The swathes of empty retail spaces in many of our Suburban Shopping Strips belies the government mantra about a strong economy.
We’ve seen recessions before, but this time it feels very different.
There are signs of weakening & instability across the Australian and the global economies.
While a recession is yet to be declared, it is acknowledged that the retail sector in Australia is already there.
The evolution of Suburban Shopping Strips
There has long been a cycle for Suburban Shopping Strips.
First, the eclectic, sometimes ramshackle neighbourhood Shopping Precinct becomes cool.
The artists, the LGTBQI community, the ‘alternative life-stylers’ find it:
The studio apartments above and behind the existing retail outlets fill with the avant-garde
The quirky retail, or service outlets down the alley
The hole-in-the-wall coffee stalls add to the texture
Crucially, Suburban Shopping Strip businesses tend to be all owner-operated in the beginning.
Niche boutiques and cafes begin to appear drawing the artists, the students and the ‘want-to-be-seens’.
The right balance of grunge & cool prospers.
Success and the seeds of destruction!
Then the speculators, the property investors, and the business operators - priced out or browned off with the major Shopping Centres - see a good thing and begin to move in.
The grunge begins to disappear and with it, the artists.
Prices begin to rise!
The essence of the local Suburban Shopping Strip begins to change:
The LGTBQI community - often the bellwethers in urban renewal, move on
Next, as the very stores you avoid Shopping Centres appear, the rot sets in
The owner-operated businesses are squeezed out by landlords bedazzled by soaring land values
The precinct has lost its cool.
Squeezing blood from a stone doesn’t work!
Some long-term property investors have seen it all before and are in a position to help their tenants who can no longer afford the high rents.
But for those investors who bought in at the peak, their options are limited.
Local government can step in to try to revitalise the precinct by:
Negotiating with landlords to bring pop-up stores
Lowering the cost of parking
Cutting red tape
Basically, pulling every lever to bring back help the heart of their community survive!
Unfortunately, by this time there is a lot of competition for the new entrepreneurs willing to roll the dice and open a store.
This problem is widespread, so most local governments are in the same boat; all competing for those new businesses and attention.
If the general populace doesn’t have disposable cash, or are holding onto what they do have, the problem is amplified!
Recapturing the soul of the Shopping Experience
In my previous post: ‘Are We Building into a Retail Apocalypse?’, I mentioned that Malls in the U.S. that are defying the odds are increasing the percentage of free space & open air sections within their boundaries.
Ironically, they have seen the need and value of recapturing some of the essence of the original Suburban Shopping Strips or High Streets!
I see a convergence here, for both the Suburban Shopping Strips and major Shopping Centres in that to attract and hold customers, they will need to:
Be able to control and adapt the environments to the highest degree possible
To change their ‘skin’ quickly and cost effectively every season, using banners, flowers, street furniture and more
To have the capacity to easily hold seasonal, promotional or special events
Critically, it has to be planned, quick, easy and cost efficient. The infrastructure to make this work is one of those unseen - yet essential - elements!
To make the bricks & mortar shopping experience more desirable than online, a sense of theatre needs to be included. And, just like a theatrical experience, the visual & sensory experience needs to be underpinned by efficient ‘back-of-house’ infrastructure.
Survival Requires a Beehive Mentality!
To survive, Suburban Shopping Strips need to recapture the essence of what attracted people there in the first place.
To be seen as local, interesting and offering a different experience to major Shopping Centres.
From the local government to the individual retailer, all need to learn to think and cooperate more as a cohesive unit.
Adopt a ‘beehive’ mentality!
And now, as the major retail shopping centres begin to imitate the suburban high street, the actual suburban high street or strip mall need to take it to the next level. To take the best from the controlled environments of the enclosed shopping centres and adapt it to their specific needs.
If you would like to learn more practical strategies to revive your local Suburban Shopping Strip call me on 0417 992 075