With all of the recent drama surrounding Mary Portas and Bill Grimsey, you would think the entire existence of the high street is at stake. However, the truth is a bit less apocalyptic – the high streets may stagnate, but they won’t disappear.
At worst case scenario, the high street will become a haven for bargain hunters, with charity shops and pound stores making up the majority of retail. Orpington High Street, for example, now has 12 charity shops in one short stretch.
But, if they are what the customers want, maybe it’s not so bad.
One area that is leading the way for growing high streets is Leigh Park, in Hampshire. Only two years ago, it topped the charts of Britain’s worst “ghost towns” with 36.4% of shops on the high street vacant. However, since then, sixteen new shops have been opened, and a further four will be officially opened on October 1st. Both Mary Portas and Bill Grimsey have been invited to this event, to see for themselves how a high street can adapt, survive, and grow.
How has this precinct reversed the trend? Mark Smith, of South Hampshire Properties, explains his involvement with the area: “I came to the area just over two years ago, and had the chance to purchase a couple of retail units with maisonettes above. Being a purely residential landlord until then, I decided that the risk was worth the reward and managed to purchase four units. Because of the low purchase price, I was able to ask for low rents, and in doing so, managed to get some new businesses in.”
After 26 months of investment, Mark has never looked back. He now has 14 retail units, all with tenants, and is in the final stages of converting an old supermarket to five smaller units, four of which will be opening within the next fortnight, and the fifth shortly after.
The area has become an ideal location for independent retailers, which have been able to start up because of a combination of numerous incentives and low rents. One of the newest additions to the precinct is a traditional sweet shop run by Kelly Waller. She was previously working from home but, following the local toy shop moving to larger premises on the precinct, saw the potential of their former store. By offering a personal service customers don’t get from larger chains, she already has many regular customers and is bringing in more and more variety to keep people interested.
The four shops set to open in the coming weeks will complement the existing array of shops, offering items currently not available in the area. They include pushchairs, carpets, ladies clothes and children’s clothes. All will be officially opened by the Mayor of Havant on the 1st of October.
Mark is a unique kind of landlord – one that actively supports local businesses in ways that you wouldn’t necessarily expect. He is currently leading a local promotion to attract more people to the area with the aim of getting shoppers to experience the joys of shopping locally once more. Despite his investments on this front, he stands to gain nothing directly. However, with more customers, his tenants are likely to succeed, grow, and thrive.
The location of our high streets, as well as who owns them, will primarily decide their fates. If people aren’t interested, their local precinct will degenerate. Conversely, if people are prepared to invest in their local businesses and traders, the area will grow.
Studies have found that for every pound spent with a local business, between 50p and 70p goes back into the local economy. Compare that with out of town stores and online orders, of which only 5p in every pound supports the local community and you will see why Leigh Park (with a population of over 30,000) boasts such a growth: success leads to success.
Ultimately, not all high streets will have the same fortune. Which ones grow and thrive depend on a large number of people: the shop owners, the landlords, the council, and most importantly, the customers. While some areas may fall victim to faceless supermarket chains, there is still a place in our hearts for personal service and choice like no other. Your Great British High Street is not dead; it is just finding a new direction to grow.
Why has this precinct succeeded?
Lower rents, encouraging more small businesses to start up
Proactive landlord, offering support on marketing and advertising
Traders Association working together to achieve results
Thinking outside of the box – offering customers something they can’t get elsewhere
Service with a smile, and interaction with customers