policy or undertake and publish more useful research.

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