Since 2008 around 11,000 major high street outlets have gone out of business. In fact, the Centre for Retail Research has recorded over 46,000 employees were effected in 2018 with the closure of 43 major retailers. The statics don’t make for good reading and show year on year, a definitive trend towards more closures. Despite this national trend, the Bristol Post has reported on numerous occasions about the success of Gloucester Road in Bristol. The national picture shows tougher trading conditions for national retailers, yet local ones appear to be thriving. This article will examine the return of values around community and local pride rather than technological innovation that will save the high street.
Bristol’s Gloucester Road
Gloucester Road is rumored to have the largest continuous stretch of independent shops on any high street. Although not verified, any visitor will no doubt be hard-pressed to challenge this claim. The community is vibrant with the @gloucesterRoad twitter page having 2.2k followers. Traders on the high street often enter national awards, and in September last year, they won £15,000, which allowed them to invest in further improving the environment.
This camaraderie among independent traders is nothing new. The Harrogate Advertiser wrote extensively in October last year about how local traders joined forces to promote the high street. The failing high street retailers are in stark contrast to this. Both House of Fraser and Debenhams are examples of hostile takeover bids by Mike Ashley. Both these names have announced closures and made up a good share of the staff affected by these closures. Local businesses that are part of a community will create a vibrancy that large malls simply can’t.
The Guardian wrote a great article on how a community and a sense of belonging is more human nature than anything else. In fact, this community spirit and sense of belonging is arguably what makes us human. Big brands don’t carry the same appeal and the failure of BHS was widely reported as an example of how detached they had become from their consumers.
Large organizations that have done well on the high street have often communicated very clear messages about belonging. In December 2017, a year before the record-breaking results, the CEO of Joules discussed how the brand was key. It was more specific than a brand, he cited, lifestyle, and how the clothes fitted the lifestyle. The fact o engaged its audience in a specific way that it understands its customers. Evidently big brands that don’t are personable can survive and grow. Nonetheless, it would be wrong ignoring the advantage a local retailer has. A local retailer should be, and is often, intrinsically linked to where they belong.
It would be wrong to remiss the power of the internet and the growth of online retailers. This year saw a different trend with even the powerhouses. ASOS seeing declines and issuing a profit warning in January. Although the internet will be a challenge to large national retailers, arguably real independent local traders will be able to survive. By returning to the core values of being local, the ones that produce local goods will survive. The key reason is the ability to source the goods elsewhere. Eclectic on Hanham High Street is a fantastic example of a shop filled with goods that can’t be sourced elsewhere, they are unique. It is this traditional value of shops selling local produce that will no doubt ensure people visit the high street.
It clear that the sense of community, promotion of the local area, and selling local goods will make the high street a destination. This destination exhibits traditional values that connect with consumers as individuals. It is not so much innovation but a renaissance that has shown what high streets will succeed and those that won’t. It will be vibrant coffee shops with bustling markets that survive, not concrete shopping malls with little or no identity.