We all know that these are uncertain times, particularly for those who rely on the High Street for their living. With recent figures showing High Street spending falling at its fastest annual rate in six years, and spend in bricks and mortar stores falling 5.4% year on year in April, all are well aware of the challenges we face.
However, whilst some in the independent sector may feel some kind of vicarious satisfaction at the demise of some of the larger retail names, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the perceived erosion of the stalwarts of the High Street merely feeds into the notion that somewhere there is a Retail Grim Reaper waiting to pounce. The reality is that a thriving retail sector would benefit the independent sector as much as it would the bigger players.
However, whilst it’s not within our sphere of influence to have a profound impact on the macro-picture, we can do what we can to shore up local shopping communities by shouting about the diversity that independent retailers bring, not just to our shopping areas but to our wider communities too. This comes down to passion, product choices, independent retailers’ support for the social fabric of communities and, of course, delivering great customer service. In short, it’s all about the human connection.
This was a common thread that ran through many of the discussions and presentations given at the recent bira conference in Hinckley. Samantha Yair and Emma Woodward, whose five shop and online business Aspire Style, which offers vintage inspired dresses, clothing, accessories and gifts, was named Independent Retail Business of the Year. They spoke eloquently about the importance of standing out on the High Street. Although it isn’t possible to compete with the large marketing spend of the bigger players, they explained, independents can and do make a difference through customer service.
This is delivered not only through their own passion for their business but also by empowering their staff to share that passion for the products they offer and the way they are presented. This not only helps them deliver great customer service but also, importantly, sell better. They have spent time creating a real experience in store, for example through special events, all of which contribute to customers feeling a buzz around the brand and building an authentic relationship with those who come through the door.
Independent retail businesses add a different dimension to local communities. They contribute to the distinct character and style of an area, can be a driver for employment and, their success can feed into the entrepreneurial spirit of those around them. All the more reason, therefore, why independents need to be given the support they need to ensure they thrive.