The high street’s biggest challenge – but an opportunity too

Tees Business Digital Media Pack

Tees Business asked local high street leaders and retail businesses what the biggest challenges they were facing as they prepare to reopen post-Covid lockdown. Bosses at Psyche and Castlegate Shopping Centre were among those who gave us their thoughts…

Karen Eve, regional centre manager, Knight Frank (responsible for Castlegate Shopping Centre and Wellington Square, Stockton)

“Businesses preparing to reopen are facing challenges they would never have previously thought of pre-Covid-19. Sourcing PPE for staff, creating one-way pedestrian systems, installing sneeze guards at checkouts and placing returned stock into quarantine has become the new normal.

“However, the biggest challenge our high streets now face is also their biggest opportunity. Consumer confidence is low and shopping for essentials-only has become a way of life. Trying to encourage customers out for non-essential trips will be a challenge but we are all still longing for some of our previous indulgences.

“Daily conversations are around haircuts, a longing for a peri-peri hit or a cold drink anywhere other than our garden. The challenge for high streets is huge but the opportunity is as big.”

Steve Cochrane MBE, managing director, Psyche, Middlesbrough & Durham

“The main issue is going to be safety – making sure that all staff are completely safe and feel safe, but also that customers feel totally confident too.

“We had an external company carry out a Covid-19 health and safety audit and we are installing till screens and placing distancing markers on the floor, plus there will be a one way system with an entrance and exit.

“Customers have been at home shopping online and that has become a habit for some, so we are going to have to give very compelling reasons to shop at Psyche that go way beyond discounting.”

Janice Auton, owner, Poppys Hairdressing, Stockton and Hartlepool

“Many businesses have rethought their offer and are being creative on delivering. But our business is hairdressing and you cannot buy a haircut online or click and collect. You buy a time slot and the skills of a hairdresser.

“Luckily, at Poppys Hairdressing the salons are spacious, and we are in preparation for the regulatory instructions, but as in all shops and services social distancing will impact on the number of customers allowed to enter and this will impact on profit.

“The pandemic requires us to think about business survival and future business models, it truly is a new landscape. Ideally for Poppys, there’ll be collaborations with other businesses with a similar market where the overheads could be shared and in turn secure continuing business successes.”

Helen Oliver, owner, Solo Boutique, Guisborough

“I think the biggest challenge will be making sure customers feel safe and protected. I have a clothing boutique so the fitting room situation will be challenging as the clothes will have to be quarantined after being tried on.”

Amy Hanlon, owner, Bellus Amor Lingerie & Loungewear, Hartlepool

“As a small, solely-run independent business in the lingerie industry, Bellus Amor has flourished solely on the bespoke bra fitting service I provide. The advice around fitting rooms faces me with my biggest challenge, as it’s of particular significance that I must make changes within the boutique and adapt the personal shopping experience I give to not only keep everyone safe but also to give clients the confidence to return without losing my USP of the fitting.

“Moving forward, clients will only be able to visit with an appointment booked and we will limit the amount of people within the boutique at any one time.

“I have adapted the layout of the boutique, moving the luxury seating so the fitting area is more spacious and have fixed automatic hand sanitiser dispensers to the entrance. I also have face coverings including mask and shield at the ready.

“Lingerie shopping is a personal shopping experience and assistance is required so, although non-essential shops have been given the go-ahead to reopen from June 15, I made the decision to coincide with hair and beauty salons and will not reopen until at least early July.”

Steve Maddren, director, Lucy Pittaway Gallery, Yarm and Richmond

“Ensuring a safe working environment for both staff and customers is the primary consideration. Beyond this, the realities of the high street are a major concern as people remain afraid to leave the home and, as a non-essential retailer, we wonder if they will actually come to the stores.

“As an employer, you are bringing staff back into the workplace, therefore increasing costs with no guarantees there will be any significant custom. Limiting store footfall at any given time will additionally impact sales, but will be essential for social distancing.

“There will be challenges, but this is the reality we all must address in a positive manner for the time being.”

Maxine Freer, founder, OOK Design

“We’re currently working on a number of high street projects and the main challenges are safety, consumer confidence and redefining the high street offer.

“The Association of Town and City Management – a UK membership organisation – is working with towns and cities, local authorities, business improvement districts, business owners and the government to ensure the people in our towns have the tools, information and resources required to enable them to get back to business.

“Pre-Covid-19, high streets were already challenged with shrinking retail, with diversification and future footfall drivers already at the top of the agenda. The pandemic is painful – we must use the time as a catalyst for a new wave of creativity across town centres, high streets and for how we use space, travel and connect. Life after lockdown will be different, so we are working with towns on community brand, place and space to reimagine the future.”

Abigail Fletcher, Eleventh Hour Beauty, Norton

“For the hair and beauty industry, the biggest challenge is reopening in line with social distancing rules – especially when official guidelines haven’t yet been released so nobody knows what actually needs to be done.

“Other countries have made appointments mandatory, meaning walk-ins are a thing of the past and more time cleaning between clients leaves less time to answer calls and messages from clients.

“Utilising a digital platform like Eleventh Hour Beauty is more important than ever if businesses want to not only survive, but come out stronger and more effective.”