Spanning more than 20 years of experience running trader precincts, Stavros and Circe Zikou share what it takes to make Ivanhoe Traders Association a success.

Spanning more than 20 years of experience running trader precincts, Stavros and Circe Zikou have a sound understanding of what it takes to make Ivanhoe Traders Association (ITA) a success.

Since 2008 the husband-and-wife team have managed the ITA and had many learnings along the way – from understanding the true needs of local businesses to recognising and making the most of marketing opportunities when they come along.

Working with the ITA committee in their roles as precinct managers, Mr and Mrs Zikou are responsible for coordinating marketing for the precinct, liaising with and representing traders in the area, as well as working with local council to align on business objectives.

Ivanhoe Traders Association

The pair currently manage four associations across three different councils, they both have marketing degrees, and they both come from families that ran small businesses. This knowledge has given them a solid foundation for understanding the way in which retailers operate while their years of experience equips them with an awareness of the evolving needs of small businesses today.

Here, Mr and Mrs Zikou share insights into the operation of the ITA, how the association works, and how their marketing activities have transformed over the years.

Describe how your levied association works

The ITA represents the retail and business operators within the Ivanhoe precinct, with Upper Heidelberg Rd marking the main activity hub of the centre.

The precinct incorporates about 250 businesses, with a mix of traders including retail, hospitality, and professional service-based businesses.

The ITA operates under a centre-coordinated marketing and business development program funded by a special rate, to which all properties in the centre contribute.

The levy is coordinated by Banyule City Council, which holds a reputation as the “gold standard” for levied associations because they nearly match the rates dollar for dollar. The ITA raises $120,000 per year in trader-contributed funds, and Banyule City Council contributes an additional $100,000 annually to the levied fund. This means that the ITA has access to an annual levy of $220,000 to carry out their range of marketing and business activities.

We’re in a very fortunate and very privileged position because it means we’ve got nearly double the budget, which means we can do double the marketing. We view these special levies as marketing levies so we tend to focus as much as we can on marketing initiatives. This fund allows us to invest in extensive marketing activities for Ivanhoe precinct which draws people to the area and encourages them to spend money at local businesses.

What is the tenancy mix of traders and the demographics of Ivanhoe shoppers?

With about 250 businesses located within the levied area, the Ivanhoe precinct offers a diverse retail and business mix.

Currently, the ITA’s tenancy mix comprises 35 per cent service retail, 30 per cent speciality retail, and 35 per cent food and beverages.

The precinct has been renowned for its women’s fashion stores, particularly independent labels and small boutiques, but also includes categories like florists, gift shops, toy shops, major banks, and supermarkets.

The retail mix has evolved in recent years, with a shift towards more hospitality businesses and service-based businesses, such as professional allied health services as well as hair and beauty services.

Ivanhoe is considered a high socio-economic area, and we’ve traditionally had an elderly population, but we are now starting to see more young families move into the area. There’s a lot of new developments and apartments being built in the area which is attracting a younger demographic as well as middle-aged people that are downsizing.

Ivanhoe Trader Association

What is the ITA’s marketing budget? Do you receive additional income?

The ITA has an annual levy of $220,000, of which the majority is allocated to marketing activities. Any additional income is derived via grants and sponsorships.

For example, we run an annual Halloween event and one of our real estate agencies in the street sponsors that event, which is a great support.

In the past, we used to run quite large-scale street festivals and we secured corporate sponsorship for those events. Even though we do smaller events nowadays, we always try to secure sponsorships for them. The sponsorship deals help our bottom line and also gets more community buy-in.

In terms of grants, Mainstreet Australia were champions in issuing a resilience grant to assist during the COVID-19 pandemic. We were also recently awarded a grant from the state government to run campaigns.

How has the ITA’s marketing evolved over the years?

The ITA manages all digital assets for the precinct, including the website, social media accounts, and email newsletter communications.

We engage in traditional marketing activities too, of which our Christmas campaign is a major focus. For this, we decorate shopfront windows with branded detailing to give the precinct a uniform look during the festive season. We also have Christmas decorations, banners, and bollards throughout the street.

With Halloween becoming an increasingly popular retail event in recent years, we have run a ‘trick or treat’ hunt around the precinct for the past three to four years. Due to COVID-19 restrictions last year, we had to pivot and took the event online so people could participate in an ‘at-home trick or trick’ event.

One of the most significant marketing activities that we run is our gift card program, which we launched about four years ago. We have Ivanhoe-branded gift cards available for sale at local stores in the precinct that operate on a closed-circuit system, meaning they can only be spent in the Ivanhoe precinct. This ensures that the money on those gift cards remain in the precinct and support our local traders directly. The program has a sophisticated tracking element that allows us to monitor how the gifts cards are spent by store, date, and amount used. This has been a great way to analyse the performance and success of the gift card program. Customers can also check their gift card balances online, and access information about where their gift cards can be used.

From this, we have expanded the gift card program to create an eco-system of related marketing activities where the gift cards are used in supporting prizes, incentives, competitions, and giveaways. It was fortunate that we had this gift card program in place before the pandemic hit, because it allowed us to do so many things online to give away gift cards, which kept customers engaged with Ivanhoe even if they couldn’t physically visit the precinct.

With the advent of the internet and digital communications, ITA’s marketing efforts have naturally shifted to incorporate more of a focus on digital activities over the past decade. Social media is big component for us now and is an important way for us to communicate directly with customers who have questions about our stores.

How does ITA work with council and local community groups?

In representing the ITA, we work very closely with Banyule City Council to stay up to date on council-led initiatives and any cross-promotional opportunities for local businesses.

The ITA also collaborates with and supports local community groups and schools. This has included supplying gift cards to fundraisers and raffles, or helping community groups with cross-promotion opportunities so we can have a mutually beneficial exchange.

Ivanhoe Trader Association

What is something you do differently to other centre managers?

Being a husband-and-wife team definitely sets us apart, and gives us an advantage over other centres that are commonly operated by a single manager.

We both bring different skills and strengths to the table – one of us is detail oriented and the other is big-picture focused. This allows us to approach every marketing campaign with a holistic view and ensures we can look at everything from different angles. We are also able to bounce ideas off each other and discuss strategy together, allowing us to produce the best possible outcomes for our marketing campaigns.

We both have post-graduate degrees in marketing and business, and we grew up in families with successful small businesses in some of Melbourne’s most prominent shopping strips. Therefore, we understand and appreciate the pressures of running a small business and have the know-how, expertise, experience, and edge to get the best outcomes for our centre.

We also have the ability to recognise a great marketing opportunity when we see one. An example of this was securing Olivia Newton-John for a joint fundraising event between the Ivanhoe precinct and the Austin Hospital. By recognising this opportunity, we were able to leverage the publicity associated with this event which incorporated the Ivanhoe festival and a wellness walk for the hospital. Olivia Newton-John came to the precinct for three years in a row to participate in this event. That is something we are really proud of.

Trade secrets: What’s one thing that makes ITA marketing campaigns successful?

We’ve got a great team, and that is at the core of our success. That includes working with a committee that is strong, united and progressive. This makes it much easier for us to run campaigns as we all know our roles and expectations.

We always try to tie our marketing campaigns back to our brand. Our logo incorporates a visual of the Ivanhoe Town Hall, which sits at the top of our street and is a landmark. Our branding slogan is ‘Shop in Ivanhoe’ – we’re a shopping centre and we want that to be the key message across all of our communications, and that underpins everything we do from a marketing perspective.

Lastly, and importantly, before we begin any marketing campaign, we always ask: is this in the best interest of the association? If the campaign we are planning doesn’t serve the association and directly benefit our traders, we go back to the drawing board.

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