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Businesses must be brave to succeed

Independent retailers need to "put their heads above the parapet" and fight for better rental and rates terms from landlords and local authorities, according to one of Scotland's most successful independent shopkeepers.

Keith Ewing, who owns Number Eight Clothing in Stirling, made the comments as his shop was nominated as one of the UK's "top 100 inspiring shops" for 2013 by Draper's magazine. The store, in the town's once-thriving, now low-footfall King Street, where more than 40 independent retailers have failed in the past five years, was recognised as the UK's "best independent menswear retailer" last year.

Listing the pressures on small retailers from the recession, dearth of bank finance and the "irreversible" rise of online shopping, Ewing, 43, said: "So many retailers shout about the Government not doing this and the council not doing that, but if they looked they could find faults in their businesses. Many suffering businesses could be good ones if they put their heads above the parapet. There are so many costs they could strip out of their businesses, and rent and rates are classic examples.

"Shopkeepers are traditionally uncomfortable about speaking to their landlords about rent as they fear they will put it up if they do, but the fact is that landlords need retailers to survive, and are often prepared to negotiate. The average independent doesn't realise how much power they have."

Ewing also stressed the importance of a strong e-commerce strategy alongside a more professional, dynamic and data-based approach to in-store buying and display merchandising, and forecast that Number Eight would increase e-commerce sales by about 50% while conventional turnover was predicted to remain roughly static in 2013.

"Only a small part of our business is online at present. We have only been doing it for the last two-and-a-half years, but it takes about that long, plus the use of search engine optimisation, for e-commerce to start to work for you.

"The fact that John Lewis increased online sales by 44% this year shows how the internet is taking real swings at the high street. The internet is going to grow, so only those businesses which are proactive, if necessary taking courses in window and shop display, will survive."

Along with other local retailers, Ewing last year persuaded Stirling Council to invest £140,000 to refurbish King Street's traditional Victorian store fronts in a bid to lure footfall from The Thistles shopping centre.

"The investment has been fantastic, and has made the street look fresh again," he said.

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