Campaign launched to restore retail life to our town centres

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EMPTY shops are costing the UK economy £900m in lost wages, according to a business turnaround organisation.

The figure was calculated by Insight With Passion, a company which advises businesses on how to transform their fortunes, based on the lost wages of those who work in the 14.3 per cent of high street shops, which now lie empty.

To address the issue, the Halifax-based firm is launching a new project to help retailers boost their businesses and win back customers.

The Town Centre Rejuvenation project will target eight towns and cities across Yorkshire in 2012: Bradford, Leeds, Wakefield, Doncaster, Hull, Rotherham, Batley, Birstall and Bingley, following a pilot in Huddersfield.

The company will hold a series of free seminars for retailers to obtain advice and guidance on how to transform their businesses.

Kate Hardcastle, senior partner at Insight With Passion, said: “When we began to look at this issue, it was one that we wanted to make people consider from their own point of view. Empty shops don’t just blight an area they hit us in the pocket. The time now is to say enough is enough.

“We can’t wait for report after report. Towns and cities across the country need less head-shaking and more action.”

She added: “It’s not true to say consumers just want to shop online. We crave human interaction in our shopping experience and we have worked with clients in Dubai, Australia and the UK showing that if you change how you interact with customers you can see real results in your turnover.”

Bradford is one of the worst-hit cities in the region where almost a fifth of the shops in the centre have closed in the downturn. Commercial Street in Leeds will also be targeted by the project. Businesses who take part will be given a toolkit, which they can take back to their own stores.

Ms Hardcastle said: “The project is based on our concept of retail theatre. It’s about making businesses stand out, understanding what the consumer wants, how you can appeal to them and also show them how you’re meeting their needs. It’s not about small businesses spending loads of money and getting in expensive consultants. It’s about delivering a better service and better products.”

One of the key issues Ms Hardcastle will be encouraging the businesses to address is that of customer service. “Who wants to go somewhere where staff are rude, don’t answer your questions properly, can’t tell you about the product they’re selling?” she said. “No-one wants that. Customer service is the central thing I want to bring back to the high street. It doesn’t cost a penny and it’s easily done”.

Research by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) last week showed that shoppers are deserting Yorkshire retailers at more than twice the rate of the national average as the UK suffered its worst footfall figures since December’s Arctic blizzards.

The survey also found the North and Yorkshire had the third highest town centre retail vacancy rates last month at 12.5 per cent, marginally behind only Northern Ireland and the East Midlands among the 10 UK regions. Nationally, footfall dropped by 4.7 per cent in October as a ‘toxic mix’ of soaring fuel bills squeezed consumers’ income levels and the eurozone debt crisis sapped confidence, the BRC said.

The weak figures, partly caused by shoppers delaying buying winter clothes in the warmest October on record, came despite high levels of special offers and discounts.

Gloomy updates from retailers have come thick and fast in recent weeks.

Mothercare slumped to an £80m loss in its first half-year after suffering a seven per cent sales slump and writing down the value of its UK business while fashion chain French Connection said profits for its third quarter were £1.8m below last year.

Game slashed full-year sales and profits forecasts despite the launch of record-breaking title Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.

Meanwhile, Trinity Leeds shopping development is leading the way when it comes to new retail construction, according to Colliers International

The property agent’s Shopping Centre Development Pipeline has revealed that despite there being more than 34.2m sq ft of new shopping centre floorspace in the pipeline, only 1.4m sq ft is under construction.

Land Securities is behind the 1m sq ft of space being constructed at £350m Trinity Leeds, which is expected to be completed by spring 2013.

The total development pipeline, however, has fallen by only 256,200 sq ft since October 2010.

For more information about the Town Centre Rejuvenation project, visit www.insightwithpassion.co.uk

lizzie.murphy@ypn.co.uk