East Lothian set for ‘shop doctor’ scheme

Inspiration: Mary Portas
Inspiration: Mary Portas
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Independent stores are to receive a visit from a “shop doctor” as part of efforts to boost trade.

A pilot scheme launched in East Lothian will see experts offer advice to 18 firms in Dunbar, Haddington and North Berwick.

The programme – which has been likened to the work of retail guru Mary Portas – will begin with an evening “masterclass” followed by one-to-one visits to each of the participating shops.

Set up by East Lothian Council and Business Gateway, shop owners will receive guidance from Cumbria-based firm Let’s Talk Shop, which advises independent businesses on how to appeal to customers in challenging times.

Phil Smith, the scheme’s shop doctor, said: “Very often some of the most effective changes are the simplest, but independent retailers are very busy people who perhaps don’t have time to take a step back and see these things for themselves.

“We’ll look at how the shops are presented and how they come across in terms of merchandising, lighting – even smell.

“Also, we look at how shops can improve their relationships with the customers and in some cases build a better online presence. It really comes down to how we can get more people through the doors.”

Joe Forte, who opened his business, Joe Forte Sports, in Haddington in 1985, has signed up to the programme.

He said: “I run a small, one-man business and it’s good to get the chance of some extra help to make sure you reach your full potential.

“It will be nice to take part in something that’s a bit like Mary Portas, where you can benefit from other people’s expertise.”

Joe, a former professional footballer and chairman of the Haddington Business Association, added: “Things on the High Street have changed a lot over the years.

“We’ve had years when the town was booming, such as the mid-1990s, now things are a bit harder.

“I rely on a regular customer base, I can’t compete with the likes of Sports Direct, but I have a good relationship with my customers and that’s what keeps them coming in. I’ve never taken part in anything like this before, but it’s good to try something new – you have to be very proactive these days.”

Other firms taking part in the Shop Doctor scheme include Belhaven Bikes, The Malt Kiln and Belhaven Smokehouse.

East Lothian – which is preparing for a surge in visitor numbers when it hosts the Open Golf Championship in July – follows in the footsteps of Dumfries and Galloway and Isle of Bute in taking part in the scheme.