Increases in new business registration and resident earnings bode well for the independent business sector in Perth city centre.
Despite the underlying uncertainty presented by the current economic crisis, a recent survey by Forbes has shown that independent businesses have continued to demonstrate “resilience, innovation and an unwavering commitment to their craft” with 57% saying they are more confident in their business success.
Boosted in no small way by the resurgence of the ‘Love Local’ mantra post-covid, this national trend was echoed in the survey conducted by The Retail Group amongst Perth city centre businesses earlier this year.
From its origins as a market town to the attractive city that it is today, Perth has always been renowned for its wide range of quality, independent businesses. Compact in its layout, Perth’s streets, lanes and vennels are easy to navigate and offer well-maintained, smaller units at competitive rates that lend themselves to independent businesses.
745 new businesses were registered in the Perth and Kinross area in the 12-month period ending in July 2023, which was 5.4% higher than the previous 12-month period; of these registrations, 100 were in Perth city centre. In addition to this, resident earnings increased by 13.8% on the year before and are currently 3% higher than the Scottish national average.
Add to this the 160,000 new visitors expected as a result of the new Perth Museum opening, and it is easy to see why Perth is fast becoming one of Scotland’s first choice destinations for new, independent businesses.
Willows Coffee Shop opened in May 1992 opposite the then City Hall. Since then, Michael White has taken over the business from his father, Willie, making him the second generation to run this Perth institution.
“We’ve seen a lot of change over 30 years of business, and I think it’s fair to say that the current climate is challenging. Cost of sales and energy increases in a restaurant environment hit profits hard. However, we’ve worked hard, and over summer 2023, two years on from covid, we’ve witnessed an increase in foreign tourists and more of a return to normal.
“Situated where we are, we’ve had a front row seat to the transformation of the City Hall into the Perth Museum and, from the street scaping to the external building, it looks impressive. The new doors are beautiful and, at night, lit up, it really is a stunning centrepiece for the city.
“We’ve taken advantage of the Council’s Open For Business Fund to help us keep up with improvements to the façade and better disabled access.
“The mix of independents in Perth is strong and varied, and our second offer, Brew & Chew on Perth’s High Street, is also faring well. We’re currently in discussions to extend our outside seating here, increasing the number of covers to take full advantage of the increased visitors to come.
“We know that people use cities in different ways now, and I’m looking forward to plans for expanding on mixed-use recreation and city-living. It is exciting to see Perth moving forward as a destination visit and, combined with bigger projects such as Perth West, the incremental spend locally should find its way to all of us.
“People are undoubtedly working harder as costs rise, but I’m hopeful that long term we will reap the rewards of efficiencies and build a stronger future for our businesses.”
Quince & Cook
Quince & Cook opened in Perth city in October 2020, moving from their out-of-town base in Inveralmond Industrial Estate. Taking ownership of a large, double unit in Princes Street, their new idea merged their online offering of homewares and gifts, with their refill eco-shop and range cooker business.
“Opening any business in 2020 was always going to be a gamble but we had planned so carefully for our April opening that by October we simply had to go for it. We secured a bounce back loan and opened the doors in time for the Christmas rush – and thankfully, the local people came out in force to support us.
“Like all good retail, we’ve evolved our offering over the past three years to bring in new lines and to keep up with customer demand. We now offer workshops and cooking classes, working with other independent businesses and artisans to build a community of loyal followers and to bring something different to the city centre.
“We like to offer products and ideas that you can’t get anywhere else. We’ve found this keeps stock turnover high and gives people a reason to drop in regularly – there is something new every week.
“There’s no denying it has been tough but overall business is up 30% year on year. The challenges come from the increase in costs – between energy spikes and rates increases, and the Brexit aftermath causing chaos in the supply chain, all the while repaying bounce back loans from covid.
“With that said, we feel fortunate to be based where we are. Perth is a beautiful city and has a vibrant community of independent, quality retailers. Locals are keen to support small businesses here, and because we’re so central with great transport links, we have customers coming in from Edinburgh and Glasgow for the larger ticket items.
“Everyone I know is working really hard right now, but I have huge faith in our business and the community around us. Perth Museum’s opening next year should offer a real boost to footfall and we look forward to working in partnership with the team there in ensuring that benefit reaches us all.”
Scott and Penny Edwards took over the Parklands Hotel in 2003 and, in the 20 years since, have created an award-winning boutique hotel that has earned its place on the national hospitality stage. As the only independent 4-star hotel in Perth city centre they place an emphasis on continuous investment in their product which now comprises hotel, restaurant, beer garden and small events venue.
“When we decided to move back to the UK from Germany, the advice at the time was ‘go to Perthshire’ and having looked from the Borders up, I’m very glad we listened to it! We celebrated 20 years in business this August and during that time we experienced continual growth until covid. However, we’re now out of the other side, stronger and better, and the past two years have shown increases on our pre-pandemic figures.
“In particular, our rack rate has increased significantly; our product is strong and demand often exceeds supply for a boutique hotel offer. Our experience this year has shown the foreign inbound tourism market has come back stronger, with the exchange rate working in their favour. Crucially, the staycation traffic has also increased and we’re seeing locals continuing to enjoy the beer garden and food offer that we built on during covid. The North Coast 500, in particular, is bringing additional room nights, with people choosing to stop in Perth as they travel to and from the North.
“Since purchasing we’ve invested at least £30K each year enhancing the offer and we like to make sure that we’re using local trades when we spend that money; a mix of technology, refurbishments and cap-ex have all contributed to the success of the business.
“We are proactive in our approach and link to local attractions such as Black Watch Castle and Scone Palace to showcase the area as a whole. We’ve also enjoyed working with travel bloggers such as Kay at the Chaotic Scot to raise the profile of the hotel and the city. Perth Museum’s opening next year is a hugely positive addition to the mix and I’m hopeful it will bring with it an increase in dwell time for short break visitors.”