This is our local High Street. Behind the rather quaint façade of these properties with character is potentially, a tale of foreboding.
Is Retail Set to Fail?
We moved to this area almost 20 years ago. The truth is, this particular High Street wasn’t terribly exciting then. The town is in a constant state of flux. A few of the outlets have stayed the course, mainly branches of multiples, another independent is closing its doors this month. I visited last weekend, there are now a plethora of barbers shops, charity shops and coffee shops with a definite scarcity of people. The giant out-of-town supermarket has now opened up an ‘Express’ outlet within the town, the final nail in the coffin?
Bricks and Clicks
Of course now, ‘Bricks and Clicks’ is de rigueur. A well run shop needs the backing of a well written, high functioning website and both need to be managed with wisdom and expertise. But is there hope for the small indies who don’t follow the crowd? Some outlets simply don’t lend themselves to online, the ‘Glazed Creations‘ ceramic decorating shop, the beauty salons, the art gallery, you really need to be there, but they still need to advertise. Retail outlets can do a lot to improve the experience for their customers to draw people through the door. That starts with the greeting as you walk in, the attitude of staff, it doesn’t necessarily mean spending a fortune on gimmicks and props to try to stand out, it can be far more organic.
Potential for Improvement
Around 13 miles away is the thriving market town of Saffron Walden. Received wisdom is that once upon a time, Saffron Walden was in a similar state, now it is a bustling town centre with a stable retail backdrop. It’s a ‘destination’, the kind of place that one goes for a trip out. The retail outlets enjoy the support of an affluent community and the backing of town planners who carefully vet the type of outlets they allow in. There are plenty of glorious independents with desirable offerings, they are quite simply ‘getting it right’. Many of the outlets are nowhere to be seen online, I dare say that may change but for now, they have no need. I’ll finish this post here, I need to go shopping, I would love to support my local town but the truth is, I won’t find what I need there and the experience won’t be great.
What will become of the High Street? Is it time to re-purpose? What are your suggestions? Do we need to be thinking outside the box or going back to tradition and promoting the ‘tried and tested’? Maybe town planners need to swallow their pride and learn from towns who are clearly getting it right.