Holbeach is poised to boost its shopping centre and capture some of the millions of pounds now “leaking” to neighbouring towns.
Independent retail expert Corin Birchall, managing director of Kerching, visited every town business and wrote his own shopping list – a blueprint for building on current successes and taking Holbeach on to greater things.
Corin told a packed meeting of civic, community and business leaders: “You are not competing with each other, you are competing with Boston, Spalding, King’s Lynn and Wisbech.”
He says while Holbeach has 15 per cent of retail places vacant, only four or five would need to be filled to put the town in line with the national average of 11.4 per cent.
But he sees the “vacants” as an opportunity either to move existing, successful businesses closer to the town centre or to bring in entirely new businesses.
One of his conclusions is this: “Holbeach is well poised to become a significant retail centre in South Holland – vacant units give it the flexibility to adapt and relocate the stronger traders.”
There are some fantastic businesses in Holbeach and some people are blinkered and they are just not seeing them.Retail expert Corin Birchall
Among Corin’s ideas to take Holbeach forward are inviting successful independent retailers to move to the town to broaden the range of its retail offer, sprucing up vacant shops or moving retailers into them, existing traders adopting more inventive window displays – and refreshing them often – introducing a loyalty scheme and staging festivals and speciality markets.
He wants to see something like a ‘LOVEHOLBEACH’ brand and a draft image shows two yellow tulips forming a heart shape around the words.
Corin believes the town would benefit from a new flower festival, linked to its role as the UK capital of flowers, and a new Prime Meridian Festival, with Holbeach capitalising on its 0 degree longitude location and staging events on an ‘East meets West’ theme.
Corin’s Holbeach Retail Review was funded by district councillors Nick Worth, Tracey Carter and Francis Biggadike and a small, informal group is already putting some of the ideas into action.
Holbeach will see hundreds of new homes built over the next few years, including 900 beside the A151 link road.
Corin says the Holbeach extended area population is already 11,500 and those people spend £30million a year on convenience goods (groceries, pharmaceuticals etc) – yet an estimated £24million of that goes to neighbouring towns while Holbeach shops, including Tesco, jointly collect only £6million.
The spend on comparison goods (clothes, electrical goods etc) is a vast £54million but, again, it is the neighbouring towns who clean up, leaving Holbeach traders with an estimated £5million-£7.5million.
Corin told his audience there is a massive opportunity for Holbeach to develop so it sees more millions spent in the town.
He wants Holbeach to focus on having shops regarded as “world class independents”, although he describes one-third of existing shops as “beacons”.
Corin said: “There are some fantastic businesses in Holbeach and some people are blinkered and they are just not seeing them.”
He believes the town presents itself well, with most shop fronts looking “good” or “OK”, but says there is work to do with just over a quarter judged “poor”.
He said tenants should paint shop fronts themselves, rather than wait for landlords to act, and gave tips on inventive and interactive window displays to attract customers.
Corin said: “Across retail as a whole, 25 per cent of sales can be linked directly to the window display. The rewards are potentially huge.”
He wants the town to court new traders to add to the existing retail mix, broadening the range of goods that customers can buy, telling his audience: “You can’t leave a town centre to market forces. Everybody in this room is a stakeholder.”
One mid-term aim is for Holbeach as a whole to review what Corin describes as “traffic dominance” in the town centre.
He said: “People (shoppers) don’t like to dwell where there’s traffic.”
• Actions team gets cracking ...
You won’t have to wait to see the first fruits of the Holbeach Retail Review because the aptly named Holbeach Town Action Team has already got cracking.
District councillor Nick Worth, also county councillor for Holbeach, says: “I have formed an informal group of proactive people to take these recommendations forward and over the coming weeks and months I hope people will start to see a difference in the town.
“There are a lot of positives to take from the report and some good ideas for making improvements.
“Work has already started on artwork for empty shop windows and preparations are starting for a series of one off craft and food markets in Church Street, in July, August and September.
“In addition we are already contacting owners of empty shops in the town to try and find suitable occupants.”
Commercially, he wants to see the retail premises in Holbeach more focused on the town centre.
Coun Worth said: “It is clear as a town that over the years we have stretched the retail offer in the High Street, in particular, over a very long physical distance, from West End Garage through to the Factory Shop in Fleet Road and it has essentially broken in the middle.
“We need to concentrate our efforts on the centre of town.
“We also need more retail and less ‘leisure’ to get the right balance.
“There were a number of recommendations in the report which will be helpful to the retailers themselves and many opportunities to improve the offer to attract more footfall into the town.
“Making empty shop fronts more presentable and in keeping with the Conservation area are important as are festivals for boosting footfall around the town.”
Among members on the action group are Tracey Carter, Paul Foyster, Andrew Hawkins, Isobel Hutchinson and Lisa Teague, who are keeping the parish council, district council and civic society fully informed of their progress.
Tracey, a district councillor, says the action team launched its first window dressing campaign a few hours after the retail review meeting – they are urging traders to display artificial flowers in time for the Holbeach in Bloom judging on July 13.
Everyone loves a coffee shop ...
There’s more than one reason why everyone loves a coffee shop.
Retail expert Corin Birchall told Holbeach traders: “When a coffee shop opens in town, that adds seven per cent to everybody’s turnover.”
The statistic should add to the popularity of Cormac O’Hara and the team who opened Caffe Aurora, in High Street, two-and-a-half years ago.
The morning after Corin’s upbeat presentation at the University of Lincoln’s National Centre for Food Manufacturing at Holbeach, Cormac was focusing on possible improvements to window displays at the cafe and knows fellow traders were studying theirs with a view to making improvements.
Cormac said traders are now thinking ‘what can I really do myself to make a difference?’
He said: “He (Corin) facilitated maybe a change of thinking.”
Builder and property owner Peter West, who owns The Barber Shoppe in High Street, says his premises have just undergone a complete refurbishment inside and out so there will be no immediate changes on the cards.
Inspired by the Holbeach Retail Review, which Peter says gave everyone “a positive vibe”, he contacted Holbeach Town Action Team to offer to help tidy up some of the shop fronts in town make them look a bit better.