Industry Insider: Emma Robinson
What inspired you to start championing your local community?
Barnes is a very special place and I feel privileged to live in the area. I took on the role of Town Centre Manager at a time when local businesses were suffering from the impact of the recession and we had a high number of empty shops locally and an unloved feeling about the area. I wanted to see if I could make a difference to the retail scene and bring the buzz back to Barnes.
What are the most pressing concerns you hear from local retailers?
During the week Barnes can be very quiet so the main challenge for businesses has always been to bring in footfall. Local residents are some of the highest users of online shopping in the country which makes the challenge even greater. Set this against a background of high rents and business rates, it makes for a difficult trading environment for retailers.
How do you think we can attract more footfall to local high streets?
Barnes has an active events calendar which drives footfall to our shops but this means that the area is very busy just a few days a year. The challenge is to bring these visitors back on a more regular basis. We are piloting a social media campaign to promote all that Barnes has to offer to residents of neighbouring villages and to draw them in to the area.
What is the best bit of advice you could give to someone who is looking to start their first independent high street business in Barnes?
Do your research first! Talk to other business owners, reach out to the community, run a session to find out what residents think about your products and pricing. It always amazes me the number of businesses that open without knowing anything about the area or its residents. Generally these are the businesses that don’t last. If you are opening a new business, and your success will depend on the community that live in the area, you want to make sure that what you are offering is what they want locally.
If you could encourage a local business to develop a skill or take a class, what would it be?
Without a doubt it would be a course about how to survive in a digital market. At its most basic, businesses need to have an online presence so that customers can find accurate information easily online. Any business should be able to do the basics on social media to promote themselves to this key audience. At the other end of the scale, more ambitious businesses might have online sales, with click and collect or home deliveries. The point is that it can be as simple or as complicated as a business wants it to be. We have a small independent in Barnes whose owner has bravely foraged into the world of social media and found that just posting a few images of her stock has made a significant difference to her sales.
When has a local business surprised you in a positive way and how did they do it?
A small bakery chain opened in the area a few years ago and it was the first time that I had seen a comprehensive pre-opening community marketing. They identified and approached all major stakeholders locally including community centres and schools. By the time they opened there was much anticipation locally. They gave away free bread and brought in the hoards. They are still strong community players and I have no doubt that is a contributory factor to their success.
Where can we find out more about you and good initiatives within Barnes?
I am on Twitter and Instagram @TCMBarnes and Facebook @BarnesTownTeam.