Sara’s Blog – A new era for retail offers opportunity for our high streets

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It is sad, but hardly a surprise, to see just how bad the pandemic has hit retailers, as illustrated in new research from PwC compiled by the Local Data Company (LDC).

According to the research 600 shops opened and 1,468 closed in the West Midlands in the last 12 months, a net decline of 868. Nationally, there was a net decline of 9,877.

Worryingly, PwC says, the real impact of the pandemic is yet to be felt as some stores ‘temporarily closed’ during lockdowns, are unlikely to return.

Retail parks have fared better than the other retail locations with net closures of 93 in the West Midlands, compared to shopping centres (285) and faring worst of all high streets (487).

But let’s stop the negativity there. Locally Burton-upon-Trent, Kidsgrove and Newcastle-under-Lyme are set to benefit from several million pounds the government’s Town Deals, as announced by Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick in October.

They will have the opportunity to invest in their local economies at this critical time, implementing proposals submitted to the government’s £3.6 billion Towns Fund, which is designed create jobs and drive growth across the country, forming a cornerstone of this government’s levelling up agenda to help reshape our towns and cities into places where businesses and communities can thrive.

Stafford town centre has also been allocated more than £14 million from the £830 million Future High Streets Fund. The funding will help Stafford transform its high street into a vibrant hub whilst protecting and creating many jobs.

Our largest shopping centre, The Potteries Centre has hatched a plan to ensure that the centre survives and adapts to a new era for the town and city centre retail experience.

Online shopping has risen exponentially, and we have seen years of profit warnings and many business failures from the more traditional bricks and mortar retailers. The pandemic has just accelerated retail business failure and store closures.

The Potteries Centre plan puts a focus on local businesses to support the centre and the high-street.

The centre’s wider strategy includes the recruitment of two new letting agents in Barker Proudlove and BWD Retail, which will be working alongside The Potteries Centre team to ensure a diverse mix of local independents alongside its existing brands over the coming months.

Rather than getting downbeat the centre has identified an opportunity to regroup and reposition, by increasing support for local independents, who they see as playing a big part in its future.

Smaller towns have been faring better in recent years because of the variety and innovation of independent retailers and hospitality businesses who offer something unique and work hard to build customer loyalty. They are also not so exposed as they don’t rely on so many large chain ‘anchor’ businesses who leave a big hole when they close.

Landlords and local authorities also have a role to play, keeping rents and rates at levels which encourage growth, whilst being flexible to allow businesses to ride out any unexpected disruptions to trade.

Enhancing the high-street experience will increase visitor engagement. There is a real opportunity now for all town and city centres, to work smartly and collaboratively with all stakeholders including national chains and independents, food and drinks businesses, local authorities, education and community organisations to create centres with a board and exciting offer that engender pride and make visitors want to return.

If you would like to discuss any issues raised here please contact my personal assistant Vicki Hardie vicki.hardie@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

If you want to talk to us about any business issues, you can call our switchboard on 01782 202222 or call the Stoke and Staffs Growth Hub Helpline on 0300 111 8002 or email: info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

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