High Street Improvements boost all Local Businesses
Things have changed in terms of the way people shop. High parking charges, out of town retail parks and shopping on the internet have all led to a decrease in footfall on our High Streets and many businesses across the UK are failing. This is a social issue as High Streets have a history of being a place where people met and felt part of their community as well as supporting local businesses.
David Cameron has acknowledged our High Streets are not far from extinction and now they are at crisis point, the Prime Minister has asked Mary Portas to come to the rescue and recommend solutions. The 28th recommendation in the Portas Review is to run some pilot schemes and three of these are now being televised. In the first instalment of Mary Queen of the High Street on Tuesday 7 May on Channel 4 at 9pm, Mary Portas proclaimed that in taking away the heartbeat of a community i.e. the High Street, you take away the infrastructure.
An example of the deterioration of a once thriving street is Roman Road in the East End of London. There has been a market here since the 1860’s and a hundred years on, people would come from miles around to pick up the latest fashion bargains in the unique shops and market stalls. Fifty years later it’s a different story. The footfall has diminished and takings across the board are at an all-time low. The street was so pitiful that it was left off the Olympic map even though it was very near the Olympic Village which of course perpetuated the degeneration of businesses on the Roman Road.
It is essential that in any community the demographics are analysed before setting up a new business, so that potential customers are not alienated. Mary Portas and the residents around Roman Road ascertained there are two types of potential customers, the new, trendy people moving into the area as foretold by the huge house building project nearby and the established clientele who have lived in the area all their lives.
Mary was on a mission. Her first step was to create an anchor at either end of the street. These used to be destination shops such as Marks and Spencer and Debenhams where people frequented because they knew they could rely on them in terms of products and customer service. She starts at one end by transforming a junk shop into a haven for retro chic. This is ideal for 30+ adults with young families who want to do their houses up, but are reluctant to spend a fortune doing so. These potential customers have moved in to the area because they couldn’t afford more exclusive residential areas in London, but have enough disposable income to support businesses offering something a little more quirky than the traditional department store stalwarts.
Overcoming bureaucracy with great enthusiasm, Mary Portas and local entrepreneurs transformed the other end of the street into a food centre. The idea behind this anchor is to start the day with a hearty breakfast and then wander down the market, sampling interesting food stalls along the way towards the antiques shop anchor at the other end of the street.
Mary’s advice as highlighted in The Portas Review is that this market and indeed, whole streets need to be run as a united business. In the case of Roman Road, residents worked with the council to vet new stalls and a Town Centre Manager helped work out what the mix should be. This meant bringing in innovative businesses and weeding out the proprietors that didn’t cut the mustard.
Throughout the program Mary emphasised the importance of presentation from the way individual products are showcased to the appearance of a shop building. It only takes one or two outlets on a High Street to stand out in terms of a great looking exterior and a re-spray on a shop front is a fantastic start. This will attract customers and in turn lead to increased footfall that will help other businesses to flourish. It will take time for this increase to sustain businesses in a whole street, but it is worth the effort as people will invest in shops that are in the hub of a flourishing community.