With stores across the area fully prepared for the Christmas trading period, business leaders have expressed hope that 2012 will be rounded off on a positive note.
While many firms have continued to experience a tough year as hard-pressed retailers compete for shoppers’ attentions, there remains hope there will be a traditional festive retail surge that will make up for sluggish summer figures.
Businesses in Worthing underlined a commitment to ensure shopping environment standards remain a key focus after voting for the town to retain its Business Improvement District status.
This will ensure a £1m pot for the town centre over the next five years towards delivering Christmas lights (which are switched on from this week), funding for the town’s popular ice rink, additional street cleaning and security, plus general promotion of the area as a shopping destination.
Though Comet is looking increasingly like being added to the list of retail casualties which the area has witnessed over the past two years in particular, it appears there are a number of smaller retailers who have sprung up in recent times and are attempting to find a niche market.
These include several businesses which have recently arrived in the Royal Arcade, Chapel Road and the high street in Worthing that are hopeful of making an impact.
According to Sharon Clarke, of Worthing Town Centre Initiative, the area has cause for optimism, with vacant shop rates now dipping below the 10 per cent mark, which she believed pointed to an improving economic outlook.
While conceding that retailers faced ongoing challenges as the economy officially emerges from its double-dip recession, she felt there were some encouraging results emerging.
“There have been some positives coming from the economy lately, including the fact we are now out of a recession thanks to factors including the Olympics and the jubilee.
“Most of the traders I have spoken to in the area are feeling optimistic and while it’s true that there are some temporary shops that open up for Christmas which may not be there in the New Year, we still have a shop vacancy rate of 8.9 per cent, which is less than the national average.
“The Business Improvement District money is in place for this year which means we can have things like our Christmas lights. While the lights alone may not be responsible for trading figures, they certainly create more of a feel-good factor and encourage people to spend. I’ve had some good feedback from shops, some of which are already reporting good sales as we go towards Christmas.”
She added that additional festive lighting had been created to boost interest in Portland Road in particular, as the street has endured difficult trading conditions with a higher-than-average vacancy rate of 20 per cent, which she hoped would be given even greater support in the New Year.
Special discounted parking rates will also be in operation for two weekends leading up to Christmas, which it is hoped will also serve as a boost to trade in the town centre.
Speaking to the Herald, Tina Tilley, of Worthing and Adur Chamber of Commerce, expressed a view that there were opportunities for businesses to thrive despite a testing economic backdrop.
David Steadman, Adur Town Centres co-ordinator, felt seasonal events being staged across the area would make a difference to festive trading patterns.
He said: “There is no doubt that Christmas trading is going to be challenging given the current economic situation.
“However, businesses in small towns like Shoreham have the opportunity to meet this challenge by adapting quickly to market trends, offering personal service, unique products, and a friendly and festive smile, something you may not find in out-of-town shopping centres or larger towns. Traders throughout Adur towns and villages are generally positive and it is hoped the Christmas Festival events being held in Lancing, Shoreham and Southwick will attract more people into the town and villages, giving that extra boost to trade and the corresponding economic benefit.”
Entrepreneur and Herald columnist Craig Peters, who operates a marketing company within the area, revealed that companies appeared to be starting to engage more with their marketing budget – pointing to an increased level of business confidence.
He said: “Marketing is often the first thing that people cut when times are difficult, but it is actually the last thing they should be doing.
“Companies are starting to realise that’s the case and there seems to be quite a bit of activity in terms of firms investing in their marketing.
“I am not so sure how the economy is going to do for the area over the next year, but once projects like the Aquarena and revamp of Teville Gate are complete, then I think it will transform the area.”