It’s very much a mixed shopping bag for retailers - Kevin Buckle
Essential Edinburgh CEO Roddy Smith called for more support for the city’s businesses this week and made all the very valid points you might expect.
Added to the worry of rising fuel costs are staff shortages which has particularly affected the hospitality industry – though it is now also the number one reason I’m told for my bus not turning up.
There are, of course, a host of other reasons businesses are struggling but none should hide the fact that the number one issue is still business rates.
The worry is that those who need to be seen ”doing something” will tinker with solving these less important problems but leave the matter of significant business rates reduction on the back burner.
The other worry is that the concerns of the hospitality industry are put forward by business leaders at the expense of the less well represented retail sector.
A good example of this is the obssession those tasked with bringing visitors to Edinburgh have with China and the Far East. Roddy himself mentions that these numbers have been low while acknowledging US visitor numbers have been promising.
Most retailers get very little business from Far East visitors, with ironically the better tartan tat shops being an exception as cashmere is particularly popular. There is no doubt that those providing accommodation benefit greatly so it is an important sector but too often generalisations are made that in fact do not apply to retail at all.
There is no doubt that from now to Christmas is going to be a crucial time for many businesses and there is no possibility of business rates being reduced until the next financial year so they need to make as much as they can to pay the many costs that running a business incurs.
At Avalanche we are particularly lucky. August was very busy not because of the Festivals but simply with families on holiday and that continued through to the first week of September, after which English schools go back.
We then used to get a lull until the last week in September when the students returned but Edinburgh University adopted a two semester academic year a while ago so now their students return for Freshers Week – now renamed Welcome Week – in the second week and they don’t leave until just before Christmas. As the students potentially run out of money Christmas kicks in and with Christmas over the students return!
It is the model that has helped us survive for almost 40 years and not with the usual slow decline but with currently our highest profile shop ever. However that high profile brings high costs so even we can never be complacent about business in the future.
It also means that despite receiving numerous offers to expand I’m happy to stick with one location in Waverley Market and consolidate what we have here though as I have mentioned before I will soon be putting together a team which will among other things make more of what we do available online and on different platforms.
Generally though, as Roddy Smith says, footfall and retail reports are still showing a very mixed bag.