by Martin Ballard
First Chimichanga and now Poundworld. These multi-outlet chains have found, or rather their bean-counters have reported, that the cash cow no longer wants to moo and deliver double digit year-on-year growth.
Shame: I quite liked Chimichanga, so I’m sad to see it go and, of course, I’m sorry that the entire team is now looking for other means of earning a living.
One of the reasons commonly cited for High Street business closures is the rent charged by heartless, avaricious and venal landlords, who simply rake in as much dosh as they can and who appear not to care about the consequences.
Periodically, this type of landlord is castigated in the media, with politicians of all colours rightly leading the charge.
Even Canterbury City Council and previous Archbishops have been known to weigh into the argument, using such invective as corporate greed, faceless capitalism and reckless social irresponsibility. Fine words, which I’ll come back to.
It’s no coincidence, though, that members of the very society affected and saddened by High Street decline are now found to be the actual lighters of the blue touch paper.
I must add very quickly that this does not make them bad people.
Far from it in fact, they’re just normal folk, who find it easier to shop online, prefer to drive to a retail park or mall and who like the idea of Deliveroo, or JustEat bringing food to them, to be washed down with drinks at supermarket, rather than restaurant, prices.
All of this is, of course, is made soooo very easy by dint of our phones. The times they are indeed a-changing and no amount of hand wringing is going to stop the drift away from the High Street. Vox populi rules through the medium of mobile telephony.
Perhaps forestalling the usual suspects berating rent barons, landlords and other property owners, it might be a good idea to ask who owns or charges zillions for the various Canterbury High Street sites which have recently been vacated, or soon will be.
In Canterbury, the other premiership player in landowning/renting is the Church of England. By way of sweet irony, it’s not that long since Archbishop Rowan Williams attacked venality and greed only to find out (the egg on his face nicely matching his vestments!) that his own Dean and Chapter was among the worst offenders.
Dr Williams is now Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge – itself certainly no stranger to land owning and rent charging.
Recent media reports confirm that the move away from traditional High Street trading is affecting all types and styles of businesses: from budget stores such as Poundworld to high end companies like House of Fraser.
This move, which may now be viewed as irresistible, is driven by phone-wielding consumers and doubtless will eventually become a stampede.
The challenge, surely, is to find a way of refreshing the High Street brand, making it relevant to 21st century market trends and consumer needs.
I’m afraid that this probably means current High Street property owning landlords, for example, CCC and the CoE, are going to have to take a financial hit, radically re-think, or sell up.
Nobody wants to see High Streets become the exclusive domain of charity shops, bookies and takeaways: we can do better than that.
Perhaps the answer is to ask the droves of departing shoppers what they’d like to see on the High Street and what would tempt them back? Doing nothing is not an option.
If we fail to act, soon and decisively, then we may as well simply run up the white flag, walk away and let the University of Kent’s and Canterbury Christ Church University’s accommodation officers loose on the High Street.
Martin Ballard grew up in east Kent, lives with his family near Canterbury and is the managing director of a management consultancy