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Carnage on our High Street- Tips from the Survivors.

  • Date: Wednesday 5th October 2016
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There has been a lot of press recently on the death of the high street. Without going into details on the statistics, it makes for grim reading. All this doom and gloom about the high street would suggest that we ought to be suffering as a property investment company. After all, in theory, our extensive retail portfolio should be riddled with voids. Our income should be reducing as there would be a decline in top line growth due to reduced rental income. Correspondingly, our overheads should be increasing as we should be liable for vacant rates and higher insurance premiums - BUT this is not the case; we don’t actually have a single void in our retail portfolio.

For this blog, I decided to speak to some of our clients and find out why they are thriving when others aren’t and if there are any lessons to be learned for entrepreneurs, property investment companies and developers from their stories.

The first person I spoke to was Darryle MacDonald about his business Eden Aquatics which is based in Gorgie Road in Edinburgh. Eden Aquatics is one of the few places in the Edinburgh area that provides reptile and aquatic supplies for pet owners and has been voted by readers of Practical Fishkeeping Magazine as one of the best aquarist shops in the UK.

 Darryle’s business is on a bit of an accelerated growth curve. He contacted us earlier this year asking if we had bigger premises he could move to as his fish room wasn’t big enough. He also wanted to sell exotic marine fish such as seahorses alongside the tropical fish they specialised in. Rather than move premises,  Darryle worked closely with SRA Ventures and agreed to provide assistance to help expand and renovate the current location, while creating a bespoke marine fish room.

 Darryle took over the business in 2013, acquiring what was an ailing pet shop. However, since the change of ownership, the business has reinvented itself and has been growing from strength to strength. Here are Darryle’s thoughts on why he has been successful in the high street:


David Vs Goliath: being small is actually an advantage.  Darryle compares his business to a speedboat: “It’s small, fast and agile.” If the business is heading in the wrong direction, whether it be the choice of products they stock, or even the customer perception of the business, they can correct the course in a matter of minutes. This nimble nature has provided him with the mindset that he is not afraid to try something new, learn from each failure and build on every success.   Darryle is unlike his competitors who he describes as oil tankers – able to move a lot of volume but tending to take a long time to change course.

 Darryle also feels that people are turning away from big business, especially with the tax-dodging shenanigans of the bigger chains. He says there is definitely a growing trend of people buying from smaller local specialist retailers.



When Darryle took over the business, he immediately rebranded it to Eden Aquatics and changed the product range to specialise in rare tropical fish. “We just didn’t want to be another me2 retailer that sold goldfish, guppies, budgie seed and the odd hamster,” he said.

 Darryle continued: “I felt that that there wasn’t a specialist aquatics business in the marketplace which dealt in the most rare and exotic tropical fish. There is a specialist website, Hobbyist, which can purchase live fish from just about anywhere, but the cost of transport is prohibitive and there is a strong possibility of fatalities, while most aquarists don’t want to be responsible for a fish which costs £200 before dying in transit. We decided to carve out this niche and dominate it. Our business became a haven for fish nerds to be able to see the most exotic fish in Scotland. We regularly have clients from as far afield as Fort William who come and shop with us once a month.”

This approach has clearly reaped dividends for Darryle. After the success of his new marine fish rooms, Darryle is now targeting another niche market which is live coral. Some of the coral he plans to stock in his new setup come in at a whopping £300 for what is essentially a piece of live rock that lives in the sea.


Tip from Shaf: Without realising it, Darryle has followed a tried and tested path. The business’ initial focus was on a very narrow niche of specialist tropical fish, but once he worked out how to dominate this niche, he expanded from a position of strength into marine fish and now plans to move into live coral. This comparison may strike you as a jump too far, but let’s compare Darryle’s business to Facebook which started off as a platform for students at Harvard. Mark Zuckerberg dominated the Harvard online social media market, then moved on to other colleges, before expanding that vision to his current market - the entire world!


 Darryle says: “In our marketing, we make great play of the fact that we are totally different to other aquatic stores. The product we sell and the level of service we offer is unlike anything else available in this country. All of our staff are fish gurus, first and foremost; we have an expert knowledge of specialist fishkeeping which is second to none.

“One of the biggest gripes about big businesses is when something goes wrong and a client needs help, you end up being passed from pillar to post. When you eventually speak to someone, they are indifferent to the problem. Recently we were asked by the restaurant Chaophraya to come and have a look at their fish tank when they were let down by a national service provider and all their fish kept dying - not good for a restaurant whose aquarium is the centrepiece of the restaurant!

“We ended up working through the night to do a major overhaul of the whole system, fixing the problem. As a result of this, we have been asked by the chain to change the current tropical fish tank in the Edinburgh restaurant to a marine tank and maintain all of their fish tanks in every one of their restaurants in the UK.”

Tip from Shaf: As a small business, you have one inherent advantage that you need to immediately leverage - that is the level of customer service and engagement you can provide. Unlike big organisations which rely on call centres and automated email support, the human touch a small retailer can offer will always make customers feel special. Remember that giving customers your undivided attention, and exceeding expectations, results in a cascade of word-of-mouth referrals.





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Member's Comments

  • Report Pat: 2613 days ago

    some very good tips looking forward to reading the next blog.

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