STP Chief Officer, Phil Prentice, reflects on the role played by local grocers in town communities in the context of changing retail trends. 

The complex and busy lives we lead demand convenience, so where would we be without the local grocer?

That original town centre anchor and stalwart; the local shop which opens early and closes late, where the provision of essentials blends into a familiar face and a sense of community.

All on your doorstep and very often the only show in town.

Despite the changing face of retail; with the proliferation of edge and out of town retail parks, destination shops and online platforms, Scotland still has over 5,300 convenience stores, ranging from cooperatives, franchises and symbol brand stores to multiples and independents. Collectively they contribute over £530m to the Scottish economy and they support over 40,000 jobs.

Take Gourock, a typical Scottish town with a population of 11,000. Gourock is in Inverclyde, “doon the water” - where the Firth opens up towards the Irish sea. Its development has reflected its location on the River Clyde. Historically activities such as rope making and fish processing took place. Clyde steamers stopped at Gourock (where passengers could transfer to the train) and today it is the headquarters of Caledonian MacBrayne as well as being the main ferry port for Dunoon. Other activities have included warehousing (Amazon) and electronics.

Gourock is very mixed in terms of population age and wealth, and for two successive years it has been voted in the Local Data Company’s top ten for having the highest levels of niche independent retail. In the town itself there are also a healthy number of convenience stores and this mix helps to keep the town lively and engaging. Indeed, Gourock has recently benefited from a Council-led £6m roads and infrastructure investment as well as significant upgrades to the rail hub, ferry terminal and car parking.

Retail is a very important sector to the wider Scottish economy – there are more than 20,000 businesses, 250,000 jobs and it’s a £7bn market. 2016 was an interesting year to say the least. With all of the noise and turmoil it’s only understandable that some things will have slipped under the radar; one of these has been the story of signs of green shoots in our town centres and in evolving retailing trends.

The 4th LDC and Institute for Retail Studies (University of Stirling) Scottish Retail Report (2017) delivered a number of interesting and positive trends.

First of all it was good to see the downward trajectory of vacant units in shopping centres and town centres - very often this measure is used as a barometer of the health and vibrancy of a place. There is still too much retail space which needs to be replaced with more relevant uses, but this is a start.

Then there was the growth of independents: new retailers coming back to the high street which was encouraging in terms of seeing confidence returning to places which aim to be unique and different and try to reflect the needs and aspirations of their customers - places like Gourock and Kilmalcolm in Inverclyde to Kirkcudbright and Moffat in the South of Scotland.

And more growth can be attributed to the new aggressive discounters – the pound stores, the bigger retailers developing smaller footprints and formats for convenience stores, the rise in vap shops, craft and creative and the explosion in café culture.

It's great to see so much improvement and positivity, and working quietly in the background, open all hours and serving the local community, you’ll find the local Grocer.

Source: Chief Officer's Blog

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