EOW Reflections 11/08/2023

My dog will be devastated by the closure of #Wilko. He’s in heaven snuffling along the doggy aisle scenting out his favourite treats on the bottom shelf. He chooses his own heart’s desires. The laughing squeaky ball was definitely a mistake from a human point of view, but he adores it and talks back to it. Those large meaty rolls that last for weeks may be a broken ankle waiting to happen but how can I refuse that look of longing. And the indestructible toys that last mere seconds in his paws are simply to die for. Things will never be the same again.

Our local #Wilko featured on TV last night and I realised that it had previously been a branch of the long-lamented Woolworths. Now the high street is set to lose another stalwart. It’s been on the cards for months as the gaps on the shelves widened and the stock dwindled. But as a dedicated non-shopper it’s one of the few physical stores I’ve enjoyed going into to and will miss.

Yesterday’s open letter from the CEO Mark Jackson said it all:

…. on behalf of the directors and the Wilkinson family thank all of our customers, suppliers, partners and our hardworking team members across our stores, logistics and support centre who remained loyal to wilko. We’ve all fought hard to keep this incredible business intact but must concede that time has run out, and now we must do what’s best to preserve as many jobs as possible, for as long as is possible, by working with our appointed administrators.

You can feel his pain.

Online has eaten the high street. If we don’t use the shops, they close. I’ve been reporting on the demise of post offices, convenience stores and bank branches for decades. We visited the ‘use it or lose it’ conundrum on You and Yours (Radio 4’s consumer programme) most weeks. We know we need to reinvent our town centres to attract people back to these vital spaces. We need to incentivise and inspire innovative and creative small and micro businesses; the ones that really will be responsible for economic and societal recovery; the ones that will deliver on the levelling up agenda and benefit their communities and bring added social and public value; the ones that really understand local needs. There are some wonderful projects up and down the UK driven by local authorities and business partners, from Oxford Street to Southport and Hull. There is real hope of high street revival.

And that’s just as well because, as we’ve seen for the last three weeks, not content with eating the high street some online platforms are now eating their children. Those wonderfully agile, creative, resilient small firms that have been trading online successfully for years have woken up to the reality that they don’t hold any of the power and can be pushed out of business with a small change in policy that suddenly takes away their ability to keep the business going.

There is a huge well of talent in those businesses. Let’s get those creatives, those innovators back to our town centres. The footfall and the consumer spend may not be so great as the growth and export opportunities the online marketplaces offer, but at least you can be your own boss and be a vital part of rebuilding exciting, vibrant communities with small and micro businesses at their hearts.