‘The Death of the High Street’ is an all too familiar phrase, conceived by the media and summarising the changing face of our town centres with six simple words. With veteran retailers such as Woolworths, more recently Mothercare, and now Clarks shoes under threat, is it any wonder that the average fledgling would-be independent shop owner might reconsider their dream, for a career that offers much more financial certainty and security?
But how then, are some businesses surviving? And thriving?
A new breed of broad thinking proprietors are setting up shop across the country despite all the negativity in the press, and more importantly, despite the reality that it is a damn difficult market out there, with any would-be profits quickly diminished by outlandish rents and rates; and that’s before taking the risky step of employing additional staff.
A two minute walk from our office in Congleton in Cheshire, is the new ‘Wild + Wild café’, which opened its doors early 2018, selling a delectable menu of plant-based food, enjoying the growing market for Vegan diets (the UK vegan population is expected to increase by around 300% by 2020). The food is excellent, with the café being granted the coveted ‘Best Café in Cheshire’ award the Cheshire Life’s Food & Drink Awards in 2019.
But like many of the more successful retailers, it is the owner’s adoption of flexibility into their business strategy that seems to be the key to success. The café also markets itself as an events space, hosting a diverse line-up of workshops and wellbeing classes such as ‘Seasonal Fermented Food’ making demonstrations, and ‘Meditation and Sound’ workshops. They host parties. They encourage local business groups to meet there, and of course they have free Wifi.
Similarly, a few miles down the road in Macclesfield, the artisan bread maker ‘Flour Water Salt’ confidently claims that it is the one ‘Real Bakery in Macclesfield’. Established in 2009, it has just opened its second outlet at the new Picturedrome food hall on Chestergate (third if you include the quirky little van, a familiar presence at the monthly Treacle Market). The business has enjoyed good expansion, part of which has been cleverly crowd funded by a number of campaigns allowing customers to purchase such items as Gift Cards and workshop placements. Its success is proven by the frequent queue of customers out of the door at its main shop at 9 Market Place.
Also in Macclesfield is ‘Déjà vu’. They sell carefully selected used - vintage – retro – second hand furniture, often from house clearances, and some of which has been given a new lease of life by the owners Paul and Mark. Their stock turnover is rapid, and their social media is updated several times a day. The shop is small and manageable, the prices reasonable, and the owners have a great eye for what looks good, clearly sharing a passion for interior design.
The ability to flourish in today’s market, through the savvy identification of changing consumer trends and the willingness to embrace technology and reach out to the global market via social media with a constant drip feed of new content, to tempt consumers with seductive images of their products seems to be the Golden Ticket.
The retailers mentioned are active social media users. All are on Facebook. All are on Instagram. None of them put ‘all their eggs in one basket’. They all have outstanding branding, and customer service which is second to none. They change and they evolve as the market demands. They have managed to create an identity, and it is a ridiculously trendy one. We want people to know we shop there and eat there. We want to be photographed there, and to photograph the things we purchase there, because their image then becomes part of our own.
Is this then, the new driving force of the retail market, clever businesses that think outside the box? ‘Smarter Working’ is a present buzzword of commerce, which allows for greater flexibility in the workplace. Perhaps ‘Smarter Selling’ is the key to the future of the high street, and the sellers that fall victim have simply not kept up with the pace of the 21st century.
The ‘Forever Young’ retailers are intelligent vendors. They know what the public want, and we punters lap it up by the bucketload.