The Christmas trading period is supposed to be the time when retailers make hay while the sun shines.
Despite this, it has recently been announced that Jessops, the specialist national chain, is to close with the loss of thousands of jobs nationwide, quickly followed by the news that HMV and Blockbuster have both been put into administration.
It all comes in the wake of a number of ‘High Street’ businesses whose viability has been compromised by what we once thought of as generalists such as Tesco, Amazon etc. The generalists have now become specialists, and so the space for the niche player is becoming ever smaller.
Clearly, if the big chains are under pressure then the small independents, without a unique proposition, are going to struggle in their fight against the growing presence of the 24/7 internet.
The dynamic of the traditional high street is changing fast. St Helier is more vibrant than most due to the planning policy of limiting out-of-town retailing. This has meant that we still have a significant ‘traditional’ retail offer, and that we now have a ‘window of opportunity’ to think about a strategy that delivers a unique proposition in St. Helier, for both locals and visitors alike. Andrew Hosegood, who runs the four Mange Tout outlets has ideas here, which are explored later in this issue.
So where might we start? Firstly, we urgently need a political vision; something we can all sign up to. Changing St Helier’s status to that of a ‘city’ for instance will put us on the map of city breaks, and might help to reignite the tourism industry. We have to recognise the strengths and weaknesses of St Helier, whilst acknowledging just how small the wider market in Jersey is.
Fundamentally, we need to recognise that ‘localising’ will be a central plank, if we are to have a sustainable economy.
Why don’t we see more local entrepreneurs on our high street? Are the risks too great? High rent, competition from the internet and a small local market mean that the numbers simply don’t stack up for so many potential projects.
Organisations such as Jersey Business Limited, Economic Development and the Jersey Chamber of Commerce need to work together with other stakeholders to redefine the St Helier proposition. Could that mean doing something as ‘heretical’ as scrapping Sunday trading laws? Maybe; but no stone should be left unturned to ensure that there are opportunities for the next generation of wealth creators.
Our economy demands it.
President, Jersey Chamber of Commerce