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Byres & Sellers with John Turner  Picture: Glasgow West End Today
Byres & Sellers with John TurnerGlasgow West End Today

'Times are hard, but I remain quietly confident'

Business figure assesses the local economic climate

“I am so excited to be back in the West End, and so pleased to find that you are still here. How have things been? How are you doing?”

This was the question I was asked by a customer in my shop last week. Originally from Glasgow, she usually visits once or twice a year, but this was her first trip since the pandemic started.

It was a very timely question, as the week before my wife and I had celebrated – if that is the right word – the anniversary of our shop reopening after the Long Lockdown of 2021.

And it got me thinking. “How have things been?”

Certainly quieter than normal. I would estimate our sales and footfall were down by around 40% for the 2021-2022 financial year.

Grateful

But even that was better than I expected. We were very grateful for the grant funding we received which enabled us to keep the business running throughout lockdown.

Once we came back, there was a noticeable increase in local customers, and a decrease in tourists and visitors from further afield, especially Europe and the Southern Hemisphere.

I would estimate our sales and footfall were down by around 40% for the 2021-2022 financial year.
I would estimate our sales and footfall were down by around 40% for the 2021-2022 financial year.

However, visitor numbers from the rest of the UK were up, and there were more US tourists than I expected.

“How are you doing?” That is a difficult one to answer.

At the moment, customer numbers are still down, and takings are erratic – as one of my business neighbours said to me recently, there is no pattern to a week anymore: a Tuesday can be twice as good as a Saturday.

Consumer confidence has been hit by the cost of living crisis, together with the uncertainty caused by the war in Ukraine (we saw a marked drop in footfall for the week or so after the war started).

As small business owners, we have been hit by the “double whammy” of rising prices at home, and rising costs for the business – rents, business rates, energy supplies, delivery charges, stock and materials, staff costs.

 

Once we came back, there was a noticeable increase in local customers, and a decrease in tourists and visitors from further afield, especially Europe and the Southern Hemisphere.

John Turner

 

That leads to the obvious question: should we put our prices up?

In some cases this in inevitable. We are also aware that people will have less money in their pockets due to the pressures they are facing at home.

I was discussing this with someone a few weeks ago, who said, “it’s the perfect storm, isn’t it?”

But even after saying all that, there are signs of hope: foreign visitors are returning to the West End again.

In the last few weeks we have seen many from the US and Canada, mainland Europe and, a few weeks ago, our first Australian customers for over two years.

John Turner. Photo: Robert Perry
John Turner. Photo: Robert Perry

In addition, new businesses continue to move into the West End, in the hospitality, retail, and health and beauty sectors.

Research carried out by the Byres Road & Lanes Business Improvement District shows that we actually came out of lockdown and the end of Covid restrictions with fewer empty shop units than when the lockdown first started.

I believe there are many reasons for this, but the primary one is that the West End is a great place to live, work, shop, eat out, and relax.

It should come us no surprise, with the area’s eclectic mix of eateries, many unique independent shops and businesses, a buzzing health and beauty sector, the great atmosphere of the Lanes, and attractions such as the Botanic Gardens and the Kelvingrove Museum.

'Confident'

In my opinion, Byres Road and the Lanes are a template for the High Streets of the future – a place people will want to visit, and keep on coming back again and again, like our customer at the beginning of my story.

“I love this place”, an American customer said to me recently, “there is so much more going on here than in the city centre!” Praise indeed.

So how are we doing? Well, I am not going to deny that times are difficult, and that the next 12-18 months in particular are going to be tough.

But I remain quietly confident that the West End and its people and businesses will pull through and come out all the stronger. And we look forward to seeing you again soon.

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