The musings of a Mumpreneur....

Britain used to be a nation of shop keepers and those of us that are sticking it out through the most drastic times in retail history were waiting with baited breath to find out what Mary Portas would recommend in her high street report. I for one was disappointed with what I read, but there again I read it in a national newspaper and this was my big mistake. Mary's report is very insightful and amazingly optimistic. Just like me?!

I am by no stretch of the imagination a retail expert but thought you might like to know what my thoughts are regarding Mary's report. I make no apologies for the length of this post. Mary's document is packed with informaiton for 56 pages so I'm bound to have a lot to say!

When creating my business plan for Rosewill Cottage I took on board a lot of Mary's advice from her Mary Queen of Shops programme and as I'm revising my business plan and updating it at the moment, I certainly will be bearing a few of her statements and points from her report in mind.

Getting our town centres running as businesses

When I think about it, Mary's idea makes perfect sense. Town centres should have a committee of people who could help it to function as a business and in a fashion Whitley Bay does actually have this.

The Council seems to be listening and the Chamber of Trade is starting to come on in leaps and bounds. This can be seen in the collaboration that achieved the massive success of the Christmas Fayre in the Dome, which to me and you is the Spanish City building. This showed how on the pulse the Chamber and the Council are with the need to integrate the community with local businesses. People forget sometimes, we need to remind them!

My own little treasure that is the Park View Collective is starting to take shape in a lovely supporting way. It has no desire at all to duplicate or contradict the Chamber, we just want to shout out about how lovely our street is and what a fantastic variety of shops and services we have. What's more we enjoy telling people how amazingly good it is to visit Whitley Bay and in particular, Park View! If some of our hard work rubs off on the main high street then that is good too.

I think it would be amazing if everyone could come together and create a committee which could also integrate the public opinion on what kind of shops they would like to see open up in Whitley Bay. I know for certain without even asking that there is a demand on Park View for a menswear store or perhaps two; a grocer and a fabulous children's activity centre or creche.

My fear would be that the people who's opinions could count when making these types of department store like strategic decisions, would be drowned out with the negative busy bodies which every town or city has. The same people who whinge about parking at every public meeting and then dismiss every suggestion to fix it. 

I look forward to seeing how this will work out in the future though as it does sound exciting.
National Market Day

In years gone by every town had a weekly market and as a daughter of a market trader I'm not sure how this will work. Markets have done dreadfully over the past few years. It's not too bad in the Summer when the "Sunshine Glory Boys" come in to the picture but for the person trying to make a living all year round, no matter the weather conditions, it is blinking nearly damn right impossible.

Then I turn to Whitley Bay and the Christmas market they have in the town centre which does nothing at all for the shops and services on Park View other than to make it a non day.

Wouldn't it be amazing if for one day in the year they could close Park View and create a fabulous market that went from the town centre and down our shopping street through to the Spanish City. A summer festival with markets, entertainers and ok a huge clean up bill, but it would showcase the whole of Whitley Bay in one fantastic event.

Just as the supermarkets moved into the high streets and put independant shops in a strangle hold. The Pound shops and cheap stores are stripping away any chance most of the market traders had of making a living. Strangely as Mary mentions Woolworths the original pound shop fell down on it's knees because new pound shops are springing up all the time snapping at their feet. Woolworths just simply got too big and complacent.I've no doubt that the pound shops could suffer the same fate.

Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbours Stock

On some high streets you see the same type of activity with other shops. Shop keepers are stuck in their own bubble and not sure how to pay the bills they look to covet what their neighbours are doing to help stay afloat.

Gone are the days where you had a certain type of goods in your shop so now you have a row of shops that sell roughly the same thing. Now the services have decided to have a bite of the apple and hairdressers are selling jewellery, vets are selling basic pet supplies and cobblers are selling shoes. I'm yet to see a menswear shop selling rocking horses but it could happen!

People in desperate times go and do silly things. I appeal to you if you're in this position to not copy other shops on your high street, it simply bores the public to death. Think about how you can do something different. Our customers want variety and choice but not the same variety and choice in each shop. Mary kindly offered some words of advice to shop owners and touches on this problem with a solution.

"Surviving in today's value-minded, aggressively-discounted, convenience-focused market means reappraising how to compete and doing things differently."

She goes on to recommend that we avoid trying to compete with the internet and supermarkets and instead opt to focus our efforts on: "Experience, Service and Specialism." 

So what does this mean for Rosewill Cottage?

At Rosewill Cottage I'm trying to find ways to engage with the community all the time. I listen to my customers and do new things, invent new schemes and create interesting workshops. It is hard. My brain never shuts down but because I'm keen to do this I've landed a fantastic contract with a public sector company. Now we all know they have no money at all with all the cuts taking place but it's lovely to see how well collaborations between independent businesses and the public sector and sometimes charitable companies; develop and work for everyone involved.

Independent traders are being encouraged by Mary to re-focus on reasserting our specialism. As you can see by our blog I'm starting to assert our specialism in gemstones, our workshops are celebrating how fantastic we are at making jewellery and our children's jewellery making parties are adding the fun element into our shop for youngsters and their parents alike. We also support the local economy with our Rent a Square scheme.

Lots more is planned and ready to go for 2012, watch this space, is all I can say!

I would strongly recommend you read the Portas review whether you're planning to open a shop, own one already or just mildly interested in what she thinks the future is for Britain's high streets. I've just touched on some of the points in Mary's report and there is far more in store for those who read it.

Here is the link to the unbiased/undiluted report:

Thank you Mary for making me think, think and think again.