Newbury High Street may never be the same again. Three big UK retailers hit the wall in one week.
Sad and worrying news that Blockbuster Video has gone into administration - the third national UK retailer to go bust this week, following HMV (the famous music retailer) and Jessops (the photography store).
Literally hundreds of stores across the country. Potentially thousands of jobs lost.
But as I Tweeted earlier this week:
“UK high st need reinventing. We take more photographs and listen to more music than at any point in history. And yet HMV & Jessops went bust”
… which got a couple of interesting responses from people speculating what were the primary failings that caused the retailers’ collapse. We should not only try to learn from these collapses, but we should also discuss what we’re going to do about the increasing deterioration of our high streets.
The evidence of the ‘economic crisis’ is overwhelming. Some high streets now seem to have more gaps than they have trading stores. What this week’s development shows though is that the economic struggle does not exclusive belong to small retailers - even the big boys with their economies-of-scale can’t make it work either.
The failure of any businesses is sad. The loss of jobs even more so. As is the disintegration of the high street, and the evaporation of familiar (and in the case of HMV, much loved) brands.
However, perhaps our pining for high streets to remain as they were when we grew-up is just pure nostalgia. The economic evidence seems to be overwhelmingly telling us that yesterday’s retail model is no-longer viable in the new digital economy.
Instead of petitions to “Save Our High Streets” - perhaps we need a campaign to “Reinvent Our High Streets”.
But that is something for us to consider collectively - the challenge for businesses owners and entrepreneurs is, what do they need to do in order to ensure that their business survives and ideally thrives in these challenging times.
More than ever before, success in the digital economy is dependent on how well business leaders answer the key question: ‘What market are we in?’.
I think HMV regarded itself as being in the market of selling CDs, DVDs, and video games. I think that this market barely exists now. When was the last time you woke-up thinking, ‘I must buy a CD’? When was the last time you actually bought a CD? I’m an obsessive music fan - sadly I can’t remember the last CD I bought.
I think people are now in the ‘listening to music’ market. Which is very different from the ‘buying CDs’ market. When viewed through this lens I can imagine an entirely different HMV, owning and managing an entirely different infrastructure more appropriate to its market. Interestingly, an infrastructure that could still include physical bricks-and-mortar retail outlets - viable ones - albeit possibly very different to the ones that just closed.
And the key difference between a retail store targeting CD buyers versus a store targeting music listeners - it’s not so much about the architecture (although that plays its part) - it’s about the people who work in the stores.
I loved the staff of HMV - it didn’t matter how obscure my enquiry; or what genre of music I was pursuing; their knowledge and appreciation of music, (importantly, all music) was encyclopedic. They were a super-talented bunch. As eclectic as music, and yet clearly identifiable - I’m not talking about their staff-uniform, I’m talking about their life-uniform - for example, they’re likely to have tattoos.
Music listeners want a retail experience. This can only be provided by people who share their passion. And yet, HMV hit the headlines only three months ago for allegedly demanding staff to cover-up their tattoos. Even if this was a PR-stunt - it is not only misguided, but it’s tangible evidence that the management were focused on entirely the wrong priorities and probably the wrong market.
It seems weirdly ironic that similar parallels could equally be drawn for retail customers who have a passion for movies (Blockbuster) or photography (Jessops).
I recently saw a Tweet from a Blockbuster customer complaining that their feet stuck to the store’s carpet - never a good sign, what-ever market you are in.
And the reference to Newbury? The photos were all taken recently in Newbury high street, one of the towns in the UK that unfortunately hosts all three retailers. For certain this street, along with many others in the UK will look a lot different in the future.
I propose that we need a campaign to “Reinvent Our High Streets”. To that end, I bought the URL www.reinventourhighstreet.com - I’ve not done anything with it yet - but if you share my passion, then perhaps we should?
I am delighted to acknowledge the Local Data Company for providing me with the insight that Newbury is one of the towns to host all three retailers - and also to thank them for providing me with the photos.
The pace of change on our high streets is unbelievably rapid right now. Which is why the retail data and insight belonging to the Local Data Company is so very important.
LDC has photo’s of all the retail outlets for most of the main high streets in the UK, going back several years. Visual data of this kind is especially powerful in bringing to life what’s happening in retail. You need to be able to see it - which is one of the reasons I was so compelled to get involved with the founding team of LDC who have built a great business.
Where-ever possible the photos that I use on my blog are shots that I’ve taken myself. However, for this post I’m proud to use three images kindly compiled for me by the Local Data Company - I’m equally proud to be a former Non-executive Director of LDC, for six years.
Tweet if the campaign idea rings your bell.