Princesshay: can shops in East Devon compete?

PUBLISHED: 14:08 09 January 2008 | UPDATED: 11:26 11 June 2010

BUSINESS leaders across East Devon could only watch as the curiosity factor lured thousands of shoppers away from market and coastal towns to Exeter in the run-up to Christmas. Many were eager to see for themselves the seriously stylish" new Princesshay

BUSINESS leaders across East Devon could only watch as the curiosity factor lured thousands of shoppers away from market and coastal towns to Exeter in the run-up to Christmas.Many were eager to see for themselves the "seriously stylish" new Princesshay shopping centre, opened in the full glare of the media spotlight last September.Representing the biggest single investment in Exeter's history, the sparkling complex of more than 60 shops cost over £200m to develop.Offering distinctive architecture, Princesshay has risen from the rubble of its demolished past to offer consumers a new shopping experience. Late night shopping, for example, wasn't just for Christmas. Shops in Princesshay stay open late on Thursdays all year round.The centre has its own website and even benefits from a television advertising campaign.Business expert Malcolm Sherry is the spokesperson for East Devon Chambers of Commerce. He also sits on the board of the South West Chambers organisation and is a member of the Devon and Cornwall Business Council.The Herald asked him: how can retail outlets in small towns compete with such a massive investment?"East Devon can't afford to ride on Exeter's coat tails," he said."Towns and the district have got to be branded. If local authorities aren't prepared to do that, the business community will. In fact, plans are already under way."Princesshay was hugely successful in the run-up to Christmas, but part of that was its newness."People wanted to go and see it for themselves."Mr Sherry, although confident Princesshay attracted a magnificent footfall, wonders how much cash actually went into tills."I'd be interested to know what the sales figures were for Princesshay over the four-week period leading up to Christmas and New Year," he said."Everybody I've spoken to has said it is quite expensive to shop in Princesshay."Although East Devon is never likely to attract a massive advertising budget, Mr Sherry believes it needs a marketing bureau, similar to the one already established in North Devon. It won funding of £500,000.Changing mindsets, in order to move small businesses forward, is an important key to future commercial success, said Mr Sherry.He wants traders to look beyond the parochial and to be aware of what is happening in other areas.Half-day closing and 1pm to 2pm lunch breaks should be things of the past, he believes."Businesses need to open and close to customers' needs - not tradition," he told the Herald, admitting his comments may not strike the right chord with everybody."East Devon seems to have been asleep. It is too parochial and inward looking."Things don't stay the same and businesses have got to change."East Devon has cut itself off from everywhere else."Exeter is going places. It is in the Premiership with Bristol and Plymouth. "Our towns are in the lower leagues."Encouraging busi-nesses to change is one of Mr Sherry's goals."A lot of micro-businesses struggle, because they don't change enough," he said."They don't look at all their niches."Exeter City Council is describing Princesshay as "seriously stylish, featuring distinctive architecture".The complex was developed by Land Securities, the UK's largest real estate investment trust. It has a commercial property portfolio worth over £14billion. Mr Sherry is the first to admit that a great deal of work has gone on at local level in a bid to promote local businesses, particularly in Honiton where a pro-active mayor has done everything he can to support the business community.What about the future?Will Princesshay's overnight success be sustained?Only people like you you, consumers, can decide that.WHAT do you think about Princesshay? Is it just what Exeter needed or a threat to trade in East Devon? Tell your Herald.

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