Retail guru Mary Portas has urged the high street and independent retailers to come together to share shops and training skills and promote shopping areas to beat the recession and halt the ghost town phenomenon.
Portas, who this week appeared in BBC2 TV programme Mary Portas: Save Our Shops, which highlighted the plight of struggling high streets in market towns, told Drapers: “I would love it if the big boys gave the small retailers some of their training skills. They could take a percentage of people on their management training schemes from indies as a gesture of goodwill. They need each other. What’s in it for the big retailers is variety on the high street, which is what shoppers want. It will also help develop the next generation of retailers.”
Portas has also called for independent retailers to escape their insular mindset and work together to promote trade and survive the recession.
She said: “Independents need to break out of their box and think about different ways of doing things. Why not think about sharing shops? Retailers could combine strengths and share premises. We’ve [the retail industry] become so isolated in our way of thinking and we need to work together and help ourselves.”
John Lewis, which appeared in the programme, backed Portas’s call for partnerships. A spokesman said: “The best way for a large business like us to help small retailers is by becoming involved in training initiatives like the National Skills Academy for Retail. We also hold events with local businesses where they can hear about our retailing approach.”
Portas also warned that consumers were becoming more demanding in the downturn and indies would have to step up their game to survive. “The three key things are shopping experience, service and specialisation,” she said. “The customer will be much more demanding in the future. Service and knowledge will be essential. You have to make the store a place where the customer wants to be - create a social experience where shopping is the by-product.”
The TV show also followed indie retailers in Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire as they struggled to deal with closures and a drop off in trade.
The British Shops and Stores Association (BSSA) supported Portas’s call for multiples to assist indies this week, but added that indies themselves should get together to pool their resources and lobby local councils and landlords to support the retail sector.
BSSA chief executive John Dean said: “Once a town starts to decline, a ‘vortex’ effect can quickly occur. Stakeholders must come together to develop a strategic plan.”
According to research firm Experian, more than 35,000 shops will shut during the rest of the year.
Healthy high streets
Top tips to revitalise high streets:
- Retailers must work in partnership, and with local councils and landlords
- Retailers should capitalise on a town’s historic reputation
- Retailers should fight for a varied retail mix
- Maintain public areas
- Retailers should make the most of EU grants or Business Improvement Districts