Feedback From Small Businesses
People running various small family businesses were sent a questionnaire and invited to a meeting with the Chamber of Trade to share their ideas. This report is based on conversations from that meeting, as well as feedback from representatives of other businesses who could not make the meeting.
Businesses represented included people running shops including a charity shop, a pub, estate agent, café/restaurant, printer, solicitor, windscreen replacement service and a self-employed gardener. Most had been in business for ten or more years, with the estate agent having been here for 48 years. The pub manager was the most recent arrival, having only come here three years ago.
What is good about running a business in Church Stretton
They enjoy living in Church Stretton and find the local landscape ‘uplifting’. They appreciate being able to live and work in the same area without having to commute large distances.
Tourists drawn to the area by the hills and beautiful countryside are seen as essential to their customer ‘footfall’. They provide a unusually good collection of diverse independent shops and businesses which complement each other and also help attract people into town. They take a pride in their work and enjoy supporting each other, as well as supporting the wider community.
A lot of their customers are local and they enjoy being able to have a personal relationship with regular customers and the general friendliness of the community they live in.
Some had formed their business as they wanted to live in the area and there is a lack of professional jobs in the area with good salaries.
What is important to businesses remaining successful?
Running a business in a small market town means there is limited number of potential customers. The businesses are mostly dependent on both local residents and tourists as customers, with some more dependent on tourism than others. However, the gardener’s customers were mainly retired people who had moved into the area. This group of people not only helped provide customers for traders but also helped provide volunteers to support the community. The printers’ customers included local organisations and groups and he benefited from the amount of activities and events taking place in the community.
It is almost impossible for small shops to compete with supermarkets and national chains, who can buy in bulk and therefore pay less for their products. Small businesses can also struggle to get wholesalers to deliver goods to Church Stretton, as the order must be sufficiently large to make it worthwhile for the wholesaler to cover the additional costs of delivering to a remote rural area.
This means most businesses operate on narrow profit margins which can lead to them struggling if there is an increase in their operating costs or a reduction in trade.
Saturday is their busiest day in town for trade as there are more visitors on those days. There are less customers during the Winter when fewer visitors are coming to town. The HF hotel on the Long Mynd will be closed from November 2020 to April 2021 for refurbishment, which is likely to lead to a further drop of custom for many of them over that period.
Initiatives suggested to draw more people into the town
Local residents being encouraged to buy local
Many residents walk into town and shop locally. However, others drive elsewhere for their shopping, especially those living on the East side of the A49.There had been a previous campaign to encourage residents to shop local and this might be worth reviving.
Better Signage to encourage more people into town
Many people drive down the A49 and never turn into Church Stretton. Tourists often visit Carding Mill without coming into town. Better signage on the A49 when approaching the traffic lights junction promoting what is on offer in Church Stretton might encourage more people into town. This could be a series of ‘countdown’ signs as vehicles approach the town. They also thought more could be done with signage in Carding Mill to encourage people into Church Stretton.
More accommodation in town for tourists
Church Stretton used to have hotels, but most of them have now become care homes. The only hotel left is run by HF holidays, a specialist walking holiday operator who offer full board to all their residents. This limits the amount of money people staying there spend in town. More B&B’s and small boutique hotels in Church Stretton would help draw more people to the town’s pubs, restaurants and shops.
Better marketing of Church Stretton as a tourist destination.
There was general consensus that Marketing of Church Stretton as a tourist destination was poor and could be improved. A ‘Great Days Out’ leaflet had been published last year under an initiative funded by the Town Council. This was perceived as useful but more still needed to be done. Some individuals have put in an Expression of Interest to the Town Council to take over and improve the Church Stretton town website. The four walking leaflets around Church Stretton are running out and will need replacing soon but this should ideally be tied in with other initiatives regarding marketing.
Arden House had recently seen bookings increase from a website for people looking for holidays without needing a car. This type of marketing might be worth pursuing, especially as there is a drive to reduce dependence on the car because of climate change.
The train and bus service are both extremely important factors to businesses remaining profitable. Many customers travel into Church Stretton by bus from neighbouring parishes or from neighbouring towns on the train Some holidaymakers travel to Church Stretton from further afield by train. This includes people looking for a holiday who do not have a car. This might become more popular as people are encouraged to reduce their carbon emissions by using public transport.
Parking for business owners / employees
Many businesses struggle to find parking places for themselves and their staff. Some find it cheaper to pay parking fines rather than pay to park throughout the year. Some peoples’ work involves travelling around during the day, so it is not feasible for them to park a large walking distance away from their premises.
The businesses would welcome an initiative to make business parking available in Church Stretton for a reasonable annual fee. People wondered how much the car park in Lutwyche road is used and whether this could be given over to people with business permits.
Parking is also an issue for traders who cannot afford to pay parking fees for their vans while working in town.
Parking for customers
Parking space for customers is key to shops and businesses remaining successful. Though visitors to Church Stretton are likely to pay for car parking, people living in the area are reluctant to. The businesses are very concerned that if there was no free parking in Church Stretton some of their regular customers would simply go elsewhere.
At the meeting we discussed possible initiatives to widen the pavement in the High Street. While recognising the benefits of widening pavements for pedestrian’s, people running businesses on the High street are concerned this might mean losing parking spaces outside their premises and the impact this would have on their trade. One trader said customers living in outlying rural areas tend to come into town once a week with large orders. It would be impossible for them to carry heavy shopping back from their premises to the car park. Another said his takings are 10% down when the High Street is closed to traffic.
‘It would be impossible to widen the pavement in the High street and retain parking without making the road one way. The businesses had no objections to this in principle but were concerned about the possible impact this might have in causing congestion on other roads in Church Stretton e.g. outside the GP surgery.
Any proposal would need to consider all of these issues very carefully.
The TSB is now the only bank still open in Church Stretton. It is seen as essential as people from rural areas come into town to do both their banking as well as their shopping. Businesses are concerned that if the TSB closed many of these shoppers would go elsewhere.
The Post Office provides a good service for people wanting to pay money in or take money out, but cannot provide the face to face service that the TSB bank offers. Lack of cash machines was also mentioned as a problem for customers.
Though many people now use online banking, many elderly people still do not feel comfortable with this technology It was thought that some residents might struggle to manage their finances if they did not have a face to face service.
Many of the shops and pubs employ local part time staff. Some depend heavily on students from the school and Shrewsbury college for weekends and holidays. They are finding it much harder to find enough people to cover shifts. They think this is because teachers and parents nowadays tend to discourage weekend and holiday jobs as they perceive them as reducing study and revision time and ignore their developmental advantage.
Businesses needing to recruit more highly qualified staff sometimes struggled. The estate agent said they tended to employ people living in Shrewsbury as they needed people with finance skills for the mortgage broker side of the business. PCB solicitors, said they struggled to find suitable qualified people willing to come to work in Church Stretton as most preferred to work in Shrewsbury. They had tried to run an apprentice scheme but the only people applying for these lived some distance away.
Mobile phone signal
The poor mobile phone signal in the area was mentioned as a problem especially for people who have to travel around during the day as part of their job. They are sometimes unable to keep in touch with their business or take calls from potential customers if working in an area with poor mobile phone signal.
What challenges might businesses face in the future?
Developments destroying the beauty of the landscape
Tourists are attracted to visit the area because of the beauty of the landscape. Many tourists coming to town are walkers or cyclists. If future developments do not protect the surrounding landscape, this would have an adverse effect on local businesses and employment.
Rise in living wage / work place pensions
While wanting to pay their staff a decent wage and support them in saving for a pension, some businesses were going to struggle to find the money to cover the costs of these recent government initiatives.
Any further business rate increases would be a threat to their profitability.
Some traders buy products from Europe and further overseas. They are still uncertain about the impact on their businesses after December 2020 which will depend on what sort of deal is agreed by the government with these countries. If imported goods go up in price that would affect many businesses.
Not all local businesses face competition from the internet, it depends on the nature of their business. Some businesses, such as the dress shop, outdoor shop mentioned online as a challenge. However, they can offer a much offer a more friendly and personal service and value their regular customers.
As many produces sold by the Outdoor Shop are made in China, this could impact on availability of products. If there was a coronavirus outbreak in Shropshire this could impact on everyone’s trade.
problems with theft and shoplifting is affecting many businesses in town. Local businesses are in the processes of having their premises protected by Smartwater, thanks to an initiative from the local Crime Prevention team. It is hoped this will help alleviate this problem
The following topics briefly mentioned at the meeting
Internet & Mobile phone signals
Two businesses were selling products over the internet. One of these said broadband speed was bad compared to Craven Arms but another was satisfied with their broadband speed. It might be worth investigating the reason behind this. It could be linked to the distance these businesses are from the street cabinet for fibre broadband. It could also be linked to their broadband provider and where their web server is held.
The remaining businesses only used the internet to advertise their businesses.
The poor mobile phone signal in the area was seen as a bigger problem and there was hope that the roll out of 5G mobile technology might address this.
Digital and online marketing
A recent report by Cheshire Business School had suggested that some businesses in Church Stretton would benefit from developing online trading activities.
The people at the meeting were asked whether they felt they would benefit from support to help them in this area. The response was a resounding NO.
Most of them used the internet to advertise their businesses and are visible with a quick google search on shops/pubs in Church Stretton. The two people at the meeting who had their own online shopping facility had not found it difficult to get help when setting up their own websites.
However, it could be that people running small businesses from their home might benefit from this type of initiative but it is harder to reach this group. A suggestion was made to invite people running this type of businesses to a public meeting to find out if this was the case.
Businesses who input to this report include:
Appleby & Shaw, Berry’s, Clay Windscreens, the Door Knocker Company, Entertaining Elephants, Kaboodle. Kings Arms, Marshbrook Print, Outdoor Depot, PCB solicitor, Severn Hospice shop, Wrights estate agent, Van Doesburgs