Gareth Smyth, CEO of Bolton-based Hilton Smythe group, is calling on the government to offer more support to the ‘local’ high street following the announcement that up to 1,500 jobs may be lost at retail giant WH Smith.
The chain is the latest big hitter to announce job losses following the coronavirus crisis, leading the business expert to suggest that a focus on smaller, independent brands could be the key to saving the market.
As more people move to home offices rather than being based in city centres, Hilton Smythe Group predicts an increase in trade for businesses that have the flexibility to adapt to government measures and restrictions, rather than those that rely on decisions made in global head offices.
Although many big stores, including Debenhams, Pizza Express, and DW Sports have seen losses and needed to cut jobs in the past few weeks, a recent YouGov poll found that nearly a quarter of people in the UK increased their use of convenience stores during the pandemic.
Compared to a year ago, Hilton Smythe Group has also found that there is a significantly increased interest in purchasing the types of small businesses which have been popular during lockdown, including takeaways, grocers and corner shops.
Gareth Smyth said: “Again, we see another retail giant announcing job losses following the lockdown, so surely, now is the time for the government to shift focus to the local, independent shops on the high street to ensure our town centres aren’t just graveyards full of empty units.
“As a sector, there is an increasing reliance on flexibility in order to survive, and the big chains don’t appear to be able to react quick enough. The local paper shop will have less red tape to navigate than a big chain like WH Smiths in order to comply with government measures, and this will be the key to longevity in a post-pandemic world.
“Taking action, such as reinstating the scrapped Enterprise Finance Guarantees (EFGs), which offer financial support to those who might not have the existing capital to start a business, would not only bolster employment figures, but would also draw people back to the high street.
“At Hilton Smythe, we have seen the demand is there. Entrepreneurs want to breathe life into the high street, and customers want to enjoy the shopping experience again. Pausing business rates, widening the scope for financing options, and reminding the public that our independent retailers are still ready to serve, will all go a long way to returning our town centres to their former glory.”