The Sunflower Conversations

Inclusive shopping experience

May 11, 2021 Hidden Disabilities Sunflower
The Sunflower Conversations
Inclusive shopping experience
Chapters
The Sunflower Conversations
Inclusive shopping experience
May 11, 2021
Hidden Disabilities Sunflower

Inclusive shopping experience 

Zoe Inman, the Centre Director at one the UK’s largest shopping centres, The Trafford Centre, talks to us about why disability inclusion is so important to them. The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower is integral to their wide-reaching accessibility program that includes staff training and development across a range of disabilities to support their customers and one another. 

The government guidelines during the pandemic put huge pressure on retail staff to protect their customers but also themselves which is why they have adopted social distance awareness campaign, Please give me space.

They have listened to customer feedback and are pulling out all the stops welcoming everyone back through their doors.  You can obtain a Sunflower lanyard from their customer service desk. 

Hosted by Paul Shriever and Chantal Boyle, Hidden Disabilities Sunflower

Visit the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower website.

Visit the Please give me space website.

Show Notes Transcript

Inclusive shopping experience 

Zoe Inman, the Centre Director at one the UK’s largest shopping centres, The Trafford Centre, talks to us about why disability inclusion is so important to them. The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower is integral to their wide-reaching accessibility program that includes staff training and development across a range of disabilities to support their customers and one another. 

The government guidelines during the pandemic put huge pressure on retail staff to protect their customers but also themselves which is why they have adopted social distance awareness campaign, Please give me space.

They have listened to customer feedback and are pulling out all the stops welcoming everyone back through their doors.  You can obtain a Sunflower lanyard from their customer service desk. 

Hosted by Paul Shriever and Chantal Boyle, Hidden Disabilities Sunflower

Visit the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower website.

Visit the Please give me space website.

Paul Shriever:

Hey, guys. My name is Paul Shriever. Also with me is Chantal Boyle. Hi, Chantal.

Chantal Boyle:

Hi! Hello!

Paul Shriever:

Today we are going to be talking to Zoe Inman. Zoe is the Centre Director of The Trafford Centre. 

Paul Shriever:

Welcome, Zoe. Can you please introduce yourself?

Zoe Inman:

Hi, Paul. I'm Zoe Inman. I'm the Centre Director here at the Trafford Centre.

Paul Shriever:

Welcome, Zoe. Can you just tell us to start with just a little bit about the Trafford Center, please?

Zoe Inman:

Yeah, a little bit about the Trafford Centre so a large indoor shopping center anchored by Selfridges in the middle, with John Lewis at the other side, lots to do, lots of colorful outdoor space area like extreme outside and obviously lots of different car parking, and lots of reasons to visit, I guess. We've got Barton Square, our new development, which is home to Primark, Sea Life and Legoland, so you can see the diversity under our one warm roof.

Paul Shriever:

It sounds to me like it's a massive place. Is that right?

Zoe Inman:

It is a massive place. It's three miles of shopfronts. Our average visitor time is anything from an hour, right the way up to you can spend the day here depending on what you want to do, with the Odeon cinema as well, and lots of eateries when they get back open on the 17th of May. So I suppose we label it as a daycation, but if you wanted to just pop in to click and collect or a coffee, then of course you can do that as well. So yeah, something for everybody here.

Paul Shriever:

Are you back on site now? I mean, I'm just interested to know about the kind of footfall and how things starting to change and come out of COVID now.

Zoe Inman:

Yeah, and we've worked, I've personally worked all the way through COVID. We've had non-essential retailers – sorry we've had essential retailers open, should I say for food and medical supplies, glasses, things like that and so we're fully open now for retail. As you know, on the 12th of April, we reopened non-essential retail, loads of safety measures in place, which is fantastic, people following the rules. As we move forward to the 17th of May, we'll be reopening our eateries as well so we look forward to that.

Paul Shriever:

That's good news. It's great. It's been a long while, isn't it coming?

Zoe Inman:

It has. Everybody unfortunately, I mean, the weather has been great for the last two, two and a half weeks in Manchester. People have been perched on the benches outside and on the greenery, but unfortunately people aren't able to eat inside at the moment. We're encouraging people to do the right thing and eat outdoors.

Paul Shriever:

Can I ask you how important is customer service to you as a business?

Zoe Inman:

It's absolutely in the heart of everything that we do. Without our customers, we wouldn't be the thriving business that we are, and we've got loads of great customer initiatives. If you go on our website and just look at the range of services that we offer, I'm really pleased to say that we're in one of those flagship positions that we go out of our way to make sure our customers have an enjoyable experience, genuinely have an enjoyable experience.

Paul Shriever:

The business is a member of the Sunflower Scheme, isn't it?

Zoe Inman:

Very proud to be so, yes.

Paul Shriever:

Can I ask you, why are you members of the Sunflower Scheme?

Zoe Inman:

Obviously, we want to support the whole community. Nobody should be treated differently regardless of their ability. For us, that lanyard offers the opportunity for people to know that our customer, our guest has maybe got some underlying difficulties that we can assist on and obviously because it's a nationally recognized scheme, the others are also aware. 

Paul Shriever:

Do you feel that the scheme has become more recognized over the past few years? Is this something that has grown?

Zoe Inman:

It has certainly. I'm seeing more and more of our visitors wearing the lanyard. I suppose as well, since we've been doing the scheme and making it accessible for people to get hold of that lanyard, and actually publicizing the emblem and actually having information around what that actually means certainly makes our job a lot easier. Yeah, and it's great, we've actually supported that with the packs that we have available on customer services as well.

Paul Shriever:

Zoe, can you just tell me how somebody could obtain the Sunflower lanyard when they come into center, please?

Zoe Inman:

It is as simple as just visiting our customer service desk in the main dome where we'll provide you with the pack with the lanyard included. There's some literature around the scheme in there as well.

Zoe Inman:

All our staff are educated into the scheme as well and it's part of our training packages and ongoing. The fact that we've got both, I've not got one on myself today, but we've also got the two metre distance and my colleague's going to show you one here now. They're also supporting the Please give me space piece. Yeah, and obviously some of our staff that have disabilities are also a part of that scheme as well. Yeah, it helps us to help each other.

Chantal Boyle:

That's what I was going to ask you, actually, how you have found it benefits your staff and customers?

Zoe Inman:

I think because it's getting more widely publicized. We are seeing that people just respect the fact that that lanyard is being worn and we've seen the lanyard for other things as well, haven't we? I think people are just on the lookout generally for a lanyard for all kinds of things.

Zoe Inman:

I know that obviously as we said, we launched the Please give me space that has helped with social distancing. I think gradually the use of the lanyard with the branding on it is a good marker for people to understand and say, "Actually, I understand what's going on here."

Chantal Boyle:

Yeah, an some of your staff, presumably, I would imagine you've got members of your staff who also have hidden disabilities. Are they taking advantage and using it? Has it opened up any conversations that you've been unaware of?

Zoe Inman:

It has. I think obviously we've got Richa who looks after the rest of our community development management role here. That really helps because Richa's very much into that community. We have wellness and wellbeing sessions on a Wednesday so that we can identify and talk to staff individually and we can introduce that pack to new starters as well. That really works well for us.

Zoe Inman:

We've actually got deaf awareness training going on next week. That whole piece around any disability inclusion is so close to all our hearts.

Chantal Boyle:

You mentioned that you've got three miles of shopfronts. That's a big old walk, isn't it for somebody who might have ability issues?

Zoe Inman:

We have, I mean, the miles are designed brilliantly. They're very accessible. If you've seen our car parks and the entrances in, I think the great thing about the malls are very smooth with that lovely marble, so very accessible. However, three miles of shopfronts edge that's a challenge for anybody even the fittest. We have accessibility products. We've also got wheelchairs that people can hire. We've got staff that are available on hand that can help and support people at doing their shopping or go and finding their way finding around and priority seating around the center as well. There's a whole host of products available at our customer service desk and they can also be pre-booked on our website prior to anybody's visit.

Zoe Inman:

Look, we welcome the feedback. We don't have all the great ideas. People arrive at the center and they've had a challenge, we really want to know about it. We have weekly management meetings and this is very much always taught by and on our agenda. We get lovely letters of compliment through on a weekly basis just assisting and supporting people.

Zoe Inman:

It is a big place to come and visit and it's daunting for anybody and even just remembering where you've parked your car. We have great team of staff in our customer services and all our departments really that are fully trained and quite a number of hidden disabilities, whatever they may be. They know what to look out for, but very on the quiet, shall I say. They're not overly looking for it. They're not trying to interact negatively with anybody, but they're just trying to help and support. The one thing about the lanyard is that helps us identify that a whole lot quicker.

Chantal Boyle:

That's brilliant. I've seen some feedback or heard some feedback from Sunflower wearers where they've said, I just got the nod from a member of staff who noticed I had the lanyard on and it really put me at ease. How have you found it at the Trafford Centre since coming out of lockdown and what's experience been like for your colleagues and the customers?

Zoe Inman:

Yes. There are two parts to that, Chantal. When we were open just for essential retail, obviously people needed to get out to go into Boots, Superdrug, M&S to get the food shop here. That did become a challenge for people. We've closed some of our entrances down, and maybe not necessarily way mark them the best that we could. We quickly understood how we needed to do that, adopted more signage. We took all our seating off the malls, and then we quickly realized, well, people need to breastfeed and people need to sit down. Actually whilst that ticked the box for COVID, we did have to do something different. We quickly reenergized everything and put some mall seating on, but we made that COVID safe and we sanitized it before and after use. We put marshals in place as well.

Zoe Inman:

We didn't get it right from the start, but then gradually as the weeks went on, we adjusted things to suit. I have to say third time round now, we're a bit like a well-oiled machine. It's very difficult. I struggle with the face covering even just ordering a coffee. You've got face covering on and a Perspex screen and I struggle to hear. We've tried to in-build things into the policies and procedures that we've got and our security and yes, staff and customer services carry note pads in order to assist.

Chantal Boyle:

That's great. You mentioned about Deaf Awareness Week on next week, is that some of the stuff that you're building in as part of that?

Zoe Inman:

It is along with a whole host of things along the accessibility sphere, so Quiet Hour every Wednesday, 10 to 11, Autism Awareness training for all our teams, dementia-friendly. We've just invested in our hearing loops because some of them are failed. Accessible toilets, we've just put brand new, state-of-the-art facility over at Barton Square. We've got a facility over here and again, these are always things that are on our agenda because they always form parts of our weekly feedback sessions.

Zoe Inman:

It's a big scheme and I think, it's an age scheme as well. It's 23 years old. There's always things that we can improve on and as I say we do welcome feedback.

Chantal Boyle:

Zoe, what else are you doing at the Trafford Centre in terms of accessibility?

Zoe Inman:

I think we've already mentioned Wednesday mornings 10 to 11 The Quiet Hour. The teams are already going through autism awareness training, as well as dementia friendly training. We've got assisted partnering with guide dogs, as you know, and we continue with our deaf awareness training and the Alzheimer's Society continues to do our dementia training for us as well.

Zoe Inman:

We're partnering with local organizations, our retailers on our accessible campaigns so Purple Tuesday, World Alzheimer's Day and Autism Awareness Week as well. We're really looking at all kinds of disabilities and how we can understand them better and how we make the shopping leisure experience easier for more accessible for everybody.

Paul Shriever:

With time, have these various schemes and improvements, have they helped awareness among visitors and staff?

Zoe Inman:

Absolutely massively. On a Wednesday morning, everybody knows our fountains are off, our music's off. We know that that Quiet Hour's a really big thing. That's why we introduced our quiet hour to recognize that.

Paul Shriever:

Has it encouraged more visits from people with disabilities and hidden disabilities do you think?

Zoe Inman:

Anecdotally, I would say absolutely. I think it's maybe something that we need to do some analysis around with our exit surveys. It is not really something that we've been pulling out of our figures, but I think it's key that we start to look at that now.

Chantal Boyle:

We did some research actually, and the percentage of people, it was something like 80% of people, I haven't got the exact number in front of me, with invisible disabilities. They check first to where they're going to see whether or not the Sunflower is recognized and that will inform their decision as to whether or not they'll make that shopping trip. Also, for brand awareness, they will be much more likely to recommend that business to others because the business has taken the time to do the training and welcome people with invisible disabilities.

Paul Shriever:

It's really encouraging to hear that you're adopting that whole mindset across the entire center. You've also got people that will look into shops specifically. They'll go to search shops within your center because they know they've got awareness.

Zoe Inman:

Yeah. I mean, exactly that. It's brilliant. Just that the number of initiatives that the team and I have been getting behind and it's great to see the lanyard and actually for people to understanding what's required and all the background to that. As I say, as you rightly said, there's lots of different hidden disabilities that 12 months ago, I wasn't really aware of. The fact that it's on our agenda now every day is a good thing.

Paul Shriever:

The Trafford Centre has also joined the Please Give Me Space campaign. Was that something that was needed?

Zoe Inman:

I think it's an excellent way of identifying people that need a little bit of extra help on social distance. I mean, it's difficult, isn't it? For lockdown one it was what was two metres. Then there was a mixed message around a meter or meter and a half. You see it, and it just remind you, depending on how many years you've been on this planet get in your ways. You're used to hugging people, aren't we? Maybe on the 21st of June, we can go back to giving everybody a quick squeeze, but it is difficult. Then we can have 90,000 people in the day, in that expanded day till 10 o'clock shopping with us, and it's just that reminder. It's certainly given my staff a peace of mind as well. We didn't have these on the first two reopenings. This is a new thing for phase three.

Paul Shriever:

Actually just having it can be a trigger just even if it just gets someone's attention and just makes you think and stop a little bit, then it's worth having, isn't it?

Zoe Inman:

It is. I think we have to be mindful as well. We've got really great entrance policies at the moment as we're still managing the pandemic. We're being very respectful in how we manage that and there's two very broad schools of thought around the mask wearing and what we would classify as an awful word compliance, but the wearing of the lanyard as well, just reinforces the fact that not everybody's able to wear a face covering and that be kind, be respectful message as well. It certainly helps our staff to identify that we don't have to go and approach that individual.

Zoe Inman:

It's each to their own, isn't it what they feel comfortable with? But certainly our approach is very much around education and encouragement and not enforcement. That's been difficult because you look at social media, you look at the press coverage around social distancing, and it is very much a mixed bag. I myself have spoken to many, many of our visitors just in relation to what you should expect in terms of an indoor environment and that there are people that genuinely are unable to wear a face covering.

Paul Shriever:

Did the staff feel more protected when wearing the Please Give Me Space lanyard?

Zoe Inman:

It does. It helps diffuse the situation without any further explanation being required. I think because now it's getting so well publicized that you just, again, it's a bit like the Sunflower symbol. You understand what sits behind that.

Paul Shriever:

Did you find the training and campaign material useful? Is that something that staff or yourself have felt has been helpful?

Zoe Inman:

Absolutely. Yeah. I think anytime you've got anything that's visual, tangible, something you can hold up and explain and actually wear is a constant reminder. For me, absolutely, absolutely works.

Zoe Inman:

We work in such a busy environment and we go from dealing with maybe an event or dealing with shoppers just entering into it. But this feeds into our wider health and wellbeing piece. We've been really cautious during the lockdown, during periods where people have been on furlough as well, making sure that people get the right health and wellbeing training and ready to come back to work. Three periods of furlough for some of our team and the third time was a real stretch. We go on to mental health and wellbeing, but that was very much a topical subject at the third time that we reopened our doors.

Zoe Inman:

If you think about it when we actually closed, Manchester was in tier three and it was a big challenge because at that point we had, I think London, parts of London closed and retail still going strong up here. That was a challenge. It was a really busy period for us and then of course, we went into lockdown, very sadly again.

Chantal Boyle:

You and your team and everybody else who works in retail have had such a tough time from that. We went right back at the beginning of this conversation and like you said complete shut down, having to learn on your feet, responding to the rules and the government guidelines, your customers, but really important your staff and it has been tough and I think it's right to acknowledge that and it sounds that you've put lots of things in place to make your staff feel supported. By introducing Please Give Me Space, it's just like an added visual aid for them, so that customers are coming in to just make them feel more protected, seems like a really a sensible wise move.

Chantal Boyle:

So now phase three, we're looking forward. The future's bright. What can visitors expect when they come to visit you at the Trafford Centre?

Zoe Inman:

Yeah, so excitement. All our media has turned really now onto the focus of spring and summer beyond that. You'll see that our font's changed, our coloring's changed around that and rightly so.

Zoe Inman:

Whilst we are still get all the social distancing measures are in place, and we've got reduced capacities and we've been queuing, we've just tried to make that as fun as we possibly can. I think now most of our customers do the right thing. Walking down the mall, it's a one way, the mask compliance, keeping that spacing if you're queuing, queuing externally where we have to, all of that's working really well for us.

Zoe Inman:

We're just trying to turn a little bit now. Obviously, retails have been the headlines for so long. I'm in the doldrums. While's there's so much newness. We're really turning our business around. It's all about, I'd mentioned it earlier the daycation. Come and a nice exposure, whether that's coming to shop for your favorite Primark piece, or you come into the Odeon Cinema when they reopen, or you want to meet around Selfridges Food Hall.

Zoe Inman:

I think here we look at what we're doing now. It's just a get out of our doors and sit outside if you want to do that. It's just a lovely space whether you want to come and shop the mall, or you want to come and eat an M&S sandwich on a picnic bench, it's there for everybody and long may that continue. We can see the footfall heading in the right direction now, and that's great for the UK economy as well. So yeah, really pleased.

Chantal Boyle:

As you said, it really is very positive and uplifting. It falls to me to thank you for your time today, Zoe. If anyone living in the Northwest of England you will already be familiar with the amazing spectacle, that is The Trafford Centre. If you haven't been, it's definitely worth a visit, a daycation, and you can feel reassured that you will be greeted with kindness, patience, and understanding from the staff at the Trafford Centre.