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The Street With No Brands

July 9, 2009

A few weeks ago I sipped some Pimms at a lovely country wedding (congratulations to Justin & Helen …) – in the Norfolk/Suffolk boarder country – staying in the little village of Harleston. Exploring on a Saturday morning – the High Street gave me quite a shock. No WH Smiths. No Next. No H&M. Ah, no doubt you’re thinking this is about the financial mess those chaps selling derivatives have got us into? Well no. Instead the place was full of small, boutique and independent stores. No Jones the Bootmakers. No Laura Ashley. No Gap. Ah, maybe they were all struggling to survive you think? Well, no. Books, flowers, shoes and kitchen ware shops – were all bright, merchandised in depth and had a busy, interesting feel. But surely they did not have the kind of service that our high street brands deliver. Well, if that means that it was a shock to have someone cheerful, polite and knowledgeable serving me – then yes. The jewellery store was staffed by someone who made her own jewellery. And the owner of the knicker shop (its always good for a man of my age to have a hobby) – even gave my wife an eye mask for free because she overheard her saying she had forgot to pack hers. The brewery shop had a range of local beers and ciders and local pottery. Considering most high streets in the UK all look as if they’ve been copied and pasted using a town planning software from the dullest corner of Microsoft – this was a real surprise. Sure – these shops had some sales and some bargains and when I asked them how they were doing they all suggested yes, it had been a difficult 6 months but they had a positive outlook. And it really highlighted to me how important it is to have people who love what they do serving and running businesses. If you don’t like beer, shoes, jewellery or pretty lacey ladies’ things – then don’t work in a shop that sells them. Marketers spend a lot of money on brand communications, promotions, websites, events and merchandising. And as someone who spent 15 years working in marketing agency and client side, I’m certainly glad. But how can you capture and pass on the love of the product, the willingness to serve a customer that a boutique owner has? A friend of mind works as marketing manager for a well known eateries and she is the only marketer I have heard say that the people that serve the food are as important to her brand plans as the logo, the fit-out, the pricing and the food itself. As for the the local High Street – if the crunch means that some of those big well known brands that seem to take my money for granted – make way for small, boutique stores that seem to love what they do, then maybe that’s the market doing its job.

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