Some are predicting the death knell for high streets. Do Britain’s entrepreneurs have a part to play in ensuring their survival?
There is little denying that the traditional high street is slowly becoming a thing of the past, with some established retailers struggling to stay afloat amid changing consumer habits intrinsically linked to the growth of the online marketplace, as well as ever-increasing cost pressures. Indeed, a recent study from the Centre for Retail Research (CRR) offered some rather worrying estimates, namely that the total number of store numbers will fall by 22% over the course of the next five years, from 281,930 today to 220,000 in 2018. It went on to suggest that by that time job losses could hit 316,000, with 164 major or medium-sized companies going into administration, involving the loss of 22,600 stores and 140,000 employees. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is to coincide with a predicted rise in the share of online retail sales from 12.7% to 21.5% in the same period.
And, while the CRR has called for an injection of capital to the tune of £322m to help pave the way to a revitalised high street, we can’t help but feel that our business tycoons have a role to play as well. To that end, what can our entrepreneurs do to help save our struggling high streets?
“Innovation is key” says Soula Zavacopoulos, founder and
creative director of The London Studio
What online doesn’t have that the high street does, but doesn’t really embrace that well, is the opportunity to see people face-to-face. High-street retailers could really do a lot more than they are doing, mainly by holding events to draw people in. There are websites such as etsy.com that are giving designers a place to sell their products and are a really good example of a popular online destination for people looking for something a little different. High-street shops should be doing that – they should be hunting out the cool new designers, because what often happens is that they are sticking to the big brands and trying to play it safe. But if they experimented a little and tried to differentiate themselves by having a different offering, they could do really great things.
So, if the entrepreneur is a designer, coming out with innovative products is the key because people are looking for something a little bit different nowadays. If the entrepreneur is the shop-owner, they need to be hunting out those cool innovative products.
“Harness creativity” says Jean Walker, SME business services partner at SAS Daniels LLP
Entrepreneurs need to work with what’s already there – for most high streets this means larger organisations, both public and private sector. The great thing about start-ups and entrepreneurs is that they are agile, and can cut through red tape. By partnering with bigger operations, whether that’s chain retailers, local education providers, the NHS or councils, entrepreneurs can help make trading easier.
Entrepreneurs need to harness their creativity – the high street of old has gone as people shop out of town or online – so we need to be thinking more about how the high street can be a destination in its own right, and thinking less about keeping it a poor copy of big out-of-town developments or Amazon. That could be seasonally focused pop-up shops, such as school uniforms in June to September to more festive retailers in the run up to Christmas, local reward schemes tied in to independent businesses, or encouraging local organisations.