Champions Round Table
Changing Face of the High Street
The retail sector has faced unprecedented challenges over the last few weeks but, with businesses adapting faster than ever, Chesterfield’s retailers, food and drink establishments and other organisations have continued to operate standing the town in good stead.
According to a recent report by the Local Data Company, Chesterfield is one of the UK’s most resilient town centres in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its resilience is attributed to the fact that the town has a high percentage of essential retail which has still been able to trade during the pandemic.
While some traders on the open air market and within the market hall have remained open, offering and collect schemes, others have adapted by offering a takeaway services and even delivery of their goods across the local area.
Shop Local has come to the fore during lockdown enabling many businesses to continue operate and provide residents with the goods and services they need. Could this be an opportunity for the resurgence of the high street? This was just one of the questions discussed at this month’s virtual round table organised by Destination Chesterfield in conjunction with the Derbyshire Times
Held remotely using video conference technology, the round table brought together key figures from the local business community to discuss how Chesterfield’s high street is adapting to challenges and what its immediate and long-term future looks like in the face of the pandemic.
MS – Martin Swain – Proprietor, 360 Accounting Ltd
IB – Ian Bates – Sector Forum and Representation Manager, East Midlands Chamber (Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire)
JR – Jackie Roberts – Business Crime Reduction Partnership Manager, East Midlands Chamber (Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire)
SD – Simon Davidson – Owner, RP Davidson Cheese Factor
SB – Sarah Bowler – Office Administrator and Commercial Co-ordinator, Vicar Lane Shopping Centre
What have been your experiences in lockdown so far?
SD – When the Prime Minister announced the lockdown, it was a bit of shock really. The following morning, we opened the shop not really knowing what was going to happen. We had lots of stock and we wanted to continue serving our loyal customers, so we really didn’t want to close. We managed to set up a click and collect service where people can just park right outside, get their product and go. Our customers were really grateful for that.
We’ve changed the products on sale too, trying to make it easier for our customers to be able to come in and get what they need.
SB – Until lockdown, footfall on Vicar Lane was up 6.3% in March year on year. However, now we’re in the position that footfall is down to -27.6% year on year. The limited footfall that we have had has been due to the fact that Superdrug, Iceland and Holland & Barrett have remained open to the public throughout the pandemic. Also, Quoozies reopened to start doing takeaways.
IB – What we’ve seen at the Chamber, across all sectors, is people stepping up and changing the way they work in order to support the crisis, like making deliveries or helping the NHS. A lot of businesses have worked collaboratively with each other. We’re also being agnostic with our support; it’s for everyone now and not just Chamber members so, hopefully, we can help as many people as possible.
Do you think people will continue to support local retailers as they have been doing recently, post-pandemic?
JR – In the short term, I think local shops will feel the benefits from this, but people have got short memories.
DS – We’ve seen how quickly businesses have adapted with click and collect, takeaway and more, so hopefully they’ll carry on with that and it will benefit both the business and their customers.
SD – The response to all of this has been amazing. It’s definitely made people a lot more aware of the ‘Shop Local’ message and helped them realise the importance of it.
How can high street businesses better use digital technology?
DS – A lot of stores have put things in place, like an online store or started using social media, that they might have been thinking about for years and maybe should’ve done earlier, but this has prompted them to get it done. This will hopefully benefit their business post-lockdown too.
MS – Prior to this, I’ve never bought anything from Amazon. However, I’ve had to change my shopping habits for things like printer cartridges. I think shops that sell leisure items and office supplies might need to look at adapting their business because people have had the Amazon experience now, where they order something and get it the next day.
SB – Social media is key for Vicar Lane. We want everyone who comes to Vicar Lane to know it’s a safe environment where they know what to expect so we’re using chatbots messenger service, that operates through Facebook, and contacting everyone on our list to let them know we’re open again, what stores are open and the measures that have been put into place.
MS – I think a lot of this is about safety and what stores can implement to make people feel safer. Click and collect is ideal for small local businesses, because it not only makes it safer for customers, it also makes them interact with the physical store too.
SB – As people have been sitting at home too, social media usage time has really gone up. That’s one great thing for businesses to focus on at the minute.
MS – It’s difficult for clothing retailers as people are unable to try on clothes. However, I’ve noticed Blanc and Dotique both using social media to showcase their clothes and offering delivery.
DS – The webinars East Midlands Chamber has been running about digital technology and using it in a business are really use The Destination Chesterfield team has been using them and finding helpful.
Has lockdown created any opportunities for the high street?
MS – With business rates on hold for the next 12 month this could be a great opportunity for people who have been thinking about moving forward with their business to open premises in the town centre.
DS – Research has shown that two of the best types of small businesses to start during a recession are affordable luxury items and bulk food sales.
SD – With many people relying on local businesses through the lockdown period the feedback from customers has been that they are immensely grateful they still have local shops.
DS – Lockdown obviously put the High Street Awards on hold but we have been looking at how we might be able to run a virtual awards ceremony to celebrate and support local retailers as they reopen. The whole team at Destination Chesterfield has been looking at ideas and new things we might be able to implement to ensure we are stronger than ever both during lockdown and beyond it and, importantly, encourage people to Shop Local.
MS – One thing that would be great to have is a virtual town centre, where people could virtually walk through the town centre online and click on shops’ websites to make purchases. This would combine shopping local with online shopping.
IB – The Chamber has a number of resources available for people, providing support and help with business and more whether you’re a member or not.
Destination Chesterfield is part funded by contributions from local businesses, Chesterfield Borough Council and the European Regional Development Fund. The project is helping to improve the economic prosperity of the town through a campaign to promote Chesterfield.
The local business community plays a central role in its success by both leading an independent Board of Directors for Destination Chesterfield, as well as businesses pledging their support to become Chesterfield Champions.
For more information about becoming a Chesterfield Champion, visit https://www.chesterfield.co.uk/destination-chesterfield/champions/sign-up/