As part of her remit Mary, as famous for her no-nonsense approach to service as anything she achieved in retail, has been asked by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to
- Address the problem of vacant shops
- Adopt new business models for the high street that fit the needs of the modern shopper.
- Prevent the proliferation of ‘clone towns’
- Increase the number of small and independent retailers doing business in local town centres
Her task will not be an easy one. New figures have revealed almost a fifth of Birmingham’s shops are empty as the economy battles to recover from the recession and consumer confidence remains in crisis. 18% of Birmingham’s shops are boarded up, according to a report by The Local Data Company, which has revealed that the city has the 13th highest rate of vacant stores in the country.
High Streets are not only battling recession, powerful out-of-town developments, no-expense-spared supermarkets but, perhaps critically, a change in shopping habits that saw year on year growth in internet shopping of 18% to end May 2011. Ecommerce sites might be tempted to ask ‘what recession?’ but their High Street competitors – and commercial agents - will give them an answer in no uncertain terms.
Yet despite the mouse and keyboard, shoppers still love the experience of shopping – the touch and feel, the smell and taste as well as the sense of service and specialism. This may hold the key to the retail future. As the Coalition will readily admit, government can only play as small part in determining the future of retail outside of increasing consumer confidence but local authorities can play a constructive role that will bring results. Some ideas might be
- Reduced rates for new business during their first year
- Increased ‘zoning’ – the success of the Jewellery Quarter should act as a model for further retail zones
- Go digital – Birmingham CC are keen to create a digital hub and for Birmingham to be seen as a centre for digital excellence. Why not link strategy to retail so High Street retailers are shown how to use social media etc to develop business and build customer base
- Work together – with larger vacant retail units, commercial agents and the council can work to create smaller space for ‘boutique’ retailers – often young and entrepreneurial – creating a unique collective vibe often found in European cities but sadly lacking in Brum.
- Look at the infrastructure – parking is a problem both in numbers and cost. It’s laudable that the Council wants us to use public transport but shoppers often don’t. Accept this fact and make using the car an affordable option – out-of-town stores do!
These are just a few initial ideas for something which it is in everyone’s – commercial property agents, City council, retailers and shoppers – to make successful. If you have any ideas or comments let us know – and you can even let the Mary know at www.bis.gov.uk/highstreet