The high street. How has it changed? What challenges is it facing and how can we, as a community, support it?
It’s been widely reported that independent retailers in towns and cities across the nation are suffering from the rise in digital trends and online shopping. But as the centre manager of one of Leeds’s most iconic retail destinations, that’s not what I’m witnessing. Here at the Corn Exchange, things are looking a lot more positive.
Our 150-year old venue is brimming with independent retailers and talented entrepreneurs that are reaping the rewards of taking up a physical space in the heart of Leeds.
Most recently, we welcomed product designer-turned-entrepreneur Kate Pearson, who launched her ethical fashion business in 2013. The Corn Exchange is now home to Fabrikk, which traded solely online and at music festivals before putting roots down in her home city of Leeds. Having recognised that customers enjoyed the try-before-you-buy experience, Kate saw a bricks and mortar store the only way to achieve this.
This is the case for a lot of our tenants here at The Corn Exchange; who look to fulfil consumer demand with exciting shopping experiences that cannot be replicated online. We try to work with them and their concepts and accommodate them where possible.
As such, retail is not dying, it’s just changing. It’s a dynamic force that is constantly reinventing itself; shifting with trends of the customer.
Being a conscious consumer is important to an increasing amount of people, who are shopping smarter and choosing to trace a product’s supply chain in a bid to understand their own impact on the environment. Trust is everything and Leeds Corn Exchange is a place that has honesty and integrity at its very core.
Having said that, small independent retailers are struggling to meet the expense of business rates across many areas of the UK. Because of this, it’s up to us and other retail property owners to help where we can. Organising complementary events is one way of doing this.
In October 2018, the government announced plans to cut business rates by a third for up to 90 per cent of retail properties for two years. This will be hugely beneficial for some areas of the UK, as business rates have become the second greatest operating cost to retailers after wages.
In Leeds we’re building a community of independent minded retailers, a sea of underdogs that will use digital developments as a string to their bow. Not fighting online shopping, but utilising technology to support an offline experience.
Another really innovative business that has absolutely thrived since opening a physical store in the Corn Exchange is Plant Point. Creating and nurturing unique indoor potted plants and cacti, Plant Point was formed by sisters, Sonia and Ada. The business, connects its ‘instagrammable’ product with real physical sales, thereby harnessing digital trends. The girls at Plant Point have found that its loyal customers continue to shop with them time and time again due to the personalised service they provide.
Complete gardening novices go to Plan Point and come out feeling green fingered. In this new 21st century approach to shopping, which blends in-store experiences with the convenience of online, there is room for innovation and originality.
This is where a marketing strategy and listening to customer feedback becomes essential. In November 2018, social media giant, Facebook announced plans to open several pop-up shops around the US.
In employing both digital and physical methods of buying, Facebook is paving the path for retailers who should not fear digital, but rather embrace it.
Small independent retailers are the lifeblood of our city and as a community we can actively support them by keeping Leeds Corn Exchange as a beating city platform. The Corn Exchange’s themes of innovation, new thinking and collective ambition is our contribution to the regeneration of the high street and we hope you’ll join us in empowering our local, homegrown businesses.