The high street is facing the biggest change it has ever had to face – but Teesside’s leading retail chiefs insist there are positives to be taken from the challenges thrown up by the coronavirus pandemic.
Psyche owner Steve Cochrane, Hillier’s Jewellers boss Adam Hillier and Castlegate Shopping Centre boss Karen Eve told Tees Business the way ahead is going to be difficult but retailers are ready and waiting to welcome back shoppers.
From Monday, June 15, all non-essential retailers will be allowed to re-open as the UK’s lockdown measures continue to be eased.
The move has meant many high street stores, including the likes of fashion and jewellery retailers, can open their doors to shoppers after three months of closures the like of which have never been seen before.
Many Teesside businesses have been working behind the scenes to implement safety measures including social distancing, hand sanitiser stations, cleaning solutions and buying in PPE for staff.
It has been a challenge, they say, but there is a great deal of confidence that the resumption of retail can be done safely and effectively.
Steve Cochrane, owner of Middlesbrough designer fashion store Psyche; Adam Hillier from Middlesbrough-based Hillier Jewellers and Karen Eve, regional centre manager for Knight Frank –responsible for Stockton’s Castlegate and Wellington Square shopping centres – discussed Teesside’s retail sector in the latest Tees Business Facebook Live interview.
“I think we are going to go through the most amount of change the high street has ever gone through,” said Steve.
“If you are an independent, you can adapt and evolve and embrace that change a lot better than if you are a massive multiple. I think it is going to be an advantage to smaller retailers. Hopefully it will mean the high street will have more diversity because there’ll be more smaller retailers as some of bigger ones pull out altogether or don’t even reopen after lockdown.”
During lockdown, he said, Psyche concentrated on its strong e-commerce site. As a result, the combined turnover of the whole business has only dropped by 20%. He’s looking forward to welcoming customers back to the store which has been completely re-fitted to adapt to the new safety measures.
Hillier has also increased its online trading during lockdown. The family run business has been working hard to prepare for the physical store reopening.
“Once lockdown is lifted and places can reopen, I know everybody is really trying their best to make everywhere as safe as possible,” said Adam.
“It is going to be difficult, it is going to make the sale process a lot longer but we are all doing the best we can. It is going to be safe to come down because everyone is doing their best.”
More retailers at the Castlegate and Wellington Square in Stockton are preparing to re-open. The way they do business has changed – but some have adapted and flourished as a result, said Karen.
“Independent businesses have been able to quickly respond to changes in the market,” she said. “That’s been a success for some of our businesses, to be honest.
“Some of our independents have been trading for over 40 years. What comes with that is history, the way things used to work years ago. Some have been reluctant to change along the way and expected the way we trade in 2020 to be the way we traded in 1970.
“Covid has brought about that change, it has pushed them into trading differently where they might never have done. It is heart-warming to see that some have really flourished.”