Counterpoint: Chris Fox discusses ‘Destination Shopping’

Have you heard of the term destination shopping?

It’s not a new phrase by any means but for those unfamiliar with it here’s the five minute pitch: Destination shopping is most commonly used to describe large department stores, malls and retail parks. Think Sheffield’s Meadowhall, Manchester’s Trafford Centre or the Westfield in Shepherd’s Bush. The places people will plan a trip around. Spending the entire day eating, chatting and of course shopping. Often these places have the edge over our town and cities by providing free parking. Most even come with a roof to shelter their visitors from our delightful English weather. Seemingly a modern trend, such places have existed since the 80s and have shaped the way we shop.

So, we’re not talking about traditional independent shops. Destination shopping is the home of the chains. The multi-nationals and the corporate goliaths. The uniform clones that you can argue lack the character of the quirkier Indies. Sorry, I got slightly sidetracked with my indie propaganda and one could just as easily say you’ve got sometimes just give the people what they want. That people expect a Nandos, Marks & Spencer and Apple Store when they visit these retail utopias. Still the backlash has begin with America cites like Jersey City starting to limit the number of chains allowed on its high street. Are we seeing that our consumers are demanding more?

Are they disillusioned by the big stores and now are looking for a unique shopping experience? Yes, this is where you come in…

Wishes of Cudworth embraces the challenges and opportunities of being part of a ‘Destination Shopping’ experience.
Wishes of Cudworth embraces the challenges and opportunities of being part of a ‘Destination Shopping’ experience.

I recently attended a community association meeting and one wise shop owner said we should be working to get more destination shops in our village; the kind of places people would make the effect to search out. It’s not just the big chains that are facing controversy. Charity shops too have been accused of benefiting from advantages like reduced business rates. That not withstanding, without them would the empty retail units be taken by businesses like the payday lenders and pound shops?

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to condemn and look down on often well-run, honest retailers. No, rather I’m championing the shops that dare to be different. The shop owners who decide to follow their heart. I recently interviewed Corey Lavender from Vanishing Point Records over on my blog Gift Shop Hub. While walking 500 miles from the Pyrenees in South West France to Santiago in the North West of Spain, Corey decided to follow his dream to open a store. He decided to leave behind the safety of accountancy to open up an independent record store in Chesterfield. Some would call it brave but his success proves there’s a demand out there.

Chris Fox and his partner, Julia Keeling, who owns Wishes of Cudworth at the Autumn Fair.
Chris Fox and his partner, Julia Keeling, who owns Wishes of Cudworth at the Autumn Fair.

All over the country we’re seeing a people taking chance to go their own way. As I write his from my Barnsley ‘home office’ I can almost smell the real ale from the new Tap & Brew micropub around the corner (it’s calling me!). The recent boom in vinyl records and the popularity of craft beer has fuelled such revolutions. Both tapped into people wanting more than cheap beer and deposable musical downloads. People are searching for memorable retail experiences; the places they’re proud to ‘check in’ on Facebook. Our customers want to connect with our bricks and mortar shops and feel they’ll get more for their money.

As retailers we should look beyond just our own shops and consider the high street as whole. To work with local councils and community groups to gently influence the new businesses coming into the area. Be it through the creation of pop-up shop schemes or landlord grants for new shopfits. The Goldthorpe Town Centre website (http://www.goldthorpetowncentre.co.uk/) run by retailers has a section dedicated to investments, listing empty retail units. Shop owners are taking action and responsible for the areas in which they’re based. It is great they are supporting each other and working together to regenerate their towns.

Of course to contradict my previous statement it still makes sense to look at our own stores. To consider what makes us a destination shop. To never stop searching for exciting products that stand out. To avoid the fads like the plague of fidget spinners and hoards of ‘Darth vapors’. It’s hard not to fall into reality show clichés when writing these articles but it really is important to follow your own path. To trust your gut and never rest on your previous successes.

Shop Local is a rally call from Wishes of Cudworth.
Shop Local is a rally call from Wishes of Cudworth.

When pitching a community-based retail project to another retailer I was hit with the remark “You must be doing rubbish”. The suggestion was that only underperforming shops spend money on promoting themselves, which couldn’t be further from the truth. My belief is that we should never stop building and interacting with our customers. We should strive to be destinations; the kind of shops that people can’t wait to recommend. The kind of villages and towns that people will travel to.

Imagine a high street full of small independent shops working in harmony. The old school rubbing shoulders with the new kids on the block. A busy, vibrant and fun place to shop. Who wouldn’t want their own town or village to be known as the home of unique and unusual shops? To be the place that people search out. Doesn’t that sound ideal to you?

 

* Chris Fox is a graphic designer and writer from Chesterfield, Derbyshire. A rock music lover (vinyl collecting is a new obsession), cake/biscuit connoisseur (Granola bars are a current favourite) and all round geek (He always gets far to excited when anything Star Wars/Doctor Who related comes into the shop).

He works for Wishes an independent greeting card and gift shop in Cudworth, Barnsley (South Yorkshire) owned and run by Julia Keeling. As well as restocking the biscuits supplies (of which he has eaten) he also produces its point of sale (posters, leaflets, stickers), website design and social media. Having a background in design helps but promoting an independent shop still has been taxing and he’s still learning everyday. Link: https://www.wishesofcudworth.co.uk/

As well as his work for Wishes of Cudworth, Chris runs the blog; Gift Shop Hub. A friendly resource hub for independent shops, small businesses and artists. Offering advice and tips on how best to use online and traditional marketing to promote your business. Link: https://giftshophub.co.uk/

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