It used to be that our car or handbag showed our status. Now we post Facebook pictures from a chairlift in Chamonix or the latest music festival. Photograph: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty
At Home, however, Wrigley says that while students and young professionals are pouring through the doors, the venues appeal is crossing generations. A lot of arts organisations peak at around age 45, but ours is very flat, she says. We have a lot of older explorers people who worked in professional services or local government, say, and are looking for a quality experience. And baby boomers who have been able to stop work in their 60s and have pensions to spend.
Restaurants are capitalising fast, opening at a record pace in cities all over the country. In London, restaurant guide Hardens counted 200 new openings in its 2017 edition. Cities including Manchester and Glasgow have seen similar or even greater booms. Russell Norman, founder of the Venetian-inspired Polpo restaurants, is about to open his 12th outpost in Bristol, having taken the chain to Brighton, Exeter and Leeds since it landed in London in 2008. The restaurants are as busy as ever, but Norman has been surprised by booming recent demand for gift vouchers and private party requests. When we opened in Exeter we expected it to be an all-day offering, but were really finding that people are coming for special occasions, as an event, or an experience, he says.
Businesses already dealing in experiences are enhancing them to benefit from the shifting economy. Theatres would once never have considered putting a restaurant downstairs, but now youd be mad not to. The restaurant at Home in Manchester is taking 2m a year, Wrigley says, almost double what was expected. At the Chichester Festival Theatre, where ticket sales are up 12% on last year, the restaurant is booming, too. We dont have to be just excellent theatre-makers, but excellent business people, says Rachel Tackley, the executive director at the venue in West Sussex. Its about creating theatres as destinations where you can spend more than two and a half hours watching the show.
Marstons, one of the countrys largest pub groups, with more than 1,500 pubs, is racing to meet demand for more than pints of beer. Traditionally people use pubs, but go to restaurants, says the Wolverhampton-based firms managing director, Pete Dalzell. The group has shed hundreds of wet-led traditional pubs in recent years, and opened more than 150 pub-restaurants since 2009. Last year revenues were up 7% to 905.8m, and the average pub profit has doubled since 2012. Were opening up a new range of offers for consumers who are choosing to spend disposable income doing something with friends rather than buying something, Dalzell adds.
If the writing is on the wall for the purveyors of things, their response is to make the walls more appealing. Were seeing a fundamental shift in pretty much all categories to retain being much more experiential, Strong says. Increasingly, this means using technology to create the feeling of a meaningful relationship between brand and buyer, online and offline. High-street clothing stores are deploying shop assistants with tablet computers on which they can call up your previous purchases and tastes based on online browsing. And with smart marketing, even the dullest essentials are being sold as part of a brand experience. In the US, one Los Angeles TV producer, frustrated by the high price of razor blades, launched an online subscription service in 2012. Dollar Shave Club began posting blades for as little as $3 a month and, with the help of a viral ad campaign, earned 12,000 orders in the first two days. Deliveries come with an irreverent magazine. Customers felt part of something, free from the cut-throat corporate economics of brands such as Gillette, which is owned by Procter & Gamble. It soon had more than three million subscribers, and in 2016 Unilever, P&Gs big rival, bought the Dollar Shave Club and its members for $1bn. People have got that we can move from a transactional relationship mediated by big-scale advertising to much more of a one-to-one relationship with the customer, Strong adds.
That relationship is strong in Manchester, where Wrigley says she has been surprised by the scale of Homes success. The venue is already being overshadowed by rising office and apartment towers, and a new hotel. It has become the beating heart of a neighbourhood that was a wasteland only four years ago. Thats the magic of experientialism, Wallman says. Its not anti-consumerist or anti-capitalist. Money is still going into the economy and creating jobs were just spending it on experiences. Wallman, 43, has been following the trend for more than 10 years, and has seen it transform his own life. At his wifes prompting, he has just acquired a second pair of trousers, but is holding out with his one pair of shoes and five holey T-shirts. Id rather do things, he says. I took the kids to the Natural History Museum on Sunday. We went camping recently, I go climbing, play football. And it makes us happier.