As a businessman my mind is focused on how we can do things better and what can we learn.
I ask myself this question on a daily basis about myself and my businesses. I also ask this question whenever I experience something.
I can’t help it, I’m always looking to improve things.
Every time I walk into a shop my thoughts are always what could they do better. I look at the staff, the layouts, the service, the whole experience and ask myself how could I improve it.
Recently I’ve been asking that question a lot as the shopping experience has changed so much. Social distancing has altered how we shop for quite some time and will do for the foreseeable future and possibly forever.
If home delivery and online shopping expands as I expect what will that mean for the declining high street and could Covid-19 actually save the high street?
I for one have actually enjoyed shopping during Lockdown. Before Lockdown we all crammed into shops, rushed around getting our stuff, then waited in a long queue to pay. People pushed and squeezed. We were all in a rush and the staff had no time to help or talk.
Since Covid-19 I have found the shopping experience to be much better.
I like queuing outside in the fresh air to have quality time within the shop that isn’t rushed. I like not waiting to pay at the till. I get my items, pay and go a lot quicker with less stress.
I find walking through a quiet shop gives me a better experience. I have time to look and choose. Staff are polite and helpful.
I am no longer waiting in long lines in cramped shops. I find what I want quicker and make better choices.
The only thing I don’t like is the quietness and the worry of getting to close to someone. Other than that I find shopping right now so much better than before.
So what can Felixstowe learn and improve on to compete with online?
I think we have 4 major things that can help the high street prosper for years to come.
1. We are located within a lovely Edwardian seaside town.
2. Hamilton Road is close to the beach and is free from huge amounts of traffic.
3. There are seafront units being built and soon to be available to let.
4. We have space to create events and new outlets.
So why is the above so important right now?………..Firstly, people will not holiday abroad as much. Travel prices will increase drastically, people will be scared to holiday abroad. Airports are crowded places where infection can spread. Aeroplanes have little space to keep distance. We wont want to go to airports or use planes as much.
However people will still want to holiday, they will want to go to the seaside. Felixstowe has a wonderful long beach and if promoted correctly could see a huge increase in tourism. The effect of people holidaying in the UK will have a massive impact on our little economy.
Tourists + Locals encouraged to shop locally = money spent in our shops and more jobs.
Secondly if we structure the high street to take advantage of tourism. Create a better way to shop in a social and relaxed environment we can attract people to the high street all year long.
I would lobby the council to look at redesigning the look of Hamilton Road and offer incentives to attract niche and independent boutique types of shops.
If we play to our strengths and offer an experience that the internet can not, we attract people who spend money.
I’d like to see Hamilton Road made weather proof and traffic free. We should create a culture of relaxed and social shopping that offers a niche that you can’t buy online.
The shops should offer services and goods that attract people to come. There are many great artists and creatives in Felixstowe. If these people were offered incentives to open studios and these studios were promoted well enough then people would come.
Small independent coffee shops and eateries such as the Greenhouse cafe should be given better rates over faceless chains. Pushing out the chains in favour of independents creates something that is unique to our area. To create something unique will create interest and demand.
We shouldn’t look like every high street in the UK, we should be different and stand out. This will bring people to our area.
With an enclosed environment we could offer outdoor eating all year round.
This way we can create a great atmosphere that people enjoy and want to come back to. We make our high street different and quirky.
To do this we need stores people want to come and socialise in. We need to create a whole new experience that we can promote throughout the UK.
There will be a window of opportunity coming to make change. The council needs to help small independents thrive and stand out, they need to create an environment where people feel safe and excited.
They can do this by attracting the right business owners and making Hamilton Road and the seafront into an attraction.
If the road can be somehow encased we can have all year round stools and outside dining. We can put on entertainment throughout the year to attract people.
Business rates for independents should be more attractive than to corporations. Local people should favour the independent shop and get behind them. If we all promote our favourite shops we can help them free of charge.
By keeping the queues in shops to a minimum as they are now, we create an environment outside to socialise. The shops can then offer a better in store experience and sell goods that can’t be bought anywhere else. Shopkeepers will have time to spend with the customer to create an experience.
The beauty of that is, none of it can be replicated on-line. If done correctly people will come back time and again. The focus goes from selling as much as possible to selling less for more. We attract the right people to Felixstowe, give them a great time and keep them coming back.
But to do this the high street isn’t enough. We have to factor in our temperamental weather. Enclosing Hamilton road helps but what about the seafront?
The seafront could definitely be utilised more. The space either side of the leisure centre should be used to host more events than ever. If the leisure centre does move locations then the building should be used to add to the areas new culture.
Felixstowe has a great opportunity to market and promote itself. If done right, with the right types of events and the right shops and culture. Felixstowe could become a great hotspot for tourism and also offer locals a much better experience and jobs.
We can create indoor and outdoor events that can be enjoyed whatever the weather. It just takes a vision and planning.
I love living and working in Felixstowe. I am happy here and I want this town to thrive. I have so many ideas. Some maybe not possible and some that could hopefully become a reality.
When we are allowed I suggest we pull together as a community and support each other. I would certainly give up my time to help the high street and if we can do it as a community it would be a great story of success that would be self promoting.
We use our community spirit to forge the area into something to be proud of and we welcome visitors with open arms. We make this area an area of uniqueness and we all thrive together.
I’d love to hear what people think of an enclosed Hamilton Road, offering a unique shopping experience, full of boutique shops, independent places and being promoted to attract the kind of people that would spend money here for years to come.
If you would like to contact Felixstowe mentor Lee, email: firstname.lastname@example.org