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High street under "transformation" according to county finance experts

By Gloucestershire Echo  |  Posted: January 22, 2013

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MAJOR businesses have failed to adapt to changing markets and advances in technology and indicate a "transformation" of the high street.

This is the view taken by several finance experts in the wake of store closures by Jessops, HMV and Blockbuster.

Richard Coleman, director at Bishop's Cleeve-based Zurich Insurance, said high streets were undergoing a profound change.

He said: "The evolution of technology, particularly advances in online and mobile, coupled with continuing uncertainty about the current economic climate, is impacting more and more UK businesses.

"It's important to recognise, however, that change also brings significant opportunities."

According to research by the insurance company, 54 per cent of UK SMEs believe the high street will transform by 2020 and be replaced by a virtual high street with hybrid business models and new potential types of high-street businesses.

David Smith, branch head of investment services provider Rowan Dartington in Cheltenham, said Jessops was a specialist retailer that had not developed with the market.

He said: "They stuck doggedly to a narrow product range that was in a declining market. People are much less likely to buy a separate camera, when they have a good one on their phone.

"Also they would have had less foot traffic because less photos are printed from film now. Their overheads appeared expensive for their niche remaining market."

Aynsley Damery, a partner at Tayabali-Tomlin in Moreton-in-Marsh, said the failure of HMV, Jessops and Blockbuster was down to lack of strategic leadership at the top.

"Quite simply they forgot the business they were in and how best to service their customers and in this instance the banks are not to blame," he said.

Meanwhile, Mike Baxter, manager at London Camera Exchange in Cheltenham, said business was better than ever.

The camera shop is part of a group of 28 stores nationwide, which also has a branch in Gloucester.

Mike met with Panasonic directors last week and discussed Jessops' closure.

He said: "Although in theory they could have closed at any time in the last five years because the business was unsustainable as it owed the bank so much money, when they actually did it was a huge shock to us all. "We're still reeling from it. We do genuinely feel sorry for the staff."

Three of Mike's five employees used to work at Jessops.

Mike, who started at London Camera Exchange on the Promenade when it opened around 40 years ago, said one reason the company continued to do well was because of part-exchange offers. Optics also sell well including telescopes and binoculars, due to Cheltenham's horse racing, he said.

David Goodall, head of Corporate Banking for Barclays in Gloucestershire, said: "Three weeks into 2013 and barely a day has gone by without the retail sector hitting the headlines.

"This will undoubtedly colour the mood on the high street over the next few weeks but, behind the scenes the sector is investing heavily in new channels such as click and collect to make shopping as easy as possible for consumers and ensure sales hold".

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