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We recently spoke with Ceri Davies, former Head of Retail and Operations Director at Camden Market and former Head of European Stores at Urban Outfitters.

Ceri is an expert in Retail Stores, Retail Operations and Property Management and was part of the team leading the renovation of Camden Market, with the mission of bringing back the spirit that made Camden Market – for the 28 million visitors per year – the trendiest place in London during the mid-80s.

Ceri, can you tell us about you and the work you do as a retail expert?

I like to draw upon experience that I have gained over the years that I have been in retail to provide support and advice to tenants who feel that they need the support. This isn’t always easy for them to take on board the feedback as you are talking to them about their businesses which they have built however I would like to think that with my experience but also the way I try and relate to them that I can deliver constructive feedback for them to be able to take their business forward.

What’s the biggest challenge facing the high street today?

One of the biggest challenges facing the high street at the moment is the costs of actually running a business. It’s hard enough for an independent business to get themselves setup without all the additional pressures that are put upon them such as business rates, upwards only rent reviews, labor costs. Local council and the government need to be doing more to encourage and support these businesses to succeed as they are what bring diversity and interest to the high street and not the multiples that you see in any town across the country.

What is the biggest issue facing independent business owners today that you feel is not being spoken about, or addressed properly?

For me the issue with business rates needs to be addressed and whether this should be some form of rates relief for new businesses in their first 12 / 24 months business to allow them to get set up and have some breathing space while they get their cashflow in place.

What are the most pressing concerns you hear from local retailers?

Probably the biggest concern I have had flagged is rent as generally this is the biggest fixed cost that a tenant has and it is so easy to fall into arrears which makes it an uphill struggle for the tenants to not only pay their rent in advance but to also try and paid back any monies owed.

If you could encourage a local retailer to develop a skill or take a class, what would it be?

My initial temptation would be to say social media as this is such a vital part of any business strategy at the moment for anyone wanting to succeed but actually as a starting point I think one of the key skills for anyone starting out should be financial planning as without this skill you cannot effectively manage the cashflow of your business……you need to know your numbers if you want to succeed in the long run.

What is the best bit of advice you could give to someone who is looking to start their first independent retail business?

Find out what sets them apart from their competition and make sure that when they know what this is that they make sure they deliver this to the very highest possible standard, you cannot do it half-hearted if you want to succeed.

When has a local business surprised you in a positive way and how did they do it?

A great example is The Cheese Bar when they launched in Camden, they already had a great offering and following, however, they maximised their PR machine for launch with some amazing coverage, sharing videos on social media which got millions of views but then for opening did the most amazing sandwich amnesty where you could swap your shop bought sandwich for one of theirs which they, in turn, gave away to a homeless charity, what a great story.

Where can we find out more about you?

Find me on LinkedIn.