By Tom Kirkpatrick, Retail Expert / PR, Marketing & Business Development at RDO Kitchen Appliances
The continuing news of the ‘demise’ of the High Street is something that we have become accustomed to over the past few years. The increase of ‘out of town’ shopping centres and supermarkets increasing their available ranges has become an all too familiar way of life.
This week in particular we have seen it hit the headlines again as an alternative to the Portas Review has been released. Many have seen this as an opportunity to criticise the original review and I’m in no doubt that eventually the alternative review by Bill Grimsey will come under the same fire.
Ms Portas appeared earlier this week before the Communities and Local Government Select Committee to answer MPs’ questions on her review. Again, many took this opportunity to criticise, but I neglected to see any offer any suggestions of their own to help the current situation.
Rather than calling these meetings to assign blame, I (as I’m sure many retailers on the High Street) would like to see some decisive action from Local Authorities and Government to make this a priority.
The solution to the High Street is not a ‘one size fits all’ quick fix, and any review should not be treated as such. Having worked with multi-regional High Street retailers I know that you have to look at each High Street as its own unique, bespoke area. They all have their own demographic and as such, need an individual approach that will benefit everyone by identifying these needs.
Flooding the High Street with duplicate shops to fill retail units will do nothing to enhance the consumers’ experience. Local authorities need to ensure that their High Streets are diverse. A High Street with eight hairdressers, seven nail bars, four pound shops and five bookies will never regenerate because it won’t bring back a cross-section of shoppers.
Perhaps the solution is to have a quota for a business type, depending on the size of the High Street in question. Once this quota is reached, a ‘waiting list’ can be kept and first refusal can be offered if and when a similar business closes, moves away or the High Street undergoes expansion.
Examples of where local authority has not supported their High Streets have also been highlighted on several occasions. This can have a massive impact on traders, especially if they are on a High Street that is vibrant and full. It gives the impression that local authority has no interest; which can have the additional impact of deterring new business or traders from considering the area for investment.
Many towns have a Chamber of Commerce / Business Guild / Town Team that can work as a forum for debate and discussion. This should also encompass local residents and the local authority, who should be ensuring their support and communication with the High Street traders.
And to the Government; less spin, more action!