Reigate high street has changed significantly over the past decade. Along with other commuter-belt towns, Reigate has always appealed to those looking to relocate from London and other cities to start families and to gain more space. In recent years, this shift in demographic has gathered pace and with it, a growing demand for a wider choice on the high street. Many well-established brands have been attracted to the town as a result, such as Whistles, Jo Malone, Costa, Wagamamas and Mountain Warehouse. Whilst many welcome these brands with open arms and celebrate Reigate’s transition into a ‘shopping destination’, some question their impact on the home-grown independent retailers.
National and international retail businesses are able to offer competitive pricing and regular discounted sales, which are often underwritten by Head Office and supported by significant marketing and PR budgets. Their buying power can also have a direct impact on local leasing rates.
I recently met with some of Reigate’s independent retailers to ask them how they continue to thrive within this heavily competitive environment:
Nancy Hamilton, Owner at Gerrards Fashion Boutique
“A huge benefit of having a small independent business is that we are in charge of our own direction, meaning we are able to adapt freely and at short notice to the changing climate. Far from being competition, I feel the bigger brands benefit the high street as they initially bring new customers to the town, who soon realise that Reigate has a great deal more to offer in terms of independents.
I am present on the shop floor as much as possible and really listen and get to know our customers. We always go above and beyond to create a happy, relaxed and honest atmosphere where people know they never feel under pressure to buy and can just come for a wander. It's a 7 day a week job so you really have to love what you do, and hopefully this shines through to our customers’ experience. I spend most of my free time researching and sourcing products. It's great to find new, interesting brands so there's always something fresh in store.”
Marc Cullender, Owner at Cullenders Delicatessen
"There is a lot of competition in and around Reigate. It’s definitely down to hard graft! I believe that we differentiate ourselves from the big chains by making an effort to get to know our customers and building rapport. We have a very low staff turnover which helps to maintain consistency with customer relations and uphold the high level of service. Also, happy staff help to create a happy and welcoming atmosphere!
We are invested in the Reigate and Redhill community and take an active role with local charities, schools and other community events.
Ultimately, we care about what we do and we are really enjoying developing the business. It was always about the food but now, meeting new people every day and creating a mini-Cullenders community is an added bonus!"
Kirsty Taylor, Owner at Taylor Jayne Interiors
“Taylor Jayne offers a very personal service. We get to know our customers in store and across all our social media and we quickly realised that this is something our customers really like.
Our Brand and Product is very different to other stores in Reigate or surrounding towns. We work really hard to keep it unique (even if it is sometimes a little risqué). Everything is a little eccentric, but if that’s not the look you’re going for, we can source particular items that suit your home.
We work incredibly hard on Instagram to reach to customers that are not just local to Reigate. It’s lovely to meet people that have travelled to the town because they have discovered us on our social media!”
Juliet Fryer, Owner at All About You Lingerie
“We have been very lucky that Reigate, as a community, has a keen following to Facebook and Twitter groups such as ‘shop local’ and ‘shop small business’. That is not to say that our journey has not been tough, we have put in a lot of hard work and man hours, which we believe our customers appreciate. We think where we differ from chain stores is our personal touch, our customers like the familiarity of a friendly face. We carry this through to our social media which, from feedback, our customers enjoy.”
Ivy Glazna, Owner at Quattro Rish Women’s Fashion Boutique
“Being an independent shop means so much more to us than just being a shop. It’s a place where, over the years, our customers have become our friends and they come in for chats, all sorts of advice or simply to have a coffee with us...It’s a place where we not only sell clothes, shoes or accessories but we style, listen and laugh (or cry at times). We remember what customers bought before and we know what they like. Quattro Rish for us personally is much more than a job, it’s a passion and a lifestyle. We love fashion and we are we always searching for new exciting labels to stay ahead. We also love social media (it’s a bit of addiction!) and it’s become a great way to communicate our brand. Instagram has helped us to reach a whole new customer base and this year we have launched our online shop which is an exciting new project! We work as a team and involve everyone who works with us in buying and marketing. It’s a happy, relaxed place to be and work and we hope that people who shop with us or just like what we do can feel it too. We also host a few events during the year which are fantastic way to gather our customers, suppliers, brand owners and influencers together and have few drinks!”
Mel Walmsley, Owner at All About Eve at Home
“Reigate is a great town which is why the large chains are attracted to it, but it certainly makes the life of an independent that much harder! I’ve had my shop in Reigate for 5 years now, and I believe the key to an independent holding their own against the chains is individuality and personal service. I’m constantly on the look-out for new trends and products to keep the customers interested, as well as developing my own range of candles.
I want customers to be inspired by the windows and to pop in to see “what’s new”, have a browse, maybe a chat with one of my lovely staff and leave feeling happy with their experience at All About Eve. I don’t think chains can always offer this”
Richard Halliwell, Co-Owner at Halliwell Marks Estate Agency
“We want to be proud of not just what we do as an Agency, but also of how we thrive to set an example of a new way of doing business in the property market – where it is transparent what the Agency does for their clients, and where the value of this service is so high that the client is genuinely pleased to be in partnership with their estate agent. Almost all of our business comes from referrals and we pride ourselves on delivering a first-class service to Reigate and the surrounding area.”
As Reigate high street continues to evolve and attract more big-name brands (the rumour mill is in overdrive over at least two biggies due to arrive in 2019!), our home-grown independents are able to thrive by focusing on their strengths and harnessing the support of an invested local community. These small businesses go to great lengths to understand their customer behaviours and needs. They have a clear vision of what their brand stands for and how best to reach their target audience. As a result, they offer a truly unique and authentic service which is often not possible within the larger retailers. Furthermore, through embracing social media and other affordable online and offline marketing activity, they can grow their audience beyond the immediate community.
Last week, Sally looked into Small Business Saturday UK which falls this coming weekend. Reigate celebrates independent businesses with a Christmas Fayre, organised by the Reigate Business Guild. The Fayre will be open on Church Street, Saturday 1st December from 12-5pm.