Opinion

Stroud retailers are ready, when the time is right: Tony Davey, Stroud and District Chamber of Trade

Written by: Tony Davey, Stroud and District Chamber of Trade | Posted 01 June 2020 14:00

Stroud retailers are ready, when the time is right: Tony Davey, Stroud and District Chamber of Trade

The death of the high street has been predicted with tedious regularity for at least a decade. You could be forgiven for predicting the pandemic may indeed bring the end; the contrary could, in fact, be true.

Many shops have been forced to close their doors. For some that meant suspending business altogether. For others, it meant a renewed focus on online sales and local deliveries - moves that other businesses that could stay open also embraced. The benefit of being an independent business is that you likely know your customers very well and can be very agile, adapting quickly to change.

Within Stroud, that is exactly what has happened – by using local deliveries the smaller businesses quickly started winning – being able to deliver quickly when the eTailers networks were struggling.

Local food retail became the saviour of many. Pubs adapted to become fresh food convenience stores. Restaurants quickly became ingredient suppliers, ready meal providers and setup their own home delivery.

These businesses could utilise their local food supply chains without suffering the same shortages and delays the multiple retailers suffered. These local businesses were also able to deliver to those who were self-isolating or shielding, or volunteers would deliver on their behalf – all whilst supermarkets were overwhelmed.

This has conspired to bring a new perceived value to local businesses that looks set to last beyond the lifting of restrictions, as new customers have learned the worth of quality local sourcing of goods.

So what of mid-June when more businesses can open? Our recent survey of businesses identified (o those who were closed) 67 per cent could be open immediately or within two days if necessary. This is reflective of the amount of effort the businesses in town have been investing in getting ready to open when the time is right.

The Chamber has been engaged in many conversations since the beginning of lockdown regarding how best to protect customers, staff and prepare for a safer opening – which is reflected in these statistics.

A significant concern, though, is footfall will likely be lower than pre-COVID-19 levels for a while, so being able to provide some form of local delivery is likely to be essential for many businesses. Within our town we have two new services that have emerged directly as a result of COVID-19 challenges – Shop ’n’ Drop – volunteer-operated cargo bike service (setup by Access Bike, part of Creative Sustainability) that provides a next day delivery service of goods from any participating business, and Stroud Delivers Local –retailers who share delivery load from the centre, cutting mileage and emissions and often delivering same day).

These are proven services, often delivering quicker than any national chain can.

Our high streets must adapt to survive. It’s quite feasible that whilst some of the largest retailers in the country are struggling, our local businesses are about to have a new and greater worth in our communities.

Tony Davey MBCS CBA is chairman of Stroud and District Chamber of Trade and Commerce.

To find out more visit Stroud and District Chamber of Trade and Commerce.