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Retail sector offers hope for economy

  • Date: Tuesday 29th October 2019
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Last week in my column I wrote about the almost half a million UK companies in significant distress.

And, over the last seven days, we’ve sadly seen further evidence of this worrying trend north of the border, with weaver Alex Begg & Co and manufacturer Devro signalling plans to shed jobs in Ayrshire and Lanarkshire. 


Redundancies at the historic Ayr outfit will affect 10 per cent of the firm’s workforce, while the closure of Devro’s Bellshill factory will see it consolidate output to its Moodiesburn site in a bid to remain competitive. 


After a spate of big high street names collapsing in recent weeks, from Thomas Cook to Links of London and Watt Brothers, we can draw a positive from the fact these other firms have avoided this fate and can move forward with firmer footing. Although it will be of little comfort to those who have lost their jobs, I’m sure.


We all know that uncertainty has plagued businesses since the EU referendum and the subsequent birth of the dreaded ‘B’ word, and we can only hope that struggling Scottish employers are resilient enough to endure the ongoing pain and curtail further job losses.


One of the most volatile sectors in recent years has undoubtedly been retail – although there is more at play here than Brexit. In fact, so much has been said about changing consumer habits that the high street seemed all but doomed. Would it surprise you, then, that there is still a huge amount of investment in the sector here in Scotland?


With just one year to go until the new Edinburgh St James Centre opens its doors in the capital, an impressive 85 per cent of retail space has already been snapped up.


Big name brands like Zara and Mango will feature among 85 new stores in the rebuilt complex. And with 30 restaurants, an Everyman Cinema and the city’s first W hotel to boot, it’s set to be a pretty impressive shopping space.


That said, it’s not going to be a shopping centre in the traditional sense. There will be a big emphasis on leisure and community space and it’s even set to be a festival venue in years to come. Owners are diversifying to ensure they get the footfall they need and I dare say, retailers will follow suit.


One thing is for sure, the business community will be watching closely to see both the impact this development has on Edinburgh and whether they’ve cooked up a recipe for retail success for the 21st century.


The £1billion project will create more than 3,000 jobs for the city and while it feels like it has been a long time coming, the countdown is officially on.  


I said earlier that Bellshill was dealt a jobs blow last week. However, things are looking up elsewhere, with confidential recycling outfit Shredall SDS Group announcing a new 17,000ft depot opening in the town next month.


This is proof that, while we’re facing some very real challenges, there are still opportunities out there and we must seize them and their economic potential.

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Column piece

Bringing an estimated £98.9 million every year and employing nearly 1,300 workers, the Scottish video game industry is booming and businesses are ready to play for the high scores. 

Following in the footsteps of the Dundee-based trailblazers who struck gold with hit titles like Lemmings and the Grand Theft Auto series, there’s now an estimated 91 registered companies hard at work developing games for all ages and platforms in the country.

With a Brexit-shaped final boss lying in wait and ever-more companies joining the gaming roster, is simply jumping on the bandwagon still a viable platform or, to quote Super Mario Bros, is the princess now in another castle?

Well, this past week I saw this creative industry start a brand new chapter with an idea from Dundee games developer Alastair Low. To mark the end of the Design/Play/Disrupt exhibition at the V&A museum, Alistair and three Abertay University students created an interactive game where a playable character is projected onto a very real pop-up book and is even able to land on blocks on the paper. Alistair calls this project Bib Goes Home, but I can only know this technology by one word: witchcraft.

The concept video of the game has since gone viral with over 400,000 views and counting and Alistair is hoping that further financial backing can flesh out his digital creation even further. This level of creativity and thought outside of the box is the result of an industry in Scotland which is not only on the rise, it’s looking to evolve and thrive.

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Back in 2016 when AG Barr announced that Irn-Bru’s secret recipe would be facing a huge reduction in its sugar content, there was an outcry from fans longing for the drink to retain its beloved taste.

Just two weeks ago I highlighted the ‘storm Irn Bru’ social media campaign devised by fans of the original recipe, and I also expressed my doubt that AG Barr would do a u-turn.

But I was wrong. The company is now turning the clock back to its original flavour…sort of.

No, not the one which was replaced. Instead, it’s a limited edition variant which uses the original recipe of our “other national drink” from when it was first brewed back in 1901.

While I’m sure it’ll have its naysayers, this classic take is a really interesting way to highlight the company’s heritage in Scotland as well as being something I’m looking forward to trying myself.

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It really is a shame that so many people these days aspire to fame via the talent agency that is reality television.

While it’s amusing to see businesses across Scotland make the most of the profile of these shows, I feel that there’s simply more they could be doing with their trending temporary celebrities than just an Instagram selfie.

Love Island’s Anton signing autographs in JD Sports on Argyle Street and the meet-and-greet spat between his co-star Michael and the Blue Lagoon chip shop is proof there must be a better approach to this. Saying that, if the famous Glasgow chippy is good enough for Justin Bieber, surely it’s good enough for Michael from Love Island?

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