Govt Should Support Pop-Up Stores, Not High Street Window Dressing

Last Updated Apr 15, 2009 5:54 AM EDT


The government's communities secretary, Hazel Blears, has predictably caused a storm of criticism by pledging £3m to turn empty shops in the East of England into local art displays or learning centres.

The move is an attempt to brighten up UK's high streets, blighted by the collapse of so many retail companies over the last six to 18 months. But it is quite literally window dressing.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) came out with an emphatic statement against the idea, saying high streets need to be filled with thriving businesses that provide real jobs to the local community.

Others have slammed the move as an indication of how little the government understands ground-level economic issues.

The BRC's among those that have called for a reduction in business rates for struggling retailers. As the voice of big multiples in the UK, it's not surprising, because it is the move that would benefit its members most.

But perhaps another segment of the retail industry deserves to benefit more. One of the effects of a lot more retail space becoming available is the growing proliferation of temporary retail outlets. Already, there has been a growth in value and fixed-price-point retailing.
Many stores in this category are one-off ventures, offering products at knock-down prices and operating only as long as the current stock lasts, to close down and open up somewhere else as more stock arrives.
This model is pretty established, but it doesn't necessarily have to be targeted at the value end of the market.

The phenomenon of pop-up shops is a development of the here-today-gone-tomorrow retail model. The difference is these shops are often aimed at the premium end of the market, selling quality and even luxury goods at a location for a specified time.

They cater for shoppers who like the caché of buying from an exclusive shop that won't be around long enough to go out of fashion.

It's these entrepreneurs the government should be encouraging, the retailers that are making the best of the current situation and turning around the current difficulties of establishing a long-term business into an advantage. And what better way to brighten up a high street than to fill it with shops that change all the time?

More than this, it's the small-scale retailers that inject vibrancy into the retail environment and become the successful brands of tomorrow.

Most etablished retailers began from small beginnings and it's an accepted principle that retail companies rise or fall depending on how well they fulfil the needs of consumer demand.

Wouldn't it be better to support this sector of the industry than to prop up the business models of Big Retail, which do not suit the current economic climate?

(Photo: Gwydion Williams,CC2.0)