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High street campaign: success stories in Epping Forest
The Guardian's campaign to get people using their high streets this week turns its attention on a few of the many successful businesses in the area.
As traders look to provide more than just a shopping experience for their customers in an effort to compete with online businesses with low overheads, many shops offering services are doing well.
One shop where business has exploded recently is baby accessories store Bababoom in Loughton High Road.
Owner Becky Elliott, a midwife who set up the shop three years ago, said the classes and services provided by other professionals based there was now on a level with the sale of products.
She added: “I knew there were a lot of alternative therapies and remedies and if women accessed them, they would have a healthier pregnancy.
“The only way I could offer these on the high street was to have a shop.
“Originally, it was the boutique bringing people in and they would then find out about the classes on offer.
“Now I think it’s a pretty even mix of people coming to the shop and coming specifically for the courses and therapies.”
She said a huge advantage independent stores had over their chain rivals was the relationship with customers.
She added: “If a woman came in for a breast pump because her baby’s feeding isn’t going well, we might do a free breast feeding session for half an hour.
“You’re not going to get that kind of service at Mothercare, for example.”
She said many of the town’s shops, including her own, promised their customers the lowest price on the high street, although they could not compete with online shops.
“I know how much certain items cost me and websites are selling them for the same price to customers,” she added.
She added that many independent stores in the town’s high street were not necessarily more expensive than chains and many offered price matching.
Businesses offering services customers cannot get online, like a haircut or a manicure, are dominating one high street.
Queens Road in Buckhurst Hill has more than 10 hairdressers in a short street.
After its 13th salon opened two years ago, some rivals said it had reached saturation point.
But Emma Maw, of Cleo salon, which opened in February, said there was enough variation in the street’s hairdressers’ and barber shops to attract enough trade to support them.
She added: “They’re not all the same and you get different atmospheres in some.
“Also, you can’t get your hair done on the internet like you can with a lot of things.”
Brooke Painter, of Blo, also in Queens Road, said: “When Westfield opened, I think a lot of the boutiques here suffered and online shopping has had the same effect.
“But with hair, it’s a bit more specialised.”
The growing chain:
Igor Bekaert set up the Belgique chain of nine bistros, which he runs with his wife Ann, in 2005 and is now thinking of expanding further.
After moving to the UK from Belgium, where he grew up, in 1996, he initially set up a wholesale business in Forest Gate, London.
He bought his first cafe in Woodford Green from a fellow Belgian who was terminally ill and wanted to leave it in good hands.
The Epping branch was his next eatery, followed by the cafe in Theydon Bois, and there are now branches in Loughton, Chigwell, Bishop’s Stortford, Chingford, Wanstead, South Woodford and Ware.
He said: “People here would rather see an independent business than a big chain.
“We buy quality – I could get smoked salmon for £9 a kilo, but I use one that’s £19 a kilo.
“We also make sure our shops look nice.”
About 75 per cent of trade comes from regulars and he is continually changing the menu, recently adding horsemeat, eel, frogs’ legs and snails.
“We have 50 little Bapas dishes, which are like Belgian tapas, and horsemeat is our eighth most popular,” he said.
“Because we’re reasonably small, we can implement changes quite fast, whereas in one of the bigger chains, if they want to change something, it’s a major event.”
He will look into expanding the business further next year.
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