Have you ever wondered about selling your products on the High Street?

Apart from the odd gallery and handmade-focused shops, you don’t traditionally see that many artisans selling their goods in town and city centres…and historically these have been more centred around the bigger chains. 

But times are a-changing, and with some of those big names disappearing, is it time for independent makers and retailers to take over?

I was really interested to see that the Solihull BID (Business Development District) is looking to attract more makers and artisans into my local town centre – something I am just SO excited about!  For me, it’s these interesting businesses that create the local colour and personality on a high street. I’ve been disappointed in the past how they sometimes in the lack of independents on the typical High Street.

But the high street’s truly becoming more and more about creating an experience for shoppers, so is there an opportunity opening up for independent businesses? I think that independents can really enhance the shopping experience. And they’re also unquestionably what helps to give an area its unique character.

I wanted to find out what might be in store for Solihull High Street (and how to find out what might be going on near you), so I caught up with Melanie Palmer the CEO of Solihull BID, who has some exciting ideas about filling larger, empty units with pop-up shops for independents!

Melanie, how has the landscape of the High Street changed since the start of the pandemic?

The immediate challenge of the pandemic has shifted us into recovery at an accelerated rate. The emphasis on leisure, outdoor social spaces has come to the fore, and the retail empire has dissolved. This has left the green shoots of independent businesses in their wake. The loss of office worker footfall in the town centre has left a deep scar that’s chipped away at our coffee shops and lunchtime providers. But, (thankfully) research shows they’re keen to return.

What do you think will continue to happen with the High Street over the next few years?

The High Streets will need to adapt to survive. There’ll need to be a shared ambition between councils and local private agencies such as BIDs, with a clear and pragmatic vision for the future. The blend of residential within town centres will be a critical element to the recovery. But also important will be: improved outdoor spaces, unique independent and artisan retailers, beautiful street dressing, and all facilities to enable social engagement and interaction.

So, how do you think artisans/makers and independent businesses fit into that? 

People are looking for experiential over transactional experiences in the town centre. We’re all exhausted with standard predictable online purchases and the delays involved. Today’s customers are really looking for instant purchase gratification. And to be able to purchase items that are handmade and unique creates a whole new demand and potential growth for that sector. The USP (unique selling point) of engaging with the knowledgeable and helpful `seller` makes the whole thing worth the visit for the customer.

Traditionally, I think many craftspeople have been unable to access the High Streets due to the high rents – will this change?  Will they be given access to any support to help them establish themselves more prominently?

Pop-up units and start-up help is now available more than ever. Landlords may be struggling with the complexities of leases held when units become empty, and the ensuing legal tangle weed with all of that. Large empty units should be considered as artisan pop-up marketplaces and here in Solihull, I’m pushing for just that. It’s important to recognise someone who may be a fabulous baker, jeweller, artist, cabinet maker may not yet have the business skills or experience to make a successful business. So pop-up units are a great risk-free way for them to test the water.

I know you’re from Solihull BID, but do you think this is something that other areas are likely to be doing too?

All areas that have a Business Improvement District have the help needed to deliver these kind of projects. However, some smaller BIDS are hamstrung by a low income and may struggle to achieve some of the larger public realm projects without funding support.

For craftspeople, artists and makers living in other areas, who would you suggest they contact if they want to get more involved in their local High Streets?

For Solihull, they can contact us here at the BID and we can pass them on to the relevant partner. In other areas, I suggest they do the same and contact their local BID (or local council) as a starting point. Another great tip is to look out on social media to see what’s going on in their area already.

Wasn’t that so interesting?! I for one would love to see this become a reality. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see more independents and makers filling these empty shops and bringing our High Streets to life??

What do you think?  Would you like the opportunity to sell on your local High Street? Is it something you’ve tried before? Please pop your comments below, I’d love to know what you think!