A flagship station continuing to grow
Oxford is one of Great Western Railway’s (GWR’s) flagship stations and due to the popularity of the city as a tourist destination and world-renowned educational and research centre, it also generates the highest footfall of all the stations that GWR directly manage. In the ten years between 2009 and 2019, the station saw a phenomenal growth in footfall of over 60%. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic was, as with the rest of the rail network, devastating on station usage, but with customer numbers now in recovery Oxford is running at around 76% of pre-pandemic levels and is continuing to grow.
Improvements to drive station revenue
The existing retail offer available at Oxford station was a mix of well-known brands and local independents.
The existence of tenants with protected leases had stifled new investment for several years and prime retail space was being occupied by tenants who could be relocated elsewhere, creating the opportunity to improve the merchandise mix and attract new operators to the rail network.
Following Amey TPT’s appointment by GWR in 2019, we undertook a major review of 17 of their major stations and produced for the client detailed Tactical Business Plans (TBPs) for each location.
The TBPs looked at:
- Commercial, operational and community uses on the stations
- The context of the wider area surrounding the station
- Customer habits and trends
- Pedflow, to understand pedestrian movements and behaviours
- Passenger demographics
The TBPs set out a timed programme with merchandising and layout plans, supported by a full financial evaluation to optimise asset value, the aim being to deliver a holistic business plan to both enhance commercialisation but also to recognise and accommodate any community or operational requirements and objectives.
A TBP was drawn up for Oxford which identified several recommendations for improvements which would generate an uplift in revenue of up to 29%. This plan was agreed and signed off just as the pandemic hit the UK.
Pressures of the pandemic
In the early stages of the pandemic, tenants who occupied prime locations served notice. One example being Goodness 2U, who vacated in the early stages of the pandemic and were replaced with new tenants, Costa Coffee in early 2020. However, due to national lockdown and increasingly restrictive conditions, leases were forced to be postponed and Costa Coffee doors were held off opening until June 2021. Other businesses suffered financial difficulties as a result of the pandemic and surrendered their unit including the Cornwall Pasty Company and the Oxford Bus Tour company – who both vacated in 2021.
Fresh thinking to enhance the retail mix
In a post Covid environment, with restrictions lifting and all tenants trading again, GWR tendered the opportunity on the open market. 2022 looked to be more promising and we were able to press ahead with more of the recommendations contained within the TBP strategy for Oxford station.
The first Pret-a-Manger store on the GWR network took occupancy in October 2022 and was also the first Pret store to be operated by their franchise partner Dallas Holdings Limited.
Greggs also opened for business in 2022. SSP, who operate the Greggs store, have also refurbished the M&S Simply Food store, and converted it to their local store format, showcasing the best of Oxford. Further investment is also planned from WH Smith for their main concourse store.
- A local approach
As well as the big-name brands, we have also introduced two local Oxford operators onto the station. Cambridge Alumni Tours offer student-led local tours of Oxford for tourists, and they operate from a small kiosk at the station entrance. Oxbikes, a local bike hire company, were recently granted use of several bike racks on the station forecourt. These have proved more successful than expected with usage numbers high, another positive facility being delivered not just for users of the station, but the local community as well.
Maximising station space
AMT Coffee had a large kiosk located in the centre of the station concourse. The unfortunate demise of the operator in late 2022, allowed GWR to remove this outlet. This was completed in April 2023 and the area now allows for better movement with more open space, it also improves visibility across the station to the other brands located around this part of the concourse.
Customer footfall on Oxford, along with much of the GWR network, is now at numbers approaching pre-Covid levels. The station is bustling with life again and this is being reflected in the positive performance of the retail units on the station. Both rail customers and locals alike are now able to enjoy a wider range of high quality retail facilities, making a visit to the station more pleasurable than it was only a few short years ago.