One of our shops is closing this weekend.
Hopefully, your first thought was something like…What a shame – that was my favourite shop!
But, I bet immediately following that, your next thought was something like:
The rent and rates are so high! I blame the landlords and council for squeezing out another business.
Or, maybe you blamed Brexit, or online sales?
Certainly, all of these contribute to the decline of the High Street. According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2017 online sales accounted for 19% of products purchased - and internet sales are only going to increase. Brexit and the resulting fall in the value of the pound has caused the price of petrol, food, and imported products to increase, inflation to rise.....and the amount of money people actually have to spend on non-essentials is decreasing.
And business rates and rent? Yes, they certainly have contributed to many High Street shops closing, but should we blame the councils and landlords? Well, first of all, councils don’t have anything to do with setting the rates – only collecting them. Rates are based on the value of a property as determined several years ago, which is almost certainly inflated as values have gone down a huge amount since then. So yes, the business rates can be unfair, but it’s not the fault of the councils. As for the landlords…. OK, yes, some of them are unscrupulous and raise rents because they have plans to develop the property and want to squeeze the small business out, but I don’t believe they are all to blame. Often landlords will allow shops to be used short term as pop ups (this is how we started) and can be very flexible about rent. We probably wouldn't even exist, were it not for the fabulous landlord we have in our other shop.
It's been a very tough year for retail, and it's not just the small independents closing. Toys R Us, Maplan, Prezzo, Mothercare, and even Poundworld have closed or are in difficulty.
It’s so easy to say the High Street is dying and it’s the rent and rates again, it’s because of online sales, or it’s Brexit.
So sad the shop is closing, but it’s their fault.
Your thoughts are already moving to the next thing.
But the job isn’t done.
Sorry, blaming someone else and then feeling that you've done your bit is not helpful.
If you love our shop – or any of the other one of a kind, boutiques, or maybe the family owned corner stores, traditional butchers, quirky cafes or cosy bookstores…. If you want to save those shops and if you don’t want the High Street to turn into a ghost town……You’re going to need to do more than just point the finger at someone.
You’re going to need to put the phone down, get out of your chair, go down to the High Street, and spend money.
There – I’ve said it. The truth is, blaming the council or the landlords isn’t going to save your favourite shops. YOU need to do it.
Here’s the thing……If our shop had a few thousand people through the door every day, each spending just a pound, it wouldn’t matter if the rent was tens of thousands of pounds a month. Obviously, that’s a silly example - but the truth is, in the space of just one year the number of people coming through the doors of our shop has plummeted more than 80%, and so has the amount of money we’ve taken. Without money coming in, we can’t pay the rent no matter what it is – or the rates, wages, electricity, phone, music licences, packaging, promotion….…None of it.
Pointing the finger is a bit lazy, isn't it? It doesn't really do anything, and we need something to be done.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to do it alone. We’re not looking for a rich benefactor to grant us millions of pounds (OK….so maybe that would be nice). We don’t want you to be afraid to come into our shop because you think we’ll expect you to spend huge amounts of money or we won’t want to see you. We like you. We want to see you, and we don’t mind if you only buy one greetings card, one coaster, or a bookmark. The only thing is…. you need to tell your friends to do the same thing. And they need to tell their friends. And then you need to go to that quirky café and buy a coffee and a croissant and chat about the book you bought in the cosy bookstore. And you need to do it next week as well. If everyone tries to spend just a little in their local shops, they can save them.
So, sure....blame landlords, rates, Brexit, and online shopping for killing the High Street.
Just don’t stop there. Go out this weekend and spend a pound or two in a local shop.
There is a generally held belief that handmade products are expensive - too expensive. Craftspeople selling their products at fairs and craft shows, and even shops selling handcrafted products hear it all the time.....sometimes said with just a raised eyebrow, sometimes whispered to a companion, but often straight to their faces.....
"Really? Why should I pay THAT MUCH when I can buy something exactly like it at _______ (fill in the blank with the name of any High Street shop) for half the price?!"
There is a legend amongst craftspeople.....
A jeweller was set up at a craft show, handcrafted jewellery beautifully displayed, when a customer appeared in front of her stand and said loudly, "That necklace is OK, but I won't pay any more for it than I would at the shop in town. " With remarkable restraint, the jeweller pointed out that the necklace was handmade, and therefore the price was slightly higher - to which the customer retorted - " I don't see how that makes any difference - it's just a bit of string, some beads and a clasp. Throw in a bit for your time, and it still should be cheaper than the shop's - you aren't paying rent or staff, or for a top designer to create it, after all." The jeweller thought for a moment, and then said, "Fine. I'll sell it to you for the same price as the shop's, but you'll have to wait a few days for me to send it to you." The customer happily handed over the money, and strolled away, thrilled to have made her case and beat down the craftsperson who was obviously intent on ripping off unsuspecting customers less astute than her.
So - What are you paying for when you buy handmade- and why is it more expensive?
It's Handmade. If you think about how machines work, making products faster and cheaper - well, handmade is the opposite. Handmade takes time and care, and not as many products can be made. Along the way, every single step is scrutinized to make sure the product is perfect - taking even more time, but resulting in a quality product. Hardly any craftspeople charge for all the time they take to make a product, by the way - the price would be sky high. Which leads us to........
The Craftsperson does EVERYTHING. Most of the processes involved in making the product are done by the maker - not just the design, but the selection of the materials, the working out of how to make the materials go together, assembling the product, photographing the product, marketing the product, designing the packaging, and posting, delivering, or activity selling the product...even the accounting! This is often done around caring for children, or maybe even another "real" job. Again, most craftspeople don't charge for all of this time and care, but it can't be denied that they put time, energy, heart, and soul into every piece they sell.
Materials are expensive. Most craftspeople try to find the best quality, most beautiful materials - which they can usually only buy in small quantities because they don't have the budget or the space to buy in bulk. This makes the materials more expensive for them than for High Street chains who can buy cheap manufactured components in bulk.
The craftsperson is an expert in their field. No matter how many years the craftsperson has been practising the craft, chances are they know more than the customer. Often they have completed degrees, or years of classes and workshops to learn their craft. Almost always they have invented a style or technique themselves.
And finally....The product is unique. The materials, the way they're put together, the little additions, and flourishes - each item is a one off. Often the product is bespoke. Bits and pieces can be tweaked. That necklace can be made exactly the right length....it can even be made to match that outfit you're wearing to the party next week. Bottom line - it's NOT exactly like the one in the High Street shop. In fact, it isn't exactly like any other product around.
A handmade product is more expensive because you're buying a unique item, made by hand by an expert in their field of the best materials. Included in the making of the product is time, energy, hours of work, and - most importantly, heart.
And the customer who wanted the necklace from the craftsperson - but wanted it at High Street prices? Imagine her delight upon receiving the beautifully wrapped parcel from the jeweller a few days after the craft fair. Our discerning customer was less delighted, however, as she opened the package to find some string, a clasp, and a few handfuls of beads - along with a pair of jewellers pliers and a note:
Dear Mrs. Smith, please find enclosed your necklace. As requested, I've sent you exactly the product you described. It's quite similar to the one I might have made for you at a slightly higher price, however, I haven't included anything which might make it more expensive than the High Street product.
I hope you enjoy your purchase!
Whether handmade is too expensive is a matter of opinion, I suppose - but then again......you get what you pay for.