It is, perhaps, strange that people protest against progress when change is inevitable. There have been several complaints about retail premises becoming coffee shops, and recently local inhabitants were up in arms when a supermarket group wanted to turn a pub into a convenience store.
Traditionalists might be put out by the prospect of swapping an ironmonger for a betting shop but I’m delighted to see shops occupied and recognise that we are witnessing part of a continuous change that has been going on for decades.
In the last few weeks we have said goodbye to Jessops, Comet, Blockbuster and HMV – all companies which sold a product that went out of fashion or fell foul of new technology. Plenty have disappeared before them: does anyone miss John Collier, MacFisheries, Timothy Whites, Littlewoods, Our Price or Richard Shops?
The big question for retailers is: ‘What happens next – what will the high street be like 20 years from now?’ Frankly, no one really knows. Most of the things people will buy in 20 years’ time have not yet been invented. I don’t believe anyone can forecast what children will be getting for Christmas in 2033. My best guess is that shopping streets will be places to enjoy, with restaurants and bars, cinemas and the latest fad to follow bowling alleys. A lot of the shops will provide things that are difficult to buy online (you can’t get your hair cut on the internet) and there will still be a place for posh shops offering personal service and ‘pound shops’ with goods that are too cheap to make home delivery a real deal.
Luckily, at Timpson we sell services that are difficult to buy from a website and have another big built-in advantage: we concentrate on customer care. 15 years ago we discovered the secret behind great personal service. It is obvious, and so simple that I am embarrassed we didn’t spot it earlier. The secret is to trust the colleagues in our shops with the freedom to serve customers in the way they know best. As long as we recruit the right personalities they will use their freedom to go way beyond the normal call of duty.
I am convinced that the high street will survive. It will change dramatically in the next 20 years; the successful retailers then, as now, will be those that provide the goods and the service consumers want. I intend that Timpson will be one of them.