|The new Parkgate shopping centre for Shirley|
The concept in Britain today is that retailing is not for the public but for the big businesses behind it all. Anyone looking at how WalMart ruined small town America will see how they care little for the little man and woman. In fact competition is a dirty word for them. When Tesco got twice the size of Sainsbury's it never crossed their minds to bother whether Sainsbury's went bust or not. As it happens, Justin King ( a good Solihull boy!) fought back. But he had muscle behind him. Retailing appears now to be a kind of jungle law. The fastest and fittest succeed. Not through competition alone, but through aquisitions, manipulation of the planning laws, and selling things you never sold before.
Now I believe in fair competition, in accepting that failure is part of the business experience, but a lot of current practice is creating a dog eat dog mentality. Today we are told that the number of retailers entering administration in England and Wales in the first quarter of this year was up 15% on a year earlier, according to Deloitte. They say 69 firms failed during the three-month period, compared with 60 a year earlier. "The number of job losses that came as a result of these administrations was almost 10,000 out of the 22,000 employed by those companies," it said. Among the firms hit were Past Times, Peacocks, Game, La Senza, and Blacks. And this number probably does not include the independents who just shut up shop and left for pastures new.
My observations are that there is no real sense of what shopping is about, no proper planning or purpose for the future. In Shirley, the need for another supermarket is clearly zero. But the council at the time tried to suggest there were no supermarkets and Asda's arrival would be better than manna from heaven. The forgotten truth was that Asda had bought the old PowerGen building across the road to use as a mega bargaining chip in their desire to enter the local market. The developer gave a false image of the shopping experience in the area and, well, now we have Asda coming to a new Parkgate shopping centre. Jobs will be created we are told. No such thing. Jobs will be switched as those already working for Tesco, Morrisons, Sainsbury's, Iceland, Aldi et al, decide to jump ship. I notice in local shops the practice of minimum staffing. Self-service is the order of the day (when they work!) so job creation is in the Alice in Wonderland realm. Unless we import more people for the new shopping experience, it will be up to the local population to spend more. I don't hold my breath.
We should be more like the Netherlands where large and small shops co-exist quite happily. Small Dutch towns are not ruined by the likes of Albert Hein or Hema because these companies integarate into the local community rather than take them over. The Dutch have 25 year plans for their economy, with a bit of nip and tuck. The British seem to have little or no idea what retailing is all about in the sense of need. Customer service is patchy, prices are a science, and everything seems to be made in China or some other "emerging" country.
So when Asda finally comes to Shirley I expect it to do well. I also expect to see the butchers, greengrocers and other such local retailers disappear from town. Just this weekend one shop on the Statford Road is closing down. "Final Sale" is the announcement. A nation of shopkeepers is what Napoleon Bonaparte rather condescendingly said about Britain. Not anymore. It's a nation of bargain hunters and retail manipulators. Quite a different matter!