Belfast Telegraph

Help available for shops in difficulty on the high street

Toys ‘R’ Us was one of many retailers forced to close all of its stores
Toys ‘R’ Us was one of many retailers forced to close all of its stores

By Cara Taylor, Business Growth Enabler, Ulster Bank

Last year was a turbulent year for the retail industry and there looks likely to be similar change in store in 2019. A string of prominent high-street retailers announced job losses and store closures and many more are struggling to meet the challenges currently facing the industry.

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So what can be done to help those retailers survive and thrive in a tough trading environment?

Ulster Bank Boost was created to support local business owners across Northern Ireland and for our current series of events, we are focusing on the local retail sector to help provide these businesses with the tools, knowledge and networks needed to operate in the modern high street.

Surviving the High Street is a series of regional Ulster Bank Boost events where business owners can come together and tackle the problems facing local high streets and draw from the recent experiences of successful retailers who have managed to overcome these challenges.

At our first event in Bangor, more than 50 local business owners turned out to take part in our discussion and hear from industry experts about what must be done to alleviate the pressures facing the high street. Our speakers provided insight into the ever-changing nature of consumer trends and gave the audience practical examples of how they could become more malleable in order to future proof their business.

Many attendees expressed concern around increasing rates bills. Ursula Mayers, owner of Mayers Real Estate, explained that while rates are non-negotiable, there are steps business owners can take to better manage overheads and when it might be useful to contact a chartered surveyor to help negotiate on your behalf for a better rate.

Unsurprisingly, the biggest worry for retailers remains the threat posed from ecommerce markets. As consumers move their spending habits online, how can traditional retailers stay relevant and compete with this trend? Darren Burns, CEO of Rank Geeks, an agency specialising in SEO technology, told the audience how creating a strong digital presence transformed his family's wooden floor business which now has its biggest markets in London and Dublin, despite not having any physical stores in these cities.

His story is an encouraging one and shows retailers that by being resilient to changes and adapting their offering, there is no reason they can't still be relevant and attractive to today's consumer.

Each of our speakers made clear that if the high street is to survive, then it must be agile. Time and time again we heard that new technologies and improvements are to be embraced rather than shied away from and judging by the audience reaction at our first event, there seems to be a genuine motivation to do this.

Rotapal and Zero Biotech Waste are two good examples of entrepreneurs who have taken traditional problems, namely scheduling and waste disposal, and used new technologies to try and solve them. There are lessons to be learned here for the retail industry and Ulster Bank is committed to working with retailers and local authorities to help them grasp the opportunity.

  • The next Surviving the High Street event takes place in Lisburn on March 14 and is being hosted in conjunction with Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council. Our business growth enablers will be on hand to offer practical, pragmatic advice for any retailers who are seeking support to take their business to the next level.  To book your place at one of the events, contact cara.a.taylor@ulsterbank.com

Belfast Telegraph

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