Last year I was honoured to be asked by the Dept of Business Innovation and Skills to assist with the Portas Inquiry into High Streets.Mary Portas came up with a number of recommendations, one of which was the formation of Town Teams.
Im delighted that retailers and businesses in Soham have embraced the concept of Town Teams and back in February, one was formed. East Cambs District Council have also welcomed the idea and are now in the process of creating Town Teams for Ely and Littleport.
The Soham Town Team is going from strength to strength and regularly hold meetings to discuss new ideas and innovations. Thankfully Soham has a vibrant High Street with less than 3% Shop vacancy rates in comparison with the 14.7% national average. The opportunity that our group faces is to ensure that the High Street remains vibrant whislt encouraging more people to use it.
What I have found paricularly pleasing since its formation is that we, as High Street retailers are now all working together. Its no secret that six months ago, the Towns retailers worked independently to maintain their customer base. Today we are sharing information regarding marketing and best practice. We are looking at forming a buying group to enable us to benefit from the economies of scale. We recently took part in the Towns carnival celebrations with a stall promoting the family businesses. It prompted a real party atmosphere as members wore their "Celebrate Soham High Street" T-Shirts (printed by a High Street retailer) and gave away balloons to local children.
High Streets throughout the UK are under immense pressure presently. For all businesses times are tough but retailers face numerous challenges.When people work together things quickly improve and the Soham Town Team is proving that to be the case.Whereas before, I seldom spoke to another retailer in our High Street,today, Im looking forward to the next meeting and getting the chance to network with my colleagues. Unity is Strength and together we can get through these difficult times.
Last week I was honoured to be the opening speaker at The ACS Heart of the Community (HoC) event in Westminster.The afternoon event was attended by 130 members.The reception in the evening was attended by many MPs as well as retailers.
The two key topics of the day were Localism and Planning and both stimulated a great deal of debate from retailers and politicians alike.
The NPPF is a 52 page document that basically replaces the many thousands of pages of planning guidelines previously.In my view it is very open to the interpretation of the Local authorities as it has very ambiguous terms in it.
If you couple that with the various potential issues that may arise through Localism, Planning could well become a nightmare for retailers.Thankfully, Planning Ministers are currently giving comfort that “Town Centre First” planning policy will continue. I sincerely hope so !
I was a victim of the power of localism when I first applied for our petrol filling Station at littleport.One Councillor got it into his head that the site was neither wanted nor needed and he therefore rallied support to get the plans squashed.
No particular justification for his dislike of the idea was ever forthcoming but the cost to us of overcoming the various hurdles that were put in our way was enormous.I will not deny that the driver to continue the fight was derived from the fact that I had spent too much on professional fees to withdraw the application.
I believe that this years HoC event highlighted the potential pitfalls that Localism and the new Planning framework pose.As the saying goes, “forewarned is forearmed” and we as local retailers are well placed to keep an ear to the ground with regards to local proposals.
Over the last five years I have spent a great deal of time speaking at conferences. Usually my role was to give the audience ideas and inspiration to help them in their business. At the end of last year it dawned on me that I had never stood in front of my own team to give them ideas and inspiration. This week we hired out the function room at The Maltings in Ely for four days with the aim of bringing the team back to where the company began and informing them of the direction that company would be going in the future.
The Senior Management team and I set out to inspire our colleagues. However, as I sit here writing this blog, I am the one who has been totally inspired. I truly have an absolutely amazing team!The last four days have been priceless. The feedback from our colleagues has been open, honest and frank and we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. The ideas that colleagues have come up with will all be implemented and their suggestions have all been heard. We have had some harsh conversations but equally we have had a great deal of laughter. Team members have had the opportunity to meet their colleagues from the various sites and I have no doubt that friendships have been forged.When I’m away on business I’m often asked “how dare you leave your business for so long” The answer has been highlighted over the last four days and from now on I will reply “it’s in safe hands!”
This week I was honoured to be asked to speak at the IGD Forecourt and Convenience Conference at the QE11 Conference Centre in Westminster.
The conference brought together 13 different speakers from various businesses in the Forecourt sector and allowed us all to share our ideas, thoughts and innovations. Needless to say, I used my presentation to showcase Littleport and explain how, by bringing together excellent partners, we have been able to design and build a truly world class forecourt offer. I find it humbling to be asked to share the stage with respected executives from big businesses such as Shell, BP and Esso and yet its comforting to think that as an independent retailer I have a forecourt offer capable of matching theirs. At times such as these, partnerships with suppliers are absolutely crucial in order to compete.With BP, Budgens,Spar and Country Choice, we embrace the power of their brands, products and innovation. In turn we provide a tailored offer, totally in tune with the communities we serve. James Graven and Sons Ltd, the 150 year old business from the Fens, can truly say that it stands shoulder to shoulder on the stage with some of the Worlds biggest brands!
Its been a long time coming but, at long last, our new Littleport site has opened!! We do have some slight alterations to make but the site looks absolutely stunning. One prominent Litteport resident phoned me to thank me for “delivering a much needed, World Class forecourt to the people of Littleport”.
From day one, my vision for the Littleport site was defined by the mantra “Independent By Design”. We are proud to have opened a brand new service station in our 150th year and especially one that celebrates our independence.Yes we have Spar over the door and BP on the canopy but the very spirit of the place is James Gravens. From the moment you enter the site you are on a journey that explains just how an independently owned and operated Petrol Station can encompass all that is so important to todays consumer. BP and Spar deliver us trusted brands for the transient customer. BP's quality of fuel is never questioned and of course we also give Nectar points. Spar gives us an excellent supply of shop goods whilst allowing us to source as much locally produced product as possible. To round it all off, our local staff have an excellent knowledge of the area and community and therefore customer service is second to none.
I am extremely proud of littleport and all that the team have done to get us open. I am confident that Littleport will be as well accepted by the community as Ely has been.