A county of historic market towns full of independent shops, Shropshire is both a popular tourist destination, and an area struggling to keep its high streets alive. In the last few years, Shropshire Council has created a Market Towns Revitalisation Programme in order to invest in its towns and local businesses to ensure their sustainability. Part of this project has involved teaming up with the National Skills Academy for Retail to offer business mentoring to new and existing businesses, helping them to become more successful.
The business mentoring service, offered by the National Skills Academy for Retail and Grey for Gold, matches up independent retailers and retail experts. Shropshire Council linked up with the former boss of Moss Bros, Rowland Gee, to support their local retailers in Market Drayton.
Peter Wilson, from Shropshire Council said: “We wanted to offer business mentoring to encourage entrepreneurs, who ultimately help build our local economy. The service Rowland offers has been hugely worthwhile. He has given one-to-one advice to a few shops, as well as team sessions. Rowland has provided a fresh pair of expert eyes and a depth of knowledge which we could never offer. He is someone completely neutral and that knows what he is talking about, which is why his presence has had such a good response from businesses.
“Even in a very short space of time, Rowland is able to offer tips and advice to improve a business. He has popped into shops, taken a look around and within ten minutes provided advice on what they can do to make improvements. And because he lived and worked in retail, our retailers are happy to listen and take his advice.”
The one-to-one sessions have been with start-ups to help local entrepreneurs build lasting businesses. This has included working with a start-up bakery where he helped the owner work out his market and products. Rowland has even taken the owner to London to visit other successful bakeries for ideas and advice.
Another person to benefit from the scheme was 18-year-old Shannon Boronski, who decided to avoid the student fees of university and instead opted to invest in her own business. With the help of Rowland, Shannon has set up and successfully opened Market Drayton’s first baby clothes shop, Tiny Tots Baby Boutique and Accessories.
She said: “I had enjoyed Business Studies at school, but didn’t want to pay university fees, so thought opening my own shop would be a way to bring my interest in business to life. With my mum fostering and my sister just having given birth, I knew there was a gap in the market for a shop in town that sold baby clothes.
“The council contacted me about business support and I thought it was a great opportunity. Although I was clear about what I wanted to do with the shop, Rowland’s experience and advice has been brilliant. He’s definitely saved me time and money.”
Rowland provided Shannon with advice on visual merchandising, sales, buying, stock control and finance.
“I can’t thank Rowland enough for all the help he’s given me. With equipment, he’s told me what works and what doesn’t. He helped me make the right choices and ensured the layout of the store is great. He’s also helped turn my stock monitoring into a discipline, so I don’t just guess where I’m spending money but know exactly what is selling.
“What has been the most useful is having Rowland at the end of a phone to talk things through and run things by. When we first opened, I had lots of people approaching me about advertising and buying, Rowland was able to tell me what was worthwhile and what wasn’t. Without him I would not have had a clue. He has basically stopped me making the little mistakes so many people make when starting out, helping me beat my sales targets and become successful straight away.”
With the success of the Market Drayton project, Shropshire Council is hoping to expand the scheme to offer to other market towns in the county.
Peter Wilson continues: “For us and our local businesses, the mentoring Rowland has provided has been absolutely vital. It’s not that the start-ups he has worked with wouldn’t have gone ahead without him; it’s that he has helped them create businesses that last. The first year in business is notoriously difficult for new businesses but the hand-holding Rowland has provided means these shop owners have made smart decisions and built businesses which will grow.”