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Business owner has their say on the tough year so far
By Bira

“It’s though the tap has been turned off.”

Independent business owner has their say:

Des Count, our man in the gift shop, is fast losing his sense of humour thanks to business rates, mad local councils and a government that doesn’t care about independent retailers

THIS COLUMN WOULD normally have taken a lighthearted look at our wonderful independent retail industry and hopefully brought a smile into your day, but all the lightheartedness is slowly being sucked out of me.

Despite starting the year with optimism and fairly decent trading in January, this financial year has been the worst on record for us. Foot-fall is down massively and money through the till has hit an all-time low since the early part of the year. We are not alone. Every one of our neighbours, fellow traders and suppliers are all being hit. And hit hard.

One independent trader said to me recently: “It’s though the tap has just been turned off.”

This lack of footfall and money across the counter couldn’t have come at a worse time for us all. Increases in business rates, rent, utility bills and the cost of our products all play their part in the squeeze. With less money coming in, it doesn’t take a genius to work out the long-term effects if it continues.

We have local factors to tackle too. Our council decided it was a good idea to dig up the road for three months at the beginning of the year to put in new pavements and create a one-way temporary road system. Someone at the council told the local press that the road was closed, and guess what, people thought our businesses were closed too and they didn’t come visiting.

Additionally, we’ve suffered what seems to have been the longest, coldest and most miserable of all winters, including two weekends where we had to close because of snow, robbing us of our best trading days of the week. We then had the hottest summer on record in which it was too hot to shop and a World Cup during which people spent their money on beer and food.

All told, it’s been a rotten year thus far.

A long list of multiples, from the premium end to discount stores, are finding it tough too. They all blame the same factors as we do, but they have the clout to negotiate lower rents. As a lone independent, we don’t and won’t get much sympathy from the landlord.

Just before last Christmas a friend of mine opened a high-street shop. He has now been hit with a massive business rates bill, which he is struggling to pay under the current trading conditions. His business is so new he doesn’t have that regular customer base to get him through the tough times.

He paid £10k for his deposit and legal fees before he even got the keys. His local council has just announced increased charges in local car parks, so he is struggling to keep positive as he feels all the cards are stacked against him.

He isn’t alone. Many retailers I speak to all feel the same. Some say local and national government don’t care about the high street.
One thing we can shout about is business rates, which are crippling existing businesses like ours, as well as stifling new business.

bira is continuing to lobby government on this, but I believe there needs to be some common sense and clever out-of-the-box thinking, which could in the medium-to-long-term generate more revenue for the Treasury. Ker-ching!

There are many empty shops across the UK and we all know people who would like to open a business on the high street, but the initial costs are prohibitive. So why not let them have a two-year grace period from business rates to help the business grow, along with a statutory three-month non-rent agreement for independents, with possibly a graded upwards rise for the next three to six month?

It takes a long time for a retail business to develop and grow, for people to get familiar with you and for you in turn to build a strong customer base. My idea could bring the high street back to life overnight, adding many more independent shops, and developing a Destination High Street that people would want to shop in.

A local high street, not 20 miles away from me, has been left derelict because the short-sighted council granted permission for two huge shopping complexes with free parking, less than a mile away. That council is now desperately trying to bring life back to its desolate town centre. Forget it, it ain’t gonna happen.

Guess what? While writing this piece I have just read in our local newspaper that our local council will be drastically increasing parking charges from October. You just couldn’t make it up.

Have your say

Would you like to share your views and experiences with the bira community? We welcome contributions like Des Count’s. You can write under your own name or under a pseudonym. You can contribute regularly or occasionally. If you are interested, please email editorial@bira.co.uk 

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