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Innovation essential for retailers' survival

Innovation essential for retailers' survival

Wednesday 20 February 2019

Innovation essential for retailers' survival


Retail has taken a dive since New Years day, with HMV, Miss Selfridge and Escape closing in Town, the Edinburgh Woollen Mill on the cusp of shutting, and a couple of shops such as Smilers wrapping up on the Bridge.

And it isn't only shops suffering, as banks have been consolidating their high street presence and Town clubs and restaurants have been shutting too.

HMV Chain

HMV closed earlier this month, being the latest in a fairly long line of Town shops to shut their doors for good since the Christmas period. 

2018 was, and 2019 so far is, a tough climate for people looking to sell, whether it be niche goods or something as mainstream as clothes. When speaking to Express, owners and managers have been citing a handful of repeat culprits like big online traders, rent costs and finding staff. But alongside that, many are still optimistic about the future of shopping and retail on the island, no matter the location. 

Martin Search, the MD of Ray & Scott Jewellers, is already trying to think up ideas for how Guernsey can once again become a place that people travel to to shop - he thinks a great deal of innovation is needed, but says it can be done: "Now we are well into the 21st Century, there has been a major shift in retail. People are decluttering, buying different things, spending more but less often - it has all changed.

"We now like it to be an experience when we go out, so we need cafes and communities, shops now need to give that full-on retail experience to customers." 

ray & Scott bridge

Martin Search runs Ray & Scott Jewellers on the Bridge. 

On top of that, Mr Search said Guernsey would really benefit from working together to present one island retail front to the world: "There is a place for every type of store as customers are very diverse, but you need to get it right within your community."

Despite the closures, 2019 has seen some local retailers expand. Cycleworld is one story of success, having just moved from the Landes du Marche to the Bridge, expanding its retail space and its stock. Ben Walden, co-owner of the company, said the stars had aligned to allow them to move, and since doing so, they had been trading well.

cycle world bridge

Cycleworld used to be on the Landes du Marche, Camp du Roi junction. 

"It was time for us to get more space and find the right location with the right shop frontage," he said, "with rent though it was going to be difficult, and not all places would have been right for us - this has worked out so well luckily.

"It seems like we are busier since we have moved. [The Bridge] is a nice blend, in Town the rent is stupidly high, but you still get good traffic here - hopefully we can only make that better." 

Also running into continued success is Vaughan Davies at Vaughan's Vinyl Boutique - he initially opened two years ago as a temporary charity shop, but found such popularity that he decided to keep going. He pointed to his slightly different business model as the root of his success though. The shop acts as a community hub for music, with a radio station being run from the premises, music being played live in-shop, and also the opportunity for people to listen to what they are buying inside. That is all alongside staff who know their stuff - each with a passion for the music they are selling.  That 'hub' approach could also be seen in the success of Just Games, he added.

vaughan.jpg

Vaughan Davies. 

"There is definitely scope in Town for more shops to sell more quirky stuff," said Mr Davies. 

"But customer service is always the winner, it is the one thing we have over online retail - expertise and a smile. If you can make your customers feel appreciated they will keep coming back. Of course shops need to keep up-to-date, and maybe look at expanding their online presence, but customer service is key." 

Caroline La Touche, the owner of Smilers, concurred with Mr Davies, saying that customer service was important, but she also said it can be hard to find the staff on Guernsey. Smilers is closing its Bridge branch because there is not enough trade there, she said. They are still going strong with their Vazon shop though.

"Parking," she said, "people want to be able to park right outside the shop, so they can go somewhere to get something, and do that quickly and easily.

"You couldn't do that at the Bridge, because all of the short-term parking is taken up by people working there."

Smilers has been trading in Guernsey for 37 years now, and unsurprisingly, Ms La Touche said the landscape of the industry had changed immeasurably in that time.

"Trading is tough now, anyone will tell you that," she said. "It's a very difficult thing, but local shops need to be locally promoted - I think that might be the key."

Market Street

Jack Honeybill pointed to a number of projects outside of retail that could really boost the industry, namely the upcoming resurfacing of Market Street, and the redevelopment of the Market Building. 

Looking in from an outside perspective, Jack Honeybill from the Town Centre Partnership said it was clear that Town particularly was struggling at the moment, and while he emphasised that was not going to be the same for every shop, he added there were "more empty units than one would like to see". 

"Some retailers have been closing down, and there are signs that some might be opening, but I think rent is at the heart of it," he said.

"I heard from a landlord recently and he said he was putting a freeze on rent rises because they wanted to make sure their tenants had some security - but I certainly think there are some units going for a bit silly money." Mr Honeybill said landlords needed to be careful to look at the bigger picture when it came to how much they were charging, because it could make or break a small and fledgling business.

This was a sentiment echoed by Mr Search, who said while the closing and opening of new shops presented opportunities, landlords needed to embrace this new era of retail to allow it to become a "powerhouse industry" once again. 

Pictured top: shopper with inset, a to let sign for a property in Town.  

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