Add to this the fact that loans are harder to come by than a rat in a cattery, and it's pretty clear why a store makeover is probably one of the last things on many retailers' minds at the moment.
Paradoxically, a store refresh could be exactly what you need to reel in the punters and kickstart trade, and the good news - yes, there is some - is that it doesn't have to cost you a fortune. In fact, much of the work could be done for free. Now there's a word that hasn't received much of an airing lately.
One of the easiest and cheapest ways that retailers can give their stores an instant facelift is to de-
clutter. Ken Parsons, chief executive of the Rural Shops Alliance, explains: "It's always a compromise to balance the desire to stock as many lines as possible against the need to provide an uncluttered sales area for customers to shop without hindrance.
"Over the years it becomes very easy to cram more ranges onto the shelves, to put in another stand from the very persuasive rep, or just one more display on the counter."
Ken believes that "now is the time" for retailers to take a really good look at their stores and judge whether there is too much going on.
He advises retailers to follow the golden rules of making more space for faster-selling goods and to order much smaller quantities of slower-selling items.
This is exactly what Surrey independent retailer Deepa Patel did in her Thork Hill Stores. After more than 20 years of trading, the interior of Deepa's Thames Ditton store was in real need of a refresh. "The store felt very cluttered, and the mass of posters and stands in the window also made the interior seem quite dark," she says.
Armed with a bucket of warm water and a sponge, Deepa prised faded posters and advertisements from the windows, before banishing old hanging pos material to the bin.
She then turned her attention to the shop floor, which over the years had been smothered by a creeping tide of crisp boxes, magazines and product displays. Deepa reduced the amount of magazines displayed in the store by almost half, and relocated the crisps to a new space-saving rack. She also added extra lighting tubes to the shelving tops to brighten up the interior.
"The results have been astonishing," she says. "The store looks so much more inviting and my customers haven't stopped complementing me. Everyone assumes that I've spent a fortune on the changes, but it's hardly cost a penny."
In a small store such as Deepa's, it's also essential that the aisles are kept clear and that the number of stands is appropriate for the size of the shop floor.
Cleanliness is the second major element to tackle. A little elbow grease can go a long way towards making any interior feel instantly fresher and brighter. And don't neglect the dust-loving tops of fridges and freezers.
Another really important area to concentrate on is the floor itself. "A dirty floor can tell much about the overall attitude of the store operator," says Nisa group symbol director John Heagney. "Clean, shiny floors are always a sign that the store is well run and really enhance its look and feel."
If you are lucky enough to have a bit of cash to spare, flooring is often a good place to allocate it. Replacing worn lino or discoloured carpet tiles with fresh new flooring can make a dramatic difference to a store’s interior, and modern surfaces also tend to be much easier to clean, which is definitely an added bonus.
However, retailers be warned: if you are hiring a tradesman to do any work such as floor fitting, make sure that you use a reputable source or get plenty of references first. The credit crunch is prompting many inexperienced one-man-bands and rogue operators to enter the market. These people could make a pig’s ear of your work, and they may also be operating illegally in terms of health and safety and insurance.
Another thing to bear in mind is that many of the UK’s expert shopfitters, such as Uno Retail Solutions, offer ‘refresh refits’ to help retailers refit their stores on a budget.
Lighting can also play a critical role in creating a welcoming retail space and inducing shoppers to splash their cash. Nigel Lea, retail negotiator at Christie & Co, says: “All areas of the store should be well lit and accessible. Check all lighting, whether that’s in the ceiling, fridges or outside, and make sure all broken light bulbs are replaced. It’s also a good idea to check that clocks for exterior lighting are in good working order as the longer nights draw in.”
If you have windows, try to make the most of any natural light by keeping them clean and unobstructed, This will also help cut down on your electricity bills as you’ll need less lighting.
So, once you’ve tackled the inside, it’s time to venture into the great outdoors. Heagney believes that retailers should step outside at least every four hours to take a look at their store’s entrance and the approach to it. “Litter should be cleaned up regularly to ensure that the owner is proud of how the store looks. First impressions really do count,” he says.
Peeling paint on doors and windows can make a shopfront look rundown and shabby and can turn customers away. A pack of sandpaper and tin of gloss paint shouldn’t set you back more than £20, and would make the shopfront appear instantly more inviting.
Deepa also invested in her store’s exterior. With the help of a few well positioned crates and some artificial grass she fashioned an attractive display for her fresh fruit and vegetable range. The simple yet effective move has transformed the exterior, and is proving really popular with local residents.
The final element to tackle in your store makeover is your staff. Ensure that they smile and are friendly with your customers. “This will set you head and shoulders above your multiple competitors,” adds Heagney. “A simple ‘hi’, ‘how are you?’, ‘thank you’ and ‘bye’ cost nothing at all and can really make a huge difference.”