It’s carnage on the high street as big brands cave in to online stores but small independent shops are leading a fight back.
And they are harnessing the internet to help – even though it is blamed for the decline of chains such as Toys R Us and Maplin.
Campaign group SaveTheHighStreet.org has already revived one suburb and plans to spread its survival blueprint across Britain.
In Barnes, South West London – where 90% of shops are sole traders – business is booming.
The Jewellery Shop
Sharon Dale’s four year-old business Sharon’s Stones was on its knees and heading for closure at Christmas.
“I’d hit rock bottom and was ready to call it a day, she says.
But a meeting with the SaveTheHighStreet team has breathed life back into the business after Sharon, 60, signed up to the free initiative.
They pinpointed areas for improvement such as online presence, social media, running jewellery workshops in the store and setting up a loyalty card scheme.
Inspired by her new skills, vintage jewellery expert Sharon said: “For fun, I bought a pink doughnut, decorated it with pearls and posted it on Instagram.
“Out of nowhere I got a call from someone who had seen it and wanted to buy pearl earrings.”
The Fashion Boutique
Italian designer Marco Tripoli, 49, opened his elegant boutique seven years ago and, while his business is a hit locally, he wants to give his brand a bigger stage.
He said: “I do have a website, but it needs a major overhaul and this is where SaveTheHighStreet has helped”.
He is using the organisation’s artificial intelligence online assistant called Jo to boost trade.
Jo has formed a plan of action such as checking and updating reviews, getting listed on relevant websites, and ensuring there is enough stock.
He now plans Marco Tripoli pop-up shops in London, re-launching the website for international customers and a local fashion show called Breakfast at Tripolis.
“I’m hoping 1,000 will come for a glass of Prosecco,” he said.
The Lingerie Store
Marie Truelove opened bra and knickers store True Love 10 years ago and has added swimwear and beach accessories to her range.
But the 50-year-old admits it is a constant battle to stay a step ahead of the opposition.
“I’m lucky as this is a destination shop where women will come for fittings and advice,” she says.
“But SaveTheHighStreet have advised on how to improve customer experience and think about more collaborations.”
So she teamed up with a nearby pilates studio and offered gym and leisure wear.
And, after putting products on Instagram, she has even shipped bras to New York.
The Food Shop
Business partners Richard Lane and Sally O’Gorman opened Gusto and Relish 18 years ago.
The traditional cheese, wine and homemade food experts have been given a plan to increase their online presence, update their website and improve their Google ratings to move up the list when shoppers use the search engine.
Richard said: “We’re also going to look at a delivery service and setting up a loyalty card scheme.”
The Vape Store
Andy Logan, 39, runs Vape Emporium.
He has also launched a loyalty scheme and runs tasting events.
Andy said: “Just selling products isn’t enough.
“We want to give shoppers an experience where they can relax in a lovely atmosphere with good music and have a digital presence so they know we’re here.”
Who are Save The High Street team?
Started 18 months ago, the initiative involves retail and digital experts who have made it a “mission” to help independent businesses modernise and survive in a tough retail environment.
The group’s Emma Robinson and Alex Schlagman are working in Barnes with the Retailer Advisory Board and partners including ad firm JC Decaux, card payment firm iZettle, online retail association IMRG and networkers Enterprise Nation.
The group’s digital assistant Jo has been developed to give advice on how to embrace the internet and boost trade.
Champ Blackburn spent big to win back crowds
Blackburn is the reigning High Street of the Year and achieved the title after investing £66million as well as encouraging independent traders.
Work started in 2011 on the transformation of a once-fading shopping centre and the outlay led to a 20% rise in the number of shoppers in its first year.
Now 253,000 people a week visit the town’s shopping area, where independent stores like sewing machine shop Hobkirk, Ainsworth Jewellers and Eve Lingerie sit alongside big brands. Empty shops fill up fast with cocktail bars and a 3D printing project moving in.
Revamp boss Harriet Roberts brought the council, firms and residents together in an ambitious project. She said: “It’s taken 15 years to get this far.. there’s still more to do.
“It was about changing perception. Blackburn’s not a tourist town but people wanted a place they could spend the day as well as shop.”
Free events such as the Heritage Festival and a revitalised 120-stall market helped the centre go “from zero to hero,” she said.
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