It’s no secret that high street retailers are going through a tough time – but there’s an independent light at the end of the tunnel, insists Cleveland Centre manager Graeme Skillen…
Ten years ago the UK’s major high streets were dominated by such names as Woolworths, BHS, C&A, Borders, Blockbuster, Comet and more. All of them fell foul of changing retail practices and perhaps a failure to move with the times.
More recently major high street brands such as House of Fraser, CarpetRight and Byron Burgers are among those struggling enough that they’ve announced CVA’s – Company Voluntary Arrangements – in a bid to keep their heads above water.
For those of us in the retail business, it would be easy to fling our hands up in the air and predict the ongoing demise of our beloved high streets.
But I don’t see it quite like that. The times they are a changing but there are reasons to be cheerful too.
There is absolutely no question that the high street retail sector is going through a tough time at the moment.
Many national names are struggling because they’ve either overstretched themselves, failed to keep up with the times and evolving demands of their customers or have simply allowed their business model to become outdated. Now they are paying the price.
But a closer look at the sector leaves plenty of room for positivity.
In the Cleveland Centre, we’ve witnessed first hand how Teesside’s entrepreneurial spirit is very much alive and kicking with the launch of a series of smaller, independent retailers.
Start-ups such as fashion retailer Jadore, Cupeno Coffee and makeup specialists ProBrushes – each run by determined and visionary local businesspeople – are popping up around Middlesbrough’s largest shopping centre among the established big brands such as Boots, Costa, H&M and WH Smith.
Along with Psyche 2 – the men’s fashion arm of Steve Cochrane’s impressive Psyche store – these smaller independents are surviving and thriving by offering something different to their customers.
A stroll along the nearby Baker and Bedford Street regeneration zone reveals several more like-minded young businesses proving that bigger isn’t always better.
There is a clearly appetite among the Teesside public for niche independent businesses that I expect to continue to pop up around the centre and other parts of the town.
I applaud every one of them and wish them continued success. But the emergence of the small independents definitely doesn’t mean the demise of the high street retail giant is inevitable. Far from it.
My experience of the retail sector has taught me that these things are often cyclical. What we’re witnessing is the retail sector’s way of realigning itself.
Yes, some of the other big names may struggle, restructure and possibly disappear, but others will rise to the challenge, streamline their offering, adapt and rise again.
Modernising their online offering, updating their ecommerce and enhancing their customer service are just some of the ways we’re already seeing high street brands change and adapt.
I, for one, wish them every success for only with a healthy mixture of national brands and local independents will the high street – and major shopping centres such as ours – continue to thrive.
That is why the Cleveland Centre has been working hard recently to attract another national to join the likes of Disney, Topshop, H&M, Starbucks and Foot Locker.
Watch this space for an exciting announcement soon. We’re determined to keep moving forward and bucking a national trend by further increasing footfall in the months ahead.
In the meantime be assured that the high street offering is evolving – I believe good times are ahead.