In the museums and the wider heritage, arts and leisure sector, the remit to deliver social, community, educational, outreach and curatorial / content driven objectives has become increasingly challenging. This is as a result of local authority and the wider public sector budget cuts over the last 8 years and the private sector being more cautious owing to the economic climate. There are also new venues which have opened and have not achieved their original business plan. As a result of all the above, to compensate new financial targets are set and budgeted which are unrealistic and are not achieved. Often there follows a downward spiral of cuts, including reducing opening hours, services and ultimately in worst cases closure.
There is a growing demand and need to be more commercial i.e. to drive income generation. However, if not undertaken properly, this can result in a scatter gun approach and spending a lot of energy and resource trying to do too much too quickly and achieving very little.
So how can we reverse this downward spiral of cuts and create more sustainable attractions? Ultimately it is about economics and supply and demand, however, to become more sustainable and to increase net income to be able to reinvest more into the service, it might be worth using this ‘Seven-point approach.’
The Seven-point approach
1. Do your research. Using online research and working with your peers and comparators see how your performance compares whether from catering, retail, donations, gift aid, guides or admissions and pricing to marketing and social media, venue hire, membership and fundraising. Are you making the most use of your existing management information? Are you using the right key performance indicators and are your budgets presented properly so you can monitor the commercial performance closely on a daily, weekly and monthly basis and how does this compare against budget and the previous year?
Trip Advisor and social media are very useful feedback mechanisms, they are important to monitor closely and to engage with, but this should not be a replacement for customer and non-customer research.
2. Be ‘customer experience’ focused. Be self-critical (within reason) rather than self-congratulatory (which breeds complacency). Breakdown the customer experience into each phase of the customer journey. With each phase look at what that experience is like, the customer need, the messages we are giving and how, the location of our services, the offer, the use of space, what is likely to help generate the visitor numbers and or income and are we really making the most commercial opportunity at each phase? Visit comparators who are known for best practice and see what lessons can be learned.
3. The role of the staff is critical. None of the commercial or customer experience objectives will be delivered without the commitment of the staff. Involve your team (particularly the staff who have the biggest impact on the customer experience every day either directly or indirectly). They see opportunities and they see challenges. Often the change needed is more about ‘ways of operating’ than financial.
4. Having the right operating model and personnel to deliver these objectives is important. When you research, look at comparators operating models and roles. Be realistic, if based on your visitor numbers and income, the staffing structure is unsustainable then changes may need to be made to structure and roles. These should be based on a ‘bottom up’ approach. Determine what you need to deliver the service and customer experience, as without this the venue will close. The structure should enable you to deliver the organisation’s objectives, but the place to start is to ask are we really doing the basics very well? Flexibility will be key, but critical will be - who has ownership for the customer experience and income generation?
5. The culture of the organisation is vital. There has to be genuine commitment and focus to delivering the income generation targets and an ‘exceptional customer experience.’ This is from the top (including the Trustees and Director) and throughout the organisation, otherwise nothing will be achieved. Linked with having the right operating model is having the right mix of Board skills, experience and good governance.
6. Following this process, you should be in a position to develop a SMART implementation plan. The aim is to prioritise where your organisation’s time and resource should be focused to have the biggest net impact in terms of net incremental income generation and improving the customer experience.
7. If you are planning a new venue, have you developed a realistic, practical, achievable and operationally based business plan? Work constructively with the architects, designers and project managers so the venue is planned (from concept stage) in a realistic, customer, operational and commercial focused way to deliver a sustainable attraction in the first place.
Bryn Jones is Managing Director at Bryn Jones Assocciates Ltd, visit their members page to find our more about his services.