Grand Central Birmingham

If I had to list things that I like – after the obvious family and friends – then the following things would feature high up the list:

So imagine my delight when all of the above could be combined into one evening!!

I was invited to take part in a focus group about the new advertising for Grand Central, and offered a behind the scenes nose around the site which is due to open next month.

Grand Central logo

I’d never been involved in market research before – so it was all a bit intriguing.  I arrived at the management suite at Grand Central (the shopping centre that is being built above New Street station in the centre of Birmingham to replace the old slightly grim Pallasades. There were 4 other members of my group, and we were all 30 / 40 something parents.

First we talked a bit about Birmingham and what we all love about it (variety of shops / bars / restuarants, the fact the centre is compact, the mixture of architecture, even The Owls got a mention!) and what we’re not so fond of (the traffic, difficulty parking, how busy it can be)  We then talked more about Grand Central and the advertising that was being proposed for it.

Now I have to confess to not knowing much about what Grand Central was going to be.  I knew there was going to be a huge John Lewis (obvs!) but not much else.  I wasn’t sure what other retail and dining options there were going to be.  I wasn’t sure whether it fitted into the same space that the Pallasades did, or how it was going to connect to other areas of Birmingham. And I have to say 90 minutes into the various discussions we had – and looking at the proposed adverts – I was none the wiser either!  Thankfully today I’ve discovered the Grand Central Birmingham website which gives loads of information – and has made me much more excited at the shops and eateries we’re going to have.

The whole process of a market research focus group was really interesting.  Being able to waffle on about your own thoughts on stuff (rather than just typing it down here into the ether) was fun.  Whilst our overall feelings, as a group, about the adverts was quite similar – we did discuss it all, and changed each other’s opinions at times.  It all felt very ‘safe’ and as if you could say exactly what you thought without fear of being ridiculed.  Whether that was just because we had a lovely group – or the particular facilitator we had – I’m not sure.  But I really enjoyed it!

And once the ‘work’ was over, we got to don our full health and safety personal protective equipment and go and have a look round the site…..

Grand Central

And site it is.  It is VERY much still a working site.  Whilst the main atrium is in, and the escalators down to the station – there is still a lot of work to be done. And I mean a lot.  Floors / walls / lighting and that’s before the shops can even think about shop fitting with their own branding, shelves, stock etc!  And it’s all going to be ready for Thursday 24th September 2015…..

I was ‘slightly’ incredulous at this – but maybe the 3,500 people they have on site at the moment are startlingly more efficient than my workforce??

The frontage to the new John Lewis is hidden from prying eyes by roller shutters – but the width of the frontage is HUGE, it’s got to be 4 times the size of the entrance to John Lewis in Touchwood, Solihull.

The huge open plan space is amazing – and the light that will flood the place is immense – even down to the platforms, for the first time ever!  The roof is made out of the same material as the Eden project domes – and is self cleaning (even from seagull and pigeon poo – of which there is a lot in Birmingham). And throughout the mall, the height of any counters or tables is limited to 1.4m to ensure that people have a clear view around at all times.

Currently Westfield in London has the biggest footfall of a shopping centre at 42 million (2 million more than our very own Bull Ring) but Grand Central is predicting 45 million in the first year of operation!  The key will be to get the dwell time of these visitors to increase so that it’s seen as a proper destination – not just the exit route from New Street.  Maybe people will go and visit our Grand Central like I did as a tourist to Grand Central in New York!

And in exciting news – it will still be accessed by ‘the ramp at McDonalds’ (anyone from Birmingham knows that location!) and you will be able to walk all the way through to the Bull Ring through nice free flowing walkways, not random 90 degree turns like the olden days.

I should point out at this point that all of the above facts were from me paying attention to the lovely ops director who showed us around, and I have not independently verified any of them!  But his passion for the project oozed out of him (as did his excitement at having a Nando’s arriving!!)  The bringing together of a transport, retail and dining hub is incredible – and the fact that one of the (if not the?) busiest station in the UK has kept running through the regeneration is amazing.

However – having been very excited that an off peak return to New Street was only £2.80 from Kings Norton, the train home had a platform change and was delayed by 35 minutes – so let’s hope the trains standards can match that of the shopping facilities above…………

But I can’t wait to go and see Grand Central in all its glory when it opens next month.

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