Belfast Telegraph

Strong brand identities still doing well on high street

Efforts have been made to increase footfall in Belfast city centre
Efforts have been made to increase footfall in Belfast city centre

By Cara Taylor, business growth enabler, Ulster Bank

Few topics focus the minds of the business community like retail. Challenges of the sector are well-versed and have been under the spotlight once again in recent days as we mark 12 months on from the fire at Bank Buildings.

This was a seismic event in Belfast and one which will be remembered for many years to come as the fire and aftermath is now firmly engrained in the city's DNA.

Twelve months ago the outlook for retail in the city centre seemed bleak but slowly, as days turned to weeks, a slight hint of confidence began to emerge.

Working collaboratively, business groups, retailers and city authorities ramped up efforts to bring footfall back on to the streets of Belfast and tried to improve conditions for those businesses caught up in the cordon.

As well as responding to the immediate issues caused by the fire, the authorities began to tackle the wider challenges facing retailers today and seriously consider what it would take to solve some of these problems.

This concentrated effort seems to have had a ripple effect outside of Belfast city centre and it's clear other council areas are exploring what can be done to alleviate some of the pressures traders face.

In the past 12 months, I have visited many towns across Northern Ireland to deliver our Ulster Bank Boost 'Surviving the High Street' events in conjunction with local trade organisations.

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A key takeaway from each of the events has been the need to better integrate the high street; offering shoppers a range of products and services with shops, eateries and other businesses coexisting side by side.

Retailers understand the evolving nature of consumers appetites and those destined to survive are already putting measures in place to diversify.

Sandra and Caroline are two prime examples of this and we're proud to have supported them on their business journey.

Sandra has grown a traditional creamery business into a thriving farm shop and tea room, while Caroline uses her own experience and expertise to help other retailers market their business and strengthen their presence online.

Both The Dairy and Digg Childrenswear are enjoying great success and a large part of this can be attributed to the fact they each have clearly defined USPs and strong brand identities.

The high street has changed more in the last five years than in the last 50 and this period of flux shows no signs of slowing down.

Yet, with the right strategies, tools and practices in place, retailers can still deliver a hugely attractive offering and an exciting mix to the high street.

As bankers, we are well accustomed to navigating change and we want to use our own experience to advise our customers as best we can.

It's unclear what the situation will look like 12 months from now, but as the high street continues to reconstruct itself we are confident that so too will the retailers who make up our towns and cities, creating attractive destinations for the modern day consumer.

Belfast Telegraph