March 7, 2019 4.32 pm This story is over 55 months old

Business Week: Crunch time for independent businesses

Troubled waters ahead

A lingerie shop, a remarkably small pub and a dog daycare centre may sound like an odd group, but they are all struggling to survive in this turbulent economy. These independent Lincoln businesses are now calling on people to get behind them as they warn of closures to come — but a local expert thinks that more could follow if small enterprises don’t market themselves better.

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Lincoln Bra Lady, based on Newark Road, was one of the first to warn that they will be forced to close their doors this year. Owner Claire Woodall said: “Online sales are killing the entire lingerie industry with shops closing weekly. I actually love my job, I love lingerie and I love helping you find a great bra for every occasion and helping some ladies through their steps into the unknown world of breast cancer.” She urged people to use local shops and warned that they can’t stay open otherwise.

Another nearby business in Thorpe on the Hill called the Dog Adventure Centre said it is dealing with some of the “most difficult” trading months in over seven years. The dog daycare and training centre is based on Littlethorpe Lane, which has been closed off for the past few weeks for roadworks. Steven Breach said: “These road closures are seriously impacting on the business and we have never had a month like it. I’m not sure how we can cope for much longer. Even though customers are allowed access they are put off by all the road closure signs and don’t bother just in case.”

A third business, The Hop and Barley, joined the calls for more local support after a couple of quiet months. Steve Marston runs the city’s first micropub on High Street and launched a crowdfunding page online with the goal of £2,000 to stay open. He said: “Due to the last two months being unexpectedly quieter than normal, we have struggled to keep up with our overheads. We are now in crisis. We need your help and support to keep the doors open so you can enjoy our micropub, which has become a favourite in a few short years.”

All of these independent businesses are reluctant to join the growing list of pubs, gift shops and cafes which have been forced to close in the past six months. We have written about city gift shops like Fern & Favour, Bird’s Yard and The Lincoln Soap Company which have all closed their doors recently. Pubs like The Jolly Brewer, Widow Cullen’s Well and the Lincoln Imp were also forced to call their last orders. That’s not all though, a Lincoln cafe built for veterans and their families shut up shop after just one month.

These much-loved businesses are all trying to support each other as they face some of the “most difficult” trading months in years. Before they call for others to step in, could they be doing more to save themselves?

Local consultant, expert and retail champion Chloe Bailey thinks that if these businesses have a good product and location, then they need to be doing more to market their services online. She said: “Consumer confidence is low while a Brexit deal is yet to be negotiated. Everyone is starting to wonder what it will mean for them and many are tightening their belts. I am a woman, I have a dog and I go to pubs in Lincoln. I am part of the target audience for all of the businesses warning of closure, but I just don’t see them enough online — they need to do more to market themselves.”

It is a turbulent time for our high street businesses, according to research by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). They have blamed “sky high” business rates, increasing rents and “rocketing” employment costs. An FSB spokesperson said: “Currently the tax system favours large online retailers over independent businesses based on the high street. The broken business rates system penalises businesses, regardless of their profits or ability to pay. The new business rates discount should give some relief [but] there needs to be a serious overhaul of the unfair tax that hits firms before they have had the chance to make their first pound of turnover, let alone profit.”

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