Want to run a startup? Better learn how to tattoo

09 October 2014 -


As ink parlours etch themselves into the fabric of society, while gyms and convenience stores gain ground, economists sense dramatic shifts in consumer behaviour and the nature of the high street

Jermaine Haughton

Budding retail chiefs with concerns about the future of the high street could do a lot worse than set up tattoo parlours, new research suggests, as the industry has almost trebled in the past decade. The findings reflect the evolution of British town centres, and dramatic changes in the nature of the high street.

For many years, retail experts such as TV presenter Mary Portas have been warning of the death of the British high street due to the availability and accessibility of products on the internet. Numerous casualties have fallen to this wave of change, with major brands such as Woolworths shutting up shop for good. However, an Experian study of 2,000 town-centre locations across the UK suggests that the high street’s much-hyped demise may not be inevitable after all. Instead, it has reshaped itself, with shopping parades increasingly welcoming retail outlets that compel customers to be there in person.

Indeed, the research even indicates that town centres have grown into more social places. The number of tattoo parlours, for example, has risen by a whopping 173% in the past 10 years. Independent and chain convenience stores have also been fighting fit, with 186% more in operation now than a decade ago. Experian also found that the number of gyms is up 114%, fish-and-chip shops have grown by 86%, other takeaways by 54% and bookies by 35%.

By contrast, the number of TV and media-rental shops has slumped by 98% – mainly thanks to the rise of online streaming and subscription accounts such as Netflix. Meanwhile, the unstoppable rise of the smartphone has led to a 70% fall in the camera-store population.

Experian senior consultant Richard Jenkings said: “The high street has clearly become a more social environment, with more restaurants, cafes and leisure facilities emerging up and down the country. There has also been a noticeable rise in the number of convenience stores, suggesting time-pressured consumers are increasingly expecting the high street to play a different role, providing services that can exist as a complementary offering alongside internet shopping.

“At the same time,” he added, “we have seen a clear expansion in the number of retailers where the customer actually needs to be there in person to enjoy the experience, such as cafés, health clubs and even tattooists.”

The Institute of Grocery Distribution, which represents the food and consumer goods industry, predicts that in five years the sales rung up in small neighbourhood stores will have increased by a third – to almost £50bn. Such news only heightens the pressure on the likes of Tesco and Asda, who are already busy fending off strong competition from budget stores Aldi and Lidl.

And despite the recent collapse of Phones 4u – at the cost of 362 stores and more than 2,400 jobs – Experian identifies mobile phone retailers as among the fastest-growing high-street businesses in recent years. However, the influences of big shopping centres and online shopping have squeezed businesses such as ladieswear shops (down 48%) and travel agents (down 46%).

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Image of Camden Town tattoo parlour courtesy of Tupungato / Shutterstock.

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