The imminent opening of stationery giant W.H. Smith in Our Town has sparked an unsurprising howl of anger in the local media. “It’s unfair,” people say, suggesting the new branch will be a grave threat to existing retailers in the stationery, books and greetings cards sectors. But is it another nail in our local retail coffin – or an opportunity for small shopkeepers to grow their businesses?
As an observer, it’s easy for me to comment – but I believe competition is good for any market. Competition is only unfair if existing players fail to rise to the challenges introduced by new participants. And that’s no fault of the majors.
As a communicator, I would urge existing businesses to reassess how they engage with their customers and potential customers – and then settle down to a fresh policy of comprehensive stocks, attractive prices, excellent service and continued engagement.
In reality, every successful business has to invest time and energy in development. It’s no good simply waiting for customers to appear. You have to offer what they want, then tell them to come and get it! I call it crafty communication.
Given the widespread decline of traditional high street shopping across much of the UK, public concern when yet another national store moves into a small town is understandable.
However, what many overlook is that major chain stores attract customers, encouraging footfall and therefore increasing the visibility of smaller retailers. This is why many shopping malls have majors in the corners, forcing people to walk past – and, hopefully, into – smaller boutiques in between.
Towns which have suffered severe high street decline may reflect more than the arrival of overwhelming competition – they may also have been unable to accommodate central retail and parking facilities to suit today’s population. Record levels of car ownership underline the attractiveness of conveniently sited out-of-town superstores.
Our Town is more fortunate. We have two main shopping nodes, three strategically placed supermarkets and a wide range of specialist retailers. A mere handful of vacant shops await new tenants. Parking is a sore point locally, but there are ample spaces for shoppers – and we do still have a reasonably good local bus service.
The new stationer will no doubt bring increased demand for parking and bus seats – but that’s good for the town, because it’s more shoppers. Smart shopkeepers will be looking to cash in on higher traffic volumes, and to do that they need to talk to their customers using all available channels and tactics. It’s what PR consultants are here to help with.
If you would like some help engaging with your markets
David Goddin was born in the UK and educated in South Africa. He began his career on daily newspapers and trade journals, before moving into public relations consulting. He produced award-winning writing and became an Accredited PR Practitioner, the highest qualification of the Public Relations Institute of South Africa. Since his return to the UK 16 years ago he has also contributed to a number of highly successful PR and marketing communications campaigns for major national and multinational clients. He is currently also President of the Haslemere & District Chamber of Trade & Commerce.