Armed with a firm belief in high street success as the building block of local communities, Lyndsay King left the corporate world behind to become the latest champion of independent UK retailers.
Last year, she launched SaveTheHighStreet to coordinate a UK-wide approach to improve high street success rates and level the playing field for local independent retailers. She spoke to Business Advice at her London office about her campaign’s manifesto.
(1) What is SaveTheHighStreet?
SaveTheHighStreet.org is a coordinated, industry-wide initiative that aims to support and empower shopkeepers across the UK by “democratising” retail and making it fairer for independent business owners.
Since we launched, we’ve been developing a set of modern retailing standards alongside the UK Retailer Advisory Board, and have put together our Connected High Street manifesto, introducing ten “pillars” that we see as the building blocks that will lead to a brighter future for Britain’s high streets.
(2) What made you decide to launch the initiative?
High street success are fundamental to building and maintaining strong communities. They give families, friends and individuals a place to gather, meet and spend time together.
The combination of online sales and people’s busy lifestyles means many high street shops have felt the impact of customers going elsewhere.
Retail business owners that have not been able to build an online presence, sell online or market themselves effectively have closed, or at the least seen a heavy decline in sales and customer footfall.
We want to make sure that these businesses continue to thrive, expand and grow – in-store as well as online – and are competitive and discoverable.
(3) What do you think is currently wrong with the high street model?
The decline of high street success is not something that is unique to the UK – it is being experienced all over the world. Customers are primarily heading online to shop via Amazon and eBay to get products delivered to their homes.
This is a popular trend, and it works for some businesses, but customers should have the choice to support local firms, purchase from shops in their own communities and understand what’s available to them in their immediate neighbourhood.
High streets are no longer a necessity, they are a choice. We will see communities joining around high streets that offer an experience, socializing, meeting, seeing and trying new things is what it’s all about. Going forward, we think technology will really propel high streets to become consumers’ favoured shopping experience.
(4) How can the health of high streets in Britain be improved?
It’s important to promote diversity of businesses as well as the individuality of high streets.
Every high street has its own character which needs protecting – we do not need any more empty shops or “identikit” high streets to cover the UK.
As we see it, the more discoverable stores are online, the more competitive they can be everywhere, so focusing on multi-channel visibility is also important.
SaveTheHighStreet have developed a ten-pillar manifesto for successful modern retailing that we think will help local shops be more competitive than ever.
(5) Do you see high streets in London declining faster than in other parts of the UK?
What’s interesting about London is that areas are becoming “gentrified” in what seems like a faster time. With the recent business rates revaluation, one point that became clear is that shop owners aren’t afraid to move to areas with lower rents to build businesses, and once they do, that area’s value goes up.
Once this happens, property values increase, business rates go up and larger retailers with more money to spend on rents tend to move in. It seems unfair on so many levels, and many retailers know it. Some of London’s oldest shops are shutting down due to this impractical system.
(6) What should be the role of policy makers in protecting local retailers?
We need policy to support the local character of high streets, and not just make a universal, formulaic case for business.
Too few policy makers end up spending time in their communities, and do not understand the pain points of the average shopkeeper. It’s therefore important policy makers keep the heart of the community as their core focus.
We need services, such as strong data driven WiFi in shops and throughout communities, and access to that data for shopkeepers to assist with planning.
We also need more money to make its way to business owners in the form of local investment, together with greater guidance on how to implement new technology that will grow their business and keep them competitive, now and in the future.
(7) Can ecommerce benefit small businesses as much as larger ones as it grows in popularity?
Many smaller business owners don’t realise the potential they have to market themselves online. The first step is to get the business listed on all existing directory platforms.
Next, if you don’t have a website, buy a domain name and get your website’s basic page built, so customers can discover you.
Thirdly, make sure you have some sort of inventory management or EPOS system to track the flow of stock and enable expansion. As a small shop owner, you can now do big business online on the digital high street.
(8) Who are your high street retail heroes and why?
A high street hero is a retailer who figures out what their business needs to do to thrive. Many of these business owners generally have the right idea – they have a loyal customer base and make a contribution to the character of their local high street.
I can’t name just one hero – independent retailers come in all shapes and sizes. Some adapt to changes and make their business work, while others will refuse change, and often make it happen just the same!
(9) How can local shopkeepers unite to help save the high street?
The first step should be to register and join our movement. We have an ambitious plan for upward growth – developing our education platform and providing free information and consultation to businesses.
Please share your views with us on the challenges facing high streets today in our quick two-minute High Streets Initiative survey.
Want to learn more about the challenges and opportunities facing small independent retailers on Britain’s high street? Read more from our campaign.
- Introducing the Business Advice High Streets Initiative
- The worst affected high streets in Britain
- Rewarding Visits: The digital high street platform empowering independent retailers
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