The UK's high street is in crisis, with 1 in 5 shops currently empty. As well as costing our economy a fortune, this is leaving hundreds of business owners and employee's without incomes.
The Town Centre Rejuvenation project is due to begin in Bradford on the 13th February, and continue to travel to the 9 worst hit regions in Yorkshire.
The project is launched by retail expert Kate Hardcastle and her business Insight with Passion. A team of retail experts will provide guidance and advice to small shops and businesses that have ran out of steam and need to win back customers.
They believe the concept of "Retail Theatre" could be the way to win back the high street. It focuses on what customers want and how they shop, building good customer service, and changing the visual appearance of a store so customers come back.
Dubbed Queen of Customer Service, Kate, said: "I firmly believe the problems many retailers face are caused, in some part, by a reduction in customer service, or putting the customer at the heart of their business. Think of the last time you had really great customer service. Who did you tell? Were you more or less likely to go back to the store? Customers aren’t a by-product of business, they’re the reason you start. Put that back at the heart and you stand a much better chance of getting repeat business and developing a great reputation."
Diane Whitehead is spending this week preparing for the opening of her new store in Packhorse Walk in Huddersfield. The expansion is coming after she and her team joined Kate Hardcastle and their team for last year’s seminar on Retail theatre in Huddersfield. Diane runs an RSPCA Charity Shop. "The store looked as you would expect. We used to section different goods off, beds over there, kitchen over there. Kate came in and advised a change. With just £50 we re-worked the store, creating a vintage feel and creating different scenes using clothes and furniture. So there would be a twenties style fashion, mixing different goods like dresses, or a lamp, bedstand and wardrobe.
We bought some flowers and vintage tags. People spend more time in the store now and they spend more money. It was a team effort and it gives us a real buzz. When you’re in the position you get blinkered. Someone new can come in and see the potential and encourage you to do something a bit different. Our new unit has been empty 8 years. They were cautious about welcoming us in to Parkhorse Walk at first but we’re not a regular charity shop anymore. We’ve got real quality and a professional approach".
Could this be the way to put life back into the UK's high streets? Insight with Passion’s has taken their strategy of Retail Theatre around the world. In 2011, the team dedicated an exhibition at INDEX to the proposal which aims to put customer experience and entertainment back into shopping, a focus which has been ignored leaving disillusioned shoppers to turn away from their local high streets.
The shopping experience is under threat currently due to an industry boom in online shopping. Despite heavy discounts and sales, some shops still failed to match last years Christmas trading figures. Yesterday MP's were continuing to debate how to go about saving the high street.