Is the high street falling?

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We ran the Reaching Retailers scheme in Stockton on Tees for a year and we found out lots about how hard it is to start up and run a business on the High Street today.

I’ve recently worked with some retail businesses in San Diego and although they don’t have a traditional High Street such as it is in the UK there are lots of similarities.

Flick open a newspaper on most days and you’ll probably find at least one story about the death of the high street.

According to the Financial Times, the rate of store closures has remained consistently high despite the improving economy.

Around 16 stores closed every day in the second half of 2014 – but that doesn’t spell the end of the high street.

Replacing major retailers and independent clothing lines are cafes, budget shops and convenience stores. While music and DVD shops have disappeared, bookmakers and health clubs have risen immensely.

Retail outlets may be struggling to compete with their online rivals, but they are slowly being replaced by services that the internet can’t possibly hope to emulate.

Any business hoping to cement its place in the high street will first need a reality check. If you’re hoping to live like John Cusack in High Fidelity, this isn’t going to happen.

It’s a shifting landscape. A retail startup, given the current climate, might want to stick to the internet until it reaches a state of financial stability.

Topshop, BHS and Miss Selfridge owner Sir Philip Green agrees. Speaking to national tabloid the Mirror, Green said, “Most people shop online before they get to the high street.

“The expectation when they get there is that they want to find something great, therefore historical smaller stores are less resilient these days.”

Social locations are the key to high street success. You can’t have failed to notice the number of cafes that have sprung up on seemingly every street corner. Whether it’s yet another Starbucks or a kitsch store, people seem to love nothing more than a Panini, a cup of coffee and a chat with their friends.

Costa Coffee alone owns 2344 stores in the UK, but it’s not a market showing any sign of saturation –annually, cafes have a combined turnover of £5 billion.

Nowadays, people aren’t heading to the high street because they have to – they choose to. A day in a shopping centre is, more than ever before, a special trip. Your business can capitalise on this uniqueness in ways that the internet simply can’t.

The net is losing its sheen while the high street limps on, but businesses can’t simply rely on old customers. By tailoring their companies to the specific advantages of brick and mortar shops, they can remain thoroughly in the green.

It’s hard and there is no easy solution other than hard work and innovation in both attitude and products, it is a labour of love with little reward.

However, with an eye to new talent, utilising the internet and developing a unique product offering, the town centre is the place to be.

If you are a retail business owner reading this, I salute you.

If you are a retail customer reading this, get down to your local High Street and spend more.