High street revival

The predicted death of the high street may yet turn into a mini revival. Sharon Dale reports.

Shop closures are all too common as retailers fall victim to online traders who have taken a huge slice of their business. Homebase, House of Fraser, Debenhams and the people's favourite M&S are all pulling out of key locations.

So it's easy to believe that the predicted “death of the high street” is a foregone conclusion.

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Certainly, times are challenging but there is a slow and steady renaissance underway as retailers, many of them new brands and start-ups, realise that shoppers really do want to see what they are buying “in the flesh” rather than on a screen.

Contemporary furniture specialist Made.com started life as an online only seller of contemporary furniture and furnishings. It was one of the first e-tailers to realise that it could sell more and have fewer returns if customers could see, touch and sit on its products.

It doesn't have multiple shops, just three strategic showrooms.

Its northern showroom is at interiors mecca Redbrick Mill in Batley. It also has one in London and one in Birmingham. Shortly after opening its Redbrick Mill store, Made.com saw an 85 per cent growth in sales in Yorkshire.

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The idea is that would-be buyers can see and test the products before ordering online at computer terminals in the store or from their home computer.

Suzi Ellis launched her Yorkshire-based business, The English Cabinet Co., last year after spotting a gap in the market for beautifully made, painted furniture. Everything she sells is designed by her and crafted using traditional methods in a Huddersfield furniture making factory.

Suzi started trading online but her strategy was always to have products on display in key towns. The English Cabinet Co. now has showrooms at The House of Harrogate and in Devon, Wiltshire, Cornwall and Dorset.

She says: “There is a new breed of retail brands like us emerging that are prepared to invest into our town centres. This exciting group of entrepreneurs is fighting back and many are ethical British brands offering an alternative to imported products. People are fed up with cheap imports made from low quality materials.”

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Artists and makers and artisan food and drink producers are also slowly becoming more prevalent in areas where commercial rents have been reduced.

Suzi Ellis's reason for displaying her range in high street shops is simple: “People want to touch and feel the pieces. It's also great for brand awareness and customers can see the value in what you are selling.”

*www.theenglishcabinetcompany.co.uk; www.redbrickmill.co.uk