The chief of an organisation working to promote Birmingham’s retail sector said he believed the city’s shopping industry was facing a bright future despite economic uncertainty.
Jonathan Cheetham, chairman of not-for-profit company Retail Birmingham, which represents more than 1,000 businesses in the city centre, said shops, restaurants, bars and hotels had been reporting strong trading figures in the last financial quarter.
“Birmingham is not immune to the economic and structural changes that are affecting retailers across the country, but strong trading over the past quarter and an influx of new store openings paint a bright picture for the city’s central retail area in 2011,” he said.
His optimistic forecast for the city’s economy came during a speech he gave at the inaugural Retail Birmingham Awards, which saw 22 businesses being crowned consumer champions.
Held at Birmingham’s Town Hall, the awards were attended by more than 650 movers and shakers of the city’s retail world and were aimed at celebrating Birmingham’s diverse and expanding shopping, leisure and lifestyle industries.
The awards also provided a chance to mark the work of Retail Birmingham which, despite being set up less than four years ago amidst the backdrop of a floundering economy, is already proving a success, added Mr Cheetham, who is also general manager of the city’s Pallasades shopping centre.
“Behind our work there has been a challenging economic climate, which has resulted in some of the most difficult trading conditions for retailers in a generation,” said Mr Cheetham.
“We have responded to these challenges by taking stock of the situation facing our members and developing effective campaigns and strategies to support them.”
He cited the names of dozens of new outlets that have opened in the city centre in the last 12 months, including the Bullring’s fashion empire Forever 21 – which scooped New Retailer of the Year.
With John Lewis to open in the Pallasades in 2014 and the redevelopment of New Street Station promising to bring more jobs, shops and restaurants, Mr Cheetham said the future was looking encouraging.
“John Lewis coming here is a huge vote of confidence in the city and with new store openings and major developments over the next few years all eyes will be on Birmingham,” he says.
“As retailers, it’s more important than ever that we maintain our strong voice, have a united presence, continue to provide a diverse, quality shopping experience to visitors and communicate our offer loud and proud.”
He said two years ago Retail Birmingham commissioned an economic study, funded by Advantage West Midlands, to gain a clear and impartial “health check” of Birmingham’s central retail area.
“The study revealed many positive signs; Birmingham remains one of the most popular shopping destinations in the UK, retailers reported positive trading figures and high levels of footfall,” he added. “Crucially, the study highlighted that important work still needs to be done.”
He said part of that work included continuing its efforts to attract new independent retailers to the city, which he described as the “lifeblood” of a successful shopping destination.
A series of campaigns by Retail Birmingham, including the Celebration of Independents schemes run over the last two years, were already succeeding in raising the profile of the city centre’s 104 independent retailers, he added.
>> Retail Birmingham Awards winners >>