By in Havens BBC Documentary, Saving The High Street

Havens BBC Documentary – Here’s what’s going on

Well it all seemed like a good idea at the time. The first approach was made by a TV production company in January 2013. They had been commissioned by the BBC to create a business series of documentaries featuring 10 established businesses. We were told that the series would look at the ups and downs and the challenges faced by each business, what they were doing well and areas that with a little help could be improved.

Nothing too alarming there then, just needed confirmation that we would not be subjected to a reality TV gimmick, nor made to look like a basket case and we would agree to go ahead.

And so we did and before we knew it contracts were signed and the program producers were setting filming dates. The idea is that they would do a back story where they get to understand the business and the characters, establish the strengths and weaknesses and then for the main course film a young, relatively inexperienced person give their objective view on how some of the weaknesses could be addressed.

Havens of Westcliff Department Store
Havens of Westcliff Department Store

In our case it is clear, as is common with most retailers, that the retail side of our business has seen some significant decline over the last 10 years. On the plus side we were early adopters of the online shopping space with first trading in 2000 and we also have a very good business to business company specialising in  Loyalty and Service Award Gift programs for companies.

So it was the retail side of the business that would come under scrutiny and, I guess for the program, to try to justify retaining the store presence.

As we own the freehold, good in as much as no rent or rent reviews, not so good when the high street moves away from you, as it has. We have learnt to adapt the store to suit current ways in which we trade and it is fair to say that in part it has become a very luxurious warehouse space to support our internet trading.

As a company change is in our DNA and we are always challenging ourselves to embrace new ideas and technology. Our strategy has to be multi channel and the idea is to offer our products and give them a chance of selling, in store, on line and to our corporate clients.

Outside Havens Hamlet Court Road Street Spectactular
Outside Havens Hamlet Court Road Street Spectactular

We have always understood the changing consumer shopping habits and the key issues on the decline of Hamlet Court Road and I know that this is mirrored across the country. I have covered this in blogs, articles and even fired off a letter to Mary Queen of Shops, no reply or acknowledgement forthcoming -Surprise, surprise!

So filming in earnest begins and with it we learn a new lexicon of technical terms GV, 2 Shot, wide, close shot, listening shot and those frustrating words “that was great now can you just repeat it so we can take from another angle” !

I cannot give too much away about our intern, suffice to say that all Team Havens got on extremely well with him. He was empathetic, understanding, sensitive and clearly very bright, mature beyond his years.

His objectivity was refreshing and respectfully delivered and this chemistry certainly made it work for all concerned.

His research threw up these observations. It was clear that from the outside the Store did not effectively reflect the inside. People have perceptions about Havens, it’s their mums shop or the product is not relevant to them and they needed breaking down. It was also clear that once inside people are genuinely both delighted and surprised at what we have to offer and the level of customer care and service we provide.

We have a very proud history going back to 1901 and a small archive area on the first floor,

Havens Through the Years since 1901
Havens Through the Years since 1901

almost hidden under a bushel should be promoted as a unique selling point, as he said, how many other companies have this in their armoury. I have always, wrongly, been concerned that our history perpetuated the old fashioned image rather than an enhancement.

Finally looking at ways of marketing and driving people back into the store. It is clear that we have to go and get them, we no longer have the footfall in Hamlet Court Road to rely on passing trade.

At the end of this section of filming, unknown to us, an in store event was organised. A photographer, beauty students from South East Essex college uniting, for free, their need for work experience and our need for additional services – a win win, plus representatives from a couple of our suppliers and a pop up cafe all made for a great day. A final surprise was the arrival of Harry Derbridge from TOWIE fame who in reality is a great guy with generous words about his experience in the store. Not least he called Havens the Selfridges of Southend!

And so the end of the day and yet one more surprise!  Our intern tells us he will be returning in 3 weeks time and sets 3 challenges:

  1. To give Sarah the support she needs to use her immense skills to create some stunning windows
  2. To bring forward and highlight our heritage and history
  3. Put on an event bigger and better than he had achieved!
Guerlain Window by Sarah havens

I knew the first two would be easy to achieve and I could leave in brother Paul and Sarah’s capable hands. The challenge was to put on an event on a Tuesday in June – the only date available to the filming crew was going to be a challenge.

We are very much aware that Havens cannot sustainably pull people into Hamlet Court Road on our own. Our plan for the Event was to engage with the local traders, something Paul felt very strongly about, the community and the council to try to pull off a very ambitious HCR Street Spectacular Event.

I put this to all the Havens crew and they thought it was a great idea. I soon had a working team that would work on the project, planning, organising, communicating and executing.

At a meeting with traders the idea was very well received. Already there was support from the local restaurants for an Ethnic Street Food market, along with other offers from traders to hold stalls selling and promoting a variety of products. Representatives from Southend Council are in the store within two hours of my initial call to them. Street closure and Events licence in two and a half weeks drew a sharp intake of breath, but hey they helped us get through the hoops, facilitating with some sweaty moments right up to 17.26 pm to be precise on the Monday pre Event when finally licences were granted and it all became official!

Things were coming together, Barbara tenaciously chased and harried the exhibitors for public liability info.and filled all the statutory Event forms, flyers and posters were designed in house by the talented Jess, stall holders were on message, gazebos organised, Event stewards from the community were coming forward, the practical side falling into place – long before the licence granted!

For inside Havens we organised the College beauticians again, the photographer and the pop up cafe. In addition there was wine tasting, two chefs demonstrating, chocolate tasting and local artists show case. We had spot deals and promotional offers delivered by microphone and loud speaker, a prize draw for data capture, a suggestions box and a team of happy smiling sales staff!

The lovely girls from the College in our Beauty Dept.
The lovely girls from the College in our Beauty Dept.

Now to promoting and communicating the do. PR is Gaby’s bag and to have that within our Team is a huge bonus. She joined us because she loves the Store and wanted to be part of our development. I could immediately see the PR potential, in truth mainly for blogging and content writing for our website.

The idea of a Coronation Crown, design, drawing or even making competition for the Children was swung into action. Engage the kids then parents and indeed grand parents would support us. 5000 leaflets were distributed to the local schools – timing slightly against us as half term was the week before the event. I looked down the road at 3.45pm and I could see and hear the cackle of the children arriving straight from school, this part of the plan was working.

We also needed to get the message across to the local community. Flyers given to restaurants to place on tables, posters for shop windows, leafleting in strategic places like the stations. Press releases to all local media all of whom responded with interest not least the Southend Evening Echo who ran 4 very positive features before and after the event. Southend Radio also agreed to promote, so the Sunday pre Event I am in a chatty, informal Forum talking about local issues on the Tracy Copper Live show with a slot to also tell the listeners what is going on in HCR.

So to the day itself, please, please sun shine!

Filming started early away from the store, I was anxious to see how my Team were doing – Road closure was at 1.00pm for a 3.00pm start with the conclusion 7.00pm. By the time I got back to the store the gazebos were up and the participants were all making their stands look good. Preparations were well in advance. My Team had things under control – it is all in the preparation.

Hamlet Court Road Busy, Busy , Busy
Hamlet Court Road Busy, Busy , Busy

At 3.00pm crowds quite literally arrived and a sense of relief was felt all round. We did not know whether 5 or 505 people would turn up. We now know that Rossi’s ice cream served over 700 samples and Metal handed out over 600 wrist bands for their forth coming event in Chalkwell Park!

Our returning intern was left speechless and I think the film crew were also a bit overwhelmed by the enormity of it all, not quite sure what to film next!

The windows looked spectacular and would grace any store in the world, the History was organised in chronological order, brought downstairs and displayed in a prominent position. Both again leaving the intern speechless!

Nigel & Paul in Edwardian Clothes
Nigel & Paul in Edwardian Clothes

A final surprise from the intern and film crew was to dress Paul and I up in Edwardian gear, a bit of fun I guess but Paul and I were both keen to be out there meeting and greeting.

Final interviews were concluded with side issues and angles trying to be created to make the program more entertaining! Hopefully most were straight batted but with so much repetition you never know how it will be cut and delivered!

After final good byes we were left to reflect on a great Event, even surprising ourselves. The over whelming reaction from the public, was this is just what the HCR area needs, when is the next one! and if you support us like that then we will certainly facilitate in organising more.

The traders who took the leap of faith and really engaged in the day were delighted with the response and outcome.

For me this idea was always a taster to show what can be done to show case what Hamlet Court Road has to offer. Engage the Traders, Community and Southend Council and at very low financial cost, except for much blood, sweat and occasional tear put on a show that brings everyone together and puts HCR back on the map as a shopping destination.

Thai Tara Restaurant
Tara Thai Restaurant

I know that one Event does not turn things round, but certainly having done one, themes for other events are spinning in my head. As a community we all now need to get together to make it happen again.

For us this is more than a TV show, it is not just about Havens, it is about finding a cost effective, sustainable way forward for Local High Street UK where all interested parties get together and promote the benefits and features of local shopping and business.

Unless we use our local businesses and services we will loose them and society and the high street will be an even poorer place with out them.