So another sad week for the high street with the demise of yet another Big Name, this time Comet.
I think it is fair to say that, whilst of course they are on a much larger scale than most of us, some of the difficulties they have faced are just the same for any retailer, such as rising rents and overheads, staff costs and of course business rates.
Whilst I still believe we are in one of the best-placed forms of retail to survive these tough times, the challenges are just the same.
We have recently heard much talk of retail and indeed the high street, with Mary Portas and her high street review, and now the government’s latest bright idea, the Distressed Retail Property Taskforce, tasked with improving understanding of retail, rejuvenating towns and “saving” retail.
So what will any of this achieve? I believe one of the biggest challenges we all face is that of rising overheads and business rates. When it comes to value for money, something which we have to offer our customers, I am not sure if we get too much of it for our business rates. After all, we still have to pay for refuse collections and invest heavily to ensure we meet all of the various red tape food hygiene and health and safety rules. Surely it’s not that hard - wouldn’t it be better for local authorities and landlords to have properties occupied and maintained than nothing at all and rows of empty shops?
I am very fortunate in that our local authority recognises the importance of village shops and we therefore benefit from a reduction in our rates funded by the council tax payer. This without doubt does enable us to remain competitive, create employment and provide an essential local service. It probably is the difference between us being a viable business or not. Whilst I am not a believer in handouts and I feel a business has to stand on its own two feet, it should at the end of the day be on a level playing field.
As for what we can do and how we can compete with the “we sell everything” mults, I guess the clue is in our brand, “convenience retail”. We should always aim to offer what people need and when they need it, backed up with that great customer service we are known for. After all, that in itself will keep our customers loyal and coming back more than anything else.
Let’s just hope the government starts to deliver some real help both to us and our customers, and perhaps more importantly stop making things quite so difficult for us. We are, at the end of the day, helping people to use less fuel, creating employment and paying into the economy without really being a burden on them at all.