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Bromley independent businesses battling to stay afloat on the high street

PUBLISHED: 09:36 24 January 2013 | UPDATED: 09:52 24 January 2013

Gary Crawford, Beckenham Toys

Gary Crawford, Beckenham Toys

Archant

With the collapse of high street giants Jessops, HMV and Blockbuster within the space of a few days, there is good reason to worry about the state of commerce in Bromley.

David Podbury, Chas Norman Cameras.David Podbury, Chas Norman Cameras.

They join other big names such as Comet and JJB Sports, begging the question of just what does it take to succeed in business during tough times?

The Times speaks to three traders from local stores about how they’re faring on the high street and their plans to stay afloat.

The financial hardship in the borough has been addressed by Bromley Council who have pledged to support small and medium local businesses, ensuring one of three quotes on all contracts up to £50,000 comes from within the borough.

Cllr Peter Morgan, responsible for regeneration, said: “The council wants to harness its buying power to help promote and stimulate the local economy.

Del Nazim, Fee & BrownDel Nazim, Fee & Brown

“By giving local firms the maximum opportunities to compete for our business we can target the council’s spending to realise economic, social and environmental benefits for the whole Bromley community.”

But is this enough? Reporter Josh Fowler asks traders how they are coping.

Gary Crawford and his wife, Emma, are the owners of Beckenham Toys in Beckenham High Street.

“It’s tough at the minute, there’s no getting away from it. It’s not just Toys ‘R’ Us, it’s the supermarkets that are getting at us because people go in there to do a weekly shop and can just casually pick up a toy.

“Of course, we have the internet and we have just had a meeting with a web designer because in order to survive we need an online presence where we’re going to offer more educational and wooden toys.

It does surprise us how competitive we are with prices and what we tend to find is the bigger stores sell out of toys they offer cheap and people will come here to find it.

“Sometimes they offer items for what we have to pay to get it on our shelves, so we just can’t compete with that.

“We had a tough year last year and December was okay, but down from last year.

“We need to make people realise that if they don’t support us, this shop will be gone after 80 years.

“We took over the shop in 2009 and things were good until the end of 2010, that’s when the financial crisis took its toll on us.”

David Podbury is the sales director of Chas Norman Cameras in Beckenham High Street.

“Chas Norman has existed for about 40 years, but this store in Beckenham has been around for about 20 years now.

“I would say the business has changed over time.

“There was a period a few years ago where everything seemed to be going through the internet so it was impossible for us to compete.

“But recently there has been a push towards the high street again.

“I don’t think for a minute that because Jessops have gone then we are next.

“It was a bad thing really because they were the only guys who promoted photography and that would drive business our way, so we’ve lost a lot of marketing for the industry.

“We’re competitive at the moment and are within five or 10 per cent when you compare our prices with the likes of Currys, Dixons or John Lewis.

“What we can’t compete with is Amazon who, if they want a product to be a top seller, can sell below cost price. We just can’t do that.

“With Jessops gone there is a gap that we might look to expand into, but not until there’s light at the end of the financial tunnel.”

Del Nazim owns independent coffee shop Fee & Brown, in Beckenham High Street, along with her husband Ercan.

“We have been trading for seven months now and we’re still plodding on strong, thank God.

Lots of people come in asking about Harris and Hoole [the coffee chain owned by Tesco] and if we’re worried about them.

“We would be silly not to because if Tesco are paying your rent then you are laughing.

“The government definitely needs to look at independents to see what they can do to help.

“When you hear Starbucks isn’t paying tax it’s ridiculous and now they, and all the other big chains, are re-modelling their stores to look more independent like us.

“Obviously we worry because it’s the quiet time of the year in January and February.

“We have new competition next door and the big chains are always there.

“We can’t just re-mortgage and change how the shop looks, but despite the worry the reward for us is giving Beckenham good coffee that isn’t compromised by sourcing it cheap.

“We try to stay five steps ahead, using social networking and we’re just about to launch a new website (www.feeandbrown.com) to spread the word.

“At the moment we’re thinking about branching out and going for a second store.”

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