Archive for May, 2010

The BestOf Richmond is facilitating a survey that will help us to better understand residents’ views about our high streets and what people really want.  Businesses, residents, retailers are all invited to complete the 3 minute questionnaire on line, so that we all benefit from the best output.
Here’s a link to the survey: www.thebestof.co.uk/survey

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There is a full page article about Barnes in the June edition of the interiors magazine – LIVINGetc (out now).  It has some lovely illustrations, mentions many of our shops and shows the unique products you can buy here.

The EVENING STANDARD had a full TWO page spread last evening (19th May) in the Homes and Property section.  This was packed with information, mentioned loads of shops in all parts of Barnes and included illustrations of the pond, the Sun Inn, Barnes fish shop and The Cheese shop, as well as (of course) many houses!   There was also a very nice picture of Tim Henman!

Finally TIME AND LEISURE, a more local magazine but with a distribution of 50,000 (covering all of our neighbours as far as Kingston) is publishing articles in June and July on Barnes. 

If you know of publicity for Barnes that is about to happen please let me know and I’ll put it on this blog and elswhere.  Also if you have any contacts I’ll do my best to feed them information that we hope they will publish. Sue.

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Many residents of Barnes have invested an enormous amount of money in their property.  If too many shops close, there will be a domino effect and the shopping areas will become zones of neglect and deprivation.  The heart of Barnes could suffer urban blight and as a result their investment will be affected.  This is not an exaggeration.  There are areas where this has already happened in the UK and not always predictably, for Chester is one unexpected victim.

Moreover most Barnes residents like to visit their shops, for sociable reasons and to feel that they have a part to play in the community. 

Our small shops offer things that the bigger chains cannot.  These are:

  1. Convenience – most residents can walk to and around the shops and enjoy the experience.
  2. Shopping in a calm and delightfully pleasant environment.  The crowds are never too great and we can pause by the pond or the river, which must make our shopping experience rather unique. 
  3. Freedom from being identified as “the (faceless) market”.  There is no piped muzak.  We are free of “in your face” promotions.  We don’t feel we are being manipulated.  We feel conversations with our retailers are honest and genuine and not rote learned and robotic.
  4. Unique goods – many of our traders know our tastes and work hard at visiting fairs to purchase items within our price range and to our liking.  They also stock brand names that they know we like to buy.
  5. Personal service.  Our retailers spend time with their customers.  Many are well known to them.  They go out of their way to be helpful.
  6. Their product knowledge is superb and we can call upon that with trust.
  7. Many of Barnes shops have built a strong sense of customer loyalty.


Typical reviews taken from the web:

I feel so lucky to live so close to such a great shop. Their selection is always great and their service always comes with a smile and a helpful hint or two.

Lovely local shop. Old-fashioned but with fresh produce every day. Can arrange special delivery to your home.

This shop is the comfortably the best of its kind in London, providing quality service with a world class selection of the product from the traditional to the obscure.   They have everything.   More than happy to recommend.  Definitely worth visiting.   A must for tourists and locals alike.


In 2009 the Which? Holiday guide cited Barnes as one of the top ten places to visit in the UK.  This is how they described us:

Nestling in a loop of the Thames, the affluent riverside suburb of Barnes is a favourite place to visit. Pretty little country lanes, cosy olde-worlde pubs and peaceful bank-side walks let you forget that you’re actually still in London. (The 15 minute journey from Waterloo or the bus ride from Hammersmith is proof!) There’s also the 120 acres of Barnes Common, a beautiful nature reserve that makes you feel a million miles away from the capital, (in fact you’re around 6 miles south-west of Charing Cross).


However Barnes has been teetering on the edge of decline, as shown by its 25 long standing empty shops.  Many other businesses are working to tight margins.  Recently a few green shoots have emerged to give us optimism.   Interest and activity can be seen, at last in some of the vacant shops and it remains to be seen if the overall number falls this year.  Market forces are giving potential retailers good bargaining positions and landlords are having to reconsider their strategies. 

However we cannot be complacent.  It would be good if we could gentrify Barnes so that it was more secure as the hub of our community.  There are many ways in which we can try:

  1. Research, to check hunches and understand changes in shopping in Barnes.
  2. Encourage landlords to fill empty shops.
  3. Attempt to discuss ways forward with Howard de Walden Estates, Northcote Road Trading Group and Mary Portas, if possible.
  4. Promote Barnes with our web site, links with other web sites, promotional materials – Barnes bag, etc.
  5. Loyalty card, wedge card or similar.
  6. Banners, planting to improve the retail appearance.
  7. Events.
  8. Barnes friendly map for visitors to pick up and walk around the shops.
  9. Barnes historic map, for the same.
  10. Council to review parking restrictions.
  11. Sign posting to barnes village.
  12. Barnes residents to be encouraged to shop locally more.
  13. Attempt to get publicity.

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Local shops emerged in Victorian times and burgeoned from Edwardian times onwards.  The shop keeper rented or owned his shop, stock was kept at the back and the family lived upstairs.  We refer to “the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker” to epitomise this era of shops.  Local residents shopped daily for food and milk (because there was no refrigeration) and would turn to a local shop to have clothes, shoes or household items repaired.

This image survived, more or less intact, until the war but since then the retail landscape has been changing and that change has become ever more rapid as time has gone on.  




Numbers of shops: We have too many shops.  Economists noticed the decline of the High Street back in the 1990s (e.g. NEF:”Ghost Town Britain II” 1993).  We do not have the need for repair shops and supermarkets have removed the need for separate grocers, greengrocers, butchers etc.

Competition:  Today there are too many alternatives to local shopping besides supermarkets – the internet, television, mail order and vast new retail shopping areas such as Westfields and even bigger – the out of town ones like Lakeside and Bluewater.

In a report by Experian, Barnes is shown to be the internet “hotspot”  of Britain, with residents spending an average of £150 per year, per head on goods.  This amount is predicted by the Verdict Research group to rise to over £1000 on average by 2011.

Retail giants:  Some small independents grew into retailing empires (Charles Harrod opened in Knightsbridge in 1849 in a one roomed shop with just two assistants and a messenger boy).  These are our department stores, chains and franchises, all of which can offer discounts and promotions, pay higher wages, advertise and carry out market research and marketing before opening new branches.  Today’s small independents are at a huge disadvantage here, unable to access data for research and finding their purchase prices are undercut.

Keeping up:  The independents are also at a disadvantage when trying to keep up with change.  Often they cannot afford to attend courses or belong to trading associations nor can they cannot afford the time to attend.

Classification of retailers:  Not all retailers (especially in a local shopping area) are optimisers looking for maximum profit.  Some are satisficers, attempting to meet criteria for adequacy.  They are less likely to wish to fight all these adversities.


Confusing opening times: Before the war women did not tend to work.  They visited the shops daily for perishables, met their friends and kept up with local issues.  Shops closed on Wednesday afternoons.  Today, local shops are in confusion.  Whole families are away from the home all week – at nurseries, school, and at work.  Consequently the footfall in the High Street is pitifully low during the week (retirees and Mums of small children mainly), whilst it rises in the early morning, early evening and on weekends.  Shops are now opening at different hours to catch the market, leaving the consumer totally confused as to what the opening hours actually are and leaving some frustrated at having made a wasted journey.

Also local retailers work very long hours, often without an assistant so they might close at random times for lunch, or to go to market or because it is raining and near the end of the day.  Understandable as this is, it only further frustrates the local shopper.

Parking: Before the war the housewife had time on her hands.  Today time is precious so people want to use the car to shop locally.  Conflicts between shoppers, businesses and commuters (and councils seeing an opportunity to raise money) have led to draconian parking regulations which either frighten off the consumer or cause them to give up and drive on.

Low footfall: The consequence of parking regulations, irregular hours of opening, lack of time, inability to organise spectacular promotions or events, all lead to the footfall being so low as to verge on the dangerous.


Spending in a recession: Throughout most of the post war period, the standard of living has constantly increased (even after Harold Macmillan so famously said “You’ve never had it so good” in 1957) which has sustained an excess of shops.  We have had more disposable income to spend on consumer items, extras and luxuries.  Now we are in recession, the consequences are obvious.

Holidays and bad weather: We also have longer holidays with the result that many areas are drained entirely of shoppers in July and August, and over Easter, when our local consumer is shopping in elsewhere in the UK or on the continent.  Bad weather also frightens off the local shopper who is not sheltered under the protective roof of a precinct.  Many shops closed through much of January 2010 because of snow and a rainy Saturday can be seen to have a dire effect on local shoppers.

High prices: The recession has had the obvious consequences of reducing spending.  In a recent residents’ questionnaire reference was frequently made to the fact that some local shops out-price themselves, assuming the wealthy local market will pay up.    

Not enough tenants for shops: The recession has also made potential shop keepers wary.  This is a “no risk” environment and agents complain of numerous deals being broken at the last minute because the potential tenant gets cold feet.  There are just not enough people willing to risk investing their money in retailing, as there are shops at the moment.  Logically market forces should lead to a massive reduction in rents but that does not always happen.. (see below)



 High rents: In Barnes some rents are deemed to be too high.  The residents are assumed to be wealthy because of the high price of property but in actual fact many have relatively little disposable income because they have high mortgages, choose to privately educate their children or are retired.  Moreover footfall is low compared to other similar local shopping areas.  Since rates are linked to rents, they are too high also.

Company landlords: Shops are usually rented.  The owner is often a property company, a pension find or similar which will own swathes of shops and other commercial properties.  The properties make up a portfolio which is set at a certain amount based on the ability to let.  The portfolio can be used as collateral or used in City trading.  Any reduction in the rent of one shop devalues the whole portfolio.  So grand landlords such as these prefer to keep shops empty (and pay council tax) rather than fill them at market prices. 

No change: The William Pears group owns a number of Barnes shops and their web site states: “The group’s commercial properties are considered a core holding and are rarely traded” so the situation is unlikely to change.

Domino effect: Also other tenants will hear about rent reductions and at the next review demand rent reductions too.  As far as the landlord is concerned lowering a rent opens up a Pandora’s box!

Gentrification: Barnes has three or four Company landlords who are therefore unlikely to have a special interest in revitalising the local area.  In the case of Marylebone High Street there was one landlord (Howard de Walden estates) who took responsibility and it worked.  Northcote Road gentrified due to a progressive business community and a very supportive council.

On-going leases: Some shops have leases still running so the landlord will not be aggressively trying to let the premises because he is obtaining rent anyway.

Complex ownership: Sometimes land ownership has become excessively complex over the years.  One Barnes’ tenant occupies land and property owned by 20 different agents!

Dodgy deals: Tesco offers us an illustration of the principle of “landbanking” – holding ransom strips to prevent rivals from getting a foothold” and ‘trampling’ over planning law (Observer 14 Jan 2007).  Until the weakly regulated market is tightened, other companies can do this legally, although there is no evidence that this is affecting Barnes at the moment.

Secrecy: There are differences in the market between shops and houses in.  One of these is the need for secrecy.  For example, if a business is struggling, the landlord cannot look for another tenant because if word gets out, the business will spiral into decline.  This is why it is always difficult to find out what is happening in the High Street.

Short term lets: There have been one or two “pop up” shops (very short lets) in Barnes – a temporary gallery, a Christmas tree shop and so on, which have been successful.  But from the point of view of longer lets (say 18 month leases only) the tenant’s initial costs (shop refurbishment and furnishing) would probably outweigh the return.  The landlord, meanwhile may lose a more permanent tenant.

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