Opinion

There might be a future for the British high street, but only if we act now

4 min read

25 June 2018

A lot of things in life are circular. Be it fashion, music or indeed business, some things keep coming back into style. Let's hope high street stores follow the same trend.

With the way the high street is creaking under the pressure of failures among the debt-fuelled, stock market-driven big boys, the retail sector might just be able to reset itself and give the independents another shot at taking the crown.

Any entrepreneur can see why all those years ago Mr Marks and Mr Spencer could see how and why their one store could be replicated in other locations.

It’s a classic business model that can be successfully replicated, but, sadly, also successfully abused, to the detriment of the retail sector. It is a phenomena that is being acutely felt up and down the country, with empty shop units multiplying faster than a World Cup football field full of midges.

While the internet can take much of the rap for the impending death of town centre shopping, a lot of the blame has to be placed squarely on the shoulders of the huge retail operators that have opened too many stores, too quickly. All in a need to feed the financial hunger of shareholders and private equity investors.

This has led to the growth of colossal companies that have the turning dexterity of an oil tanker, and the nimbleness of a ballet dancing elephant.

As a result, their aggressive takeover of the high street, coupled with the inability to react quickly enough to market changes and customer needs, has left shop-based retail on the endangered species list.

But as the saying goes, what goes around, comes around, and perhaps what started as a place for independent retailers, could again be a thriving location for shopping.

Rather than history completely repeating itself, it won’t be apron-wearing Victorian shopkeepers reclaiming the high street. It should be 21st century retailer entrepreneurs, who can offer customers something they can’t find online, and make shopping a more social and personal experience.

This new generation of retailers have a great chance to show off next week during Independents Day on, unsurprisingly, 4 July.

Originally launched in 2011 and in a similar vein to Small Business Saturday, Independents’ Day is an excellent way for retail entrepreneurs to be part of a positive grassroots movement that can help shoppers see the clear benefits of supplementing their online buying with shopping locally.

Although not directly in the retail sector, as an owner of an independent business, I know there is undoubtedly a place for small firms, which, to quote Independents’ Day spokesperson Howard Robinson, offer choice, diversity of product, tradition as well as innovation and are built on providing a more personal service to customers.

Of course, this is not just about consumer choice, it’s about the economy. These stores are job creators and can make a positive contribution to local and national economies.

So perhaps, a little bit of history can repeat itself where towns are filled with welcoming and diverse local retailers, but this time having learned the lessons of the past few years.

And maybe, those lessons will have also been learned by the councils that have priced retailers out of their premises due to expensive Business Rates and helped turn the high street into no-go-zones because of parking charges that don’t exist at out of town retail parks or on the internet.

By looking to the past, there might just be a future for the British high street, but only if we act now!