It might surprise you to know that Mary Portas and I share some similarities. We have both been in the retail industry for 25 years, are the same age and have even met a few times. Unfortunately this is where our similarities end. Mary is an attractive and slender, self-publicist who’s stylish wardrobe appears to derive from the likes of Harvey Nicks, Selfridges, Bond Street and Fifth Avenue. I, on the other hand, am balding, stocky, middle-aged and avoid self-promotion and shopping at all costs.
In terms of our career, Mary’s has been based almost exclusively in the buying, design and marketing end of the retail industry. Whereas my career has it’s background routed firmly in accounting, restructuring and strategic advice. I have also owned and run 3 retail businesses. Why then, I hear you ask, did Cameron and Clegg ask her to produce “The Portas Review”, when they should have asked me?! …I’ll leave the politically fuelled rant for another blog.
Having taken the time to read all 48 pages of Mary’s report entitled “The Portas Review: An independent review into the future of our High Streets”, I still think Cameron and Clegg erred in not choosing me to conduct the review and here are my reasons why.
the report is based on the assumption that High Street retailers are hard done by due to factors beyond their control
Firstly, the report is based on the assumption that High Street retailers are hard done by due to factors beyond their control. These include factors such as parking, landlord and tenant relationships and the impact of the Internet, to name but a few. Portas goes on to suggest that the solutions lie in local government spending more, charging less and “Town Teams” (“a visionary, strategic and strong operational management team for High Streets who would focus on making High Streets accessible ,attractive and safe”). Other suggestions include establishing a “National Market Day” where budding shopkeepers can try their hand at operating a low-cost retail business. I would welcome an explanation of exactly what that means and how it translates into commercial realty!
the influx of betting shops, often in more deprived areas, is blighting our High Streets
Further Portas argues in her report that and I quote, “the influx of betting shops, often in more deprived areas, is blighting our High Streets”. I feel again she has missed the point. Apart from the fact that gambling in store may be safer than online unsupervised gambling at home and that for a lot of people it constitutes a large part of their social life, the bookmakers are not immune from the challenges that face the High Street either. Book makers have realised that internet gambling is often more profitable than operating through physical sites hence the recent article in The Times newspaper noting another fifty Ladbrokes Stores set to close.
It is only at the point at which Portas addresses ‘change of use’ that as far as I’m concerned she comes even close to addressing the real crux of the issue. That being, that the impact of digitalisation is far greater than we realise particularly for the High Street. Sadly she fails to recognise it impacts a wider group than just mainstream retailers, with all consumer-facing businesses being at risk. The result is that retailers now have far too much physical space when many do not require a high street presence at all.