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Bideford

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I’ve seen the future of the high street and it’s in Bideford, Devon!

We’ve had some wonderful staycations this year in Yorkshire, Scotland and Cornwall and experienced some really first-class hospitality. Staying a AirBnB’s is a reminder that you don’t have to book into a big hotel chain or luxury boutique hotel to find people passionate and caring about the service they provide.

Our most recent staycation in Devon was also a reminder that you don’t have to travel to New York or Milan to discover innovation in retailing. In fact, in Bideford it’s right on our doorstep.

Bideford is a historic port town on the banks of the River Torridge in North Devon. In retailing terms it used to be what we called a “Boots and Woollies town”. Steady but unexciting. Of course, Woolworths have long gone and so have most of the multiples. I expected to see lots of empty stores but in fact there seems to be an organic process of change underway which is bringing a new vibrancy to the high street. That’s coupled with an excellent local-authority-run arts and craft market hall at The Pannier Market.

What’s so exciting about leather belts?

Some of the stores that you’ll want to visit are Josie’s Interiors, Sunshine and Snow  and Hip and Waisted. Let me tell you about Hip and Waisted, a shop that sells leather belts. What’s so exciting about leather belts? Let me share the wonderful experience we had and why this is the future of retailing.

The first thing you notice as you walk into this neatly presented store is the smell of leather, a bright array of colours and Adam, the co-owner working at his bench crafting belts. We were warmly greeted by his partner, Fee and given time to browse. Before I knew it, I’d struck up a conversation about my passion for handmade belts and I was hooked. It wasn’t the case of was I going to buy a belt, it was how many!

An orange/tan coloured belt caught my eye and I was about to buy one off the shelf when Adam said that he had a piece of leather with more detailing and  “would I like a belt made from that?”. He took the skin from under a stack and placed in on the shop floor. To my delight and surprise, he crafted my new belt right in front of me and gave me an unlimited choice of buckles to select.

For those like me who analyse customer experience encounters, why was this so special? The answer is that it met three essential ingredients of a great experience: He got the basics right in terms of quality, choice and price; he made it easy – the belt was ready while I waited – but most significantly, he created a strong emotional connection. We all want to be made to feel special and Adam did just that.

Why is this so important for the future of retailing?

On-line shopping can give us great choice, value and make our lives easy but, at least for now, it can’t create that strong and positive connection with us. You can’t smell the leather online and you can’t speak to the craftsman.

In years gone by we’d think, how can we take this exciting retail concept and make it a national brand on every high street? Let’s put those thoughts to one side and just ask ourselves “what can the property industry do to enable more craft businesses like Hip and Waisted to prosper?”

If you’re inspired by Adam and Fee, and excited by the challenge of improving customer experience in your property business, just call me to chat further.

Howard Morgan

Founder, RealService

howard.morgan@real-service.co.uk