Problem Solver: How can we revive a town that was decimated by the recession?
Q: I am a retailer based in a regional town which has been very badly hit by the recession with over 25pc of the retail buildings now closed and unoccupied. Is there any advice that you could give us?
A: Over the last decade, some parts of Ireland have felt the recession in a much stronger way than others. Many of the young people from these regions have left to work in other countries, and the recovery is proving more difficult due to a depleted population.
That said, there are great initiatives around the country which seem to be having success. Start by forming a strong steering group of active businesses willing to lend a hand. Create a small number of working groups beneath this steering group who will take on specific products.
Ask one group to get research conducted by an independent third party as to how consumers view your town. This won't cost a lot of money and will simply require a small contribution from each business.
The feedback will be invaluable, and I have seen other towns benefit hugely from listening to what consumers are saying. It has helped them to get to the core of what they need to do to revive the town. Once this feedback has been analysed, formulate a strategy for the town, having looked at others in the region and decided on how you can create a point of difference.
Ask another group to create a prospectus of the town, which would contain a profile of it, including all the empty units, plus an overview of the positive aspects, local population numbers and the vision for where you are trying to position the town.
Regardless of how many auctioneers are looking after the empty properties, ensure that every new enquiry is handed a complete portfolio of all available units and proactively send this to retailers from other towns and regions, who might have an interest in opening up locally.
Your third group should do marketing, positioning the town as somewhere of interest to shop, relax and spend time. Your marketing plan doesn't have to cost a lot, especially if you're embracing social media, free PR and the local papers, etc.
Work closely with your local authority as it will be keen to help businesses grow and look at innovative joint initiatives, like free parking on certain days. What you are looking at doing is mobilising everyone and breathing new energy into the town. It would be easy for everyone to focus on the empty units, but you'll quickly find positive aspects.
Q: There has been some recent media coverage about people being forced to retire at 65. Do you think people should be allowed to work longer?
A: You are probably asking the wrong person as I may give you a biased answer. I retired from Superquinn over a decade ago, and would have fitted the classic retirement definition then. I have never been busier since I left, and get into all sorts of bother with my wife when I announce I have taken on another new project. Most of my readers won't remember Findlaters, who were an old style merchant retailer back in the 1960s.
In Superquinn Bray, we had a well-respected member of staff who had served a number of decades with Findlaters and then came to work with us. Many customers from that shop will remember him well beyond retirement age, and being as enthusiastic and committed to his job as any other member of the team, which he went on to do well after retirement age.
He enjoyed it greatly and we enjoyed having him on the team. Most importantly, our customers loved him. From his decades of retail experience, he seemed to be able to anticipate customers much better than the rest of us, and was able to pre-empt problems which we might otherwise have missed.
There are lots of witty quotes about age and my favourite one from the food arena is "Age is of no importance unless you are a cheese". In truth, age doesn't matter. Once a person is willing and able, they should be allowed to continue in employment. Very often, these employees have a wealth of knowledge and cultural benefit they can bring to any organisation
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