With retail confidence bumping along at a low, I’m often asked what’s the biggest issue facing indies?

With retail confidence bumping along at a low, I’m often asked what’s the biggest issue facing indies? Of course, there are many. But the answer I usually give is: challenging perceptions about their value on the high street.

We know from surveys that people value indies not only for their quality, style and idiosyncrasies, but because they tend to offer better customer care and service than multiples.

But there remains an entrenched view among far too many council regeneration officers that indies don’t matter. Multiples rule and big brands are the only game in town.

Not everyone in local government thinks like this. Birmingham council has been working hard to triple the number of independent shops in its city centre for some years. Wandsworth council has campaigned for changes in national policy to allow councils more discretion in creating ‘safe zones’ for independent shops. And Swansea council has backed and supported an annual ‘Independents’ Day’ celebrating the best indies in the city.

But the lazy thinking that’s contributed to what’s often referred to as ‘Clone Town UK’, where far too many high streets are full of identikit chains and devoid of character, persists.

Even the Government’s own ‘Healthy High Street’ document pictures a typically uniform, soulless high street on its cover without an indie in sight.

With some high streets on the verge of terminal decline there has never been a more important time to beat the drum for diversity and shout for indies. But arguments for indies can no longer be made on the basis of sentiment or style. We need to yell about their economic value.

Across the Atlantic our American friends are good at this. And a recent major Civic Economics report examining the health of indies in 15 major US cities throws up some interesting findings – most notably that communities that support more independent shops create more local jobs and lead to higher house prices.

Similar research projects on the same scale are needed here. Otherwise we could all be whistling the same Joni Mitchell song about not knowing what we’ve got ’til it’s gone…

  • Paul Turner-Mitchell, Director, 25 Ten Boutique