Just needs a lick of paint…

With an air of doom & gloom hovering above Britain’s High Streets over the last few years it would be easy to conclude that we are destined to live in what the New Economics Foundation, some years ago, termed ‘Ghost Town Britain’. Traders constantly seem to berate the traffic/parking situation in our town centres and, whilst this is undoubtedly an issue, it is certainly not the main problem, which is that property rents and rates are simply unrealistic against the net income retailers can reasonably expect. There are glimmers of light, not least from the recent ‘Portas’ report and its recommendations which the Government are now addressing. Most recently we have been involved in celebrating the informal ‘Independents Month’ of July starting with ‘Independents Day’ on the actual American Independence Day (4th July) which saw almost all the shops on Wyle Cop offer promotions and start Summer sales.

It is well known that Shrewsbury has more than its fair share of Independent shops who are successfully battling the storm that has brought many of the ‘big boys’ down in recent years but can these individuals really continue to shape the future of Britain’s high-street?

As someone new to the retailing game (joining my partner, Lulu, to move Vintage into bigger premises on Wyle Cop after being made redundant 2 years ago) I would say definitely, yes.

So how is it that we are able to survive when ‘economic conditions’ have forced many previously household names out of existence? Well for a start our expectations have to be a bit more realistic; the hard truth is you have to accept the ‘lifestyle’ of potentially having to run the place yourself 7 days a week 12 hours a day if necessary and having an online presence too and still expect to only just about scrape a living! There are of course many benefits to this ‘lifestyle’, you get to do something you enjoy, live and work in your town and it’s very sociable to work in a public environment every day with a real and growing sense of ‘community’.

Next, we are much more able to respond to individual customer needs. In our shop we run a ‘personal shopping’ service whereby we can try and look for literally anything we’re likely to come across at the request of a customer for example.

Finally we know that we have to be innovative!

The traditional town centre retail model cannot possibly compete against out-of-town shopping centres, supermarkets and the internet; it has to offer something ‘different’, it has to offer the customer an ‘experience’ which means offering ‘services’ as well as products. Some have achieved this by providing a small café in their shop, for example, but for us one of our developing activities is running ‘workshops’ for customers to get hands-on with the products we sell. This kind of activity pulls people in from far and wide, from other nearby towns that are fast losing their shop-keeping heritage.

Whilst we don’t operate our business model to have big ‘sales’, and hope that we just represent great quality and value all the time, we used the recent ‘Independents Day’ to launch our Summer Series of Workshops in using our fabulous Chalk PaintTM by Annie Sloan and are delighted to be able to report that all places on the Introductory & Advanced workshops have now been taken. Places are still available on the ‘taster’ sessions where you can decorate and take away your very own table lamp base or step stool using anything from our range of decorative furniture products by Annie Sloan of Oxford, with expert guidance from our proprietor, Tristan Haynes.

We feel so privileged to have been able to stock the self-proclaimed ‘Best Paint in the World for Furniture and Walls’ (it’s true, it really is!) since moving to our bigger shop and it is great to feel like we’re part of the Annie Sloan extended ‘family’ of independent stockists through the UK and beyond! So, as you can see, in our case it really was true that all we needed was a lick of paint!

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Pete White Pete White

Love Shrewsbury editor and chief developer at The Web Orchard, find out more on petejwhite.com

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