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The Grimsey Grrr!
on 16 October 2012
"We cannot `save' the High Street. Tragic though it is, the High Street is as good as dead already. Whatever we do and however we do it, our town centres will never be the same again. In fact, most High Streets of the future will be unrecognisable from your (and my) fond memories of times gone by. Believe it or not, many may not even have shops in years to come."
Veteran retailer Bill Grimsey comes out fighting in a no-holds barred shake-up of the debate on High Streets and retail regeneration in his feisty and practical book "Sold Out". I love his take on the whole debate. At last, we have someone with inside knowledge (and 45 years experience) sticking his neck out and swimming against the tide of rose-tinted blether, emphasising strongly that nostalgia is not a foundation for building anything and telling it straight that politicians and celebrities ("puppets and clowns") should back off.
If retailing needs a "Big Bang" moment, then this is a hand grenade of a book that should be studied, absorbed and thumbed extensively across the industry until the pages disintegrate. Forget nostalgia, here is a 224-page solid basis for clear thinking and decisive action. Forget Portas Pilots. This is the Grimsey Grrrr!
In my own experience in retail management and, more recently as a writer and blogger, the same truth keeps emerging - customers decide what happens to retailing and retailers. Customers might be manipulated, persuaded and brainwashed by clever marketing, bandwagon spin, Government guilt-trip propaganda et al, but customers are where the cash is and trying to shame or force them into becoming devoted and loyal local community saviours is just pie in the sky.
As Bill Grimsey points out, many town centre retailers and local authorities have not moved with the times. In my town, for example, with many complaints and grumbles about car parking blatantly evident, the council increased charges. Bonkers. Some businesses too are stuck in a quagmire of outdated cultures run by old-fashioned managers, or egos out of reality's loop. What happened in the past and, indeed, what is happening in the present with some leaders is not necessarily preparing companies for a challenging future.
Bill Grimsey does not let consumers off the hook either. He points out that we have all played a role in the demise of High Streets and that we have ended up with the town centres we deserve because of our actions and choices. Consumers have become accustomed to tempting special offers from supermarkets and are attracted to the variety and free parking of out-of-town shopping centres because decision-makers in High Streets and council corridors
have lost the plot. Keep up or die? Sadly, through inertia, some have decided to die. I had a chuckle at the analogy of TV's "Catweazle", magically transported from a dim and distant past into a mind-blowing and incomprehensible world of innovation and technology. There is something stopping us from getting our heads round reality. Bill Grimsey's head is clear:
"The truth is, in all the soul searching about the future of our High Streets, all the exhortations to "use it or lose it" and chintzy ideas about pop-up shops, market days and who knows what, we've all been missing the point. No one wants the High Street anymore."
If your head is stuck firmly in the sand, it would be pointless to buy this or any book because it's too dark to read anything where you are. But, if you are open-minded, if you want plain speaking, this is the book for you. If you want a template for practical activity, this is the book for you. If you want a business book that is both entertaining and enthusiastic about progress, this is for you.
Bill Grimsey, it seems to me, is barking up the right tree. Grrrr!