City centre retailers with a stronger online presence, an increased appetite for visiting physical shops, and the promise of increased footfall in the city centre created a positive picture during a panel discussion at the Swansea Conference. Read on to find out more.

Independent Retail

The final panel discussion at the Swansea Conference on March 29 explored the plight of independent retail in Swansea. While challenges such as footfall and rising parking charges were highlighted, the overall message was very positive.

A key theme was the impact of covid on the way in which people shop. Darren Cox, Swansea Market Manager, said that people have a renewed appreciation for the social interaction of physical shops.

“Since coming out of the pandemic, and people coming back to work back to the office, we’ve seen a change in the way that people shop,” he said. “They are a bit more selective in the way they shop, we see people shopping maybe three or four times a week, there’s been a resurgence in the market, and people do generally want that social interaction and community spirit the market provides,” he said. 

All the panellists said they had stepped up their online presence during covid, and that this has benefitted their physical stores. 

Christos Stylianou, the owner of Derricks Music, said that his business came out of the pandemic with a bigger website and widened stock.

“The increased stock level in the shop makes things a lot better for people and our ticketing business has gone through the roof, because all of a sudden, people are buying local rather than away from us,” he said.

Panelists at the Independent Retail panel at the Swansea Conference

Karen Hutchings, CEO and founder of Goose Island, said that her business stepped up its Facebook marketing during covid, with outstanding results.

“I think you’ve got to get out and market yourself to bring people into stores, and certainly to bring them online,” she said. “We’ve invested in Facebook marketing, which is quite expensive but well worth it for us. Today, we have almost half a million views a month on our Facebook page. We do live videos, and we do them consistently, twice a week. It not only brings people on to our website, but it brings people into our Mumbles store and our Cowbridge store.”

Catherine Williams, who runs Candles & Co on Nelson Street in Swansea, said that Facebook now has huge importance for her business, and added that post-covid she has retrained her staff to give an outstanding customer experience. 

“We want to make sure our customers remember the store; we’ve also opened up party rooms upstairs, to give them an experience so they will want to come into the city centre and have that experience again,” she said.

Nancy Oyekoya, who runs Nancie Beauty on Swansea’s High Street, focussed on selling wigs online during covid. However, this has not supplanted her physical shop.

“It’s such a personalised service that we provide, so a lot of our customers still want to come to the shop and try the wigs on,” she said.

She added that the website has given her interesting insights into customer needs.

“We were able to notice when our customers are searching online, and we can have a conversation with them and answer some of the questions,” she said. “We’ve also diversified really because we’ve noticed that we have to keep up with the customer’s needs, and not just stick with our regular products and services.”

Cox agreed that evolution is critical, saying that in Swansea Market it’s important to maintain the traditional base while also offering a more diverse product to attract a more diverse customer base as the traditional customer base gets older.

“We’ve got products now that are working very well and thriving, like plant-based cafes, zero waste stores, bespoke coffee shops, Pokemon card shops, and these traders, even at this time, are looking for bigger premises,” he said.

Stylianou echoed these comments, emphasising that it’s important to attract young traders into the city centre.

“We’ve got to bring in the next generation of traders.,” he said. “We need to bring in a younger dynamic for the town, to actually grow the town for the next age group of people.”

Oyekoya added that traders can help each other out by recommending other city centre businesses to prevent customers from going and buying products online.

Independent retail panel at the Swansea Conference.

All panellists agreed that now is a good time for new traders to open up shops in the city centre, with the prospect more affordable than it has been in a long time.

“We do need to get youngsters in the city centre, especially now that the opportunities are there,” said Williams. “Now rents are going down, landlords are willing to negotiate, and we have 12 months now from first of April with 75 percent off the rates.”

One negative factor identified by the panel was a rise in parking fees, also coming in April.

“I was quite surprised to learn that the parking prices are going up in April, because one of the reasons that we get customers saying they don’t want to come to town is because car parking is expensive,” said Oyekoya.

However, there was a clear promise of brighter times to come. Chairing the panel, Russell Greenslade, CEO of Swansea BID, said that footfall in the city centre is set to increase as a result of new developments in the area.

“Swansea is an amazing place to live, and I think we should champion that whenever we can,” he said. “We’re very lucky; we need to tweak and improve it, which is happening as I speak. As for the foot flow and spending that’s coming, there are two new office blocks coming where around 1,500 people will be working. That’s coming shortly and will get foot flow and spending flowing more. These and other developments will be a massive boost for the area, so it’s all positive stuff for our fast growing city centre.”