What other brands can learn from the Waitrose effect on the UK’s high streets

A while ago I reported back on the impact Waitrose appears to have on property prices based on searching around the Wiltshire area. This was based on our perception as we travelled around. I’ve just come across an article from The Sunday Times with a sub headline of “Across Britain, house prices are typically 25% higher in postcodes with a Waitrose”.

They have used a report published by Savills, the estate agency firm for the well-off. Their research is fascinating and it begs the question of which came first, the area or Waitrose? Or are they self-supportive influences with Waitrose being the crowning glory on an already pricey area?

The arrival however of a Waitrose in Balham, south-west London several years ago “pulled in the posh crowd as if by magic” says a local resident. The chief executive of the developers of the Brunswick shopping centre in Bloomsbury (left, again London) said “We chose Waitrose because we knew it would help to change this area of London beyond recognition.”

Away from London in Market Harborough the year-old Waitrose appears to have had a similar effect on the town. A local surveyor said “When speaking to people moving in to the area, there’s almost no need to give them a description, you can just say ‘Well, we have a Waitrose’”.

Now that’s what I call brand power, perhaps the plan for the UK is to stop guessing on where property prices are likely to rise and buy where Waitrose propose opening a new store.

All of this got me thinking about the rest of the grocery world and if other brands have a reverse impact on their local area. Not wishing to name names but it doesn’t take a PhD in brand names to get the point. Maybe some make the local prices fall based on the assumption it must be a poorer area with fewer buyers.

Also the canny people in smart areas but without a Waitrose could start a rumour about a new store being in the planning stage provoking a stampede of inbound house buyers pushing up prices.

For all of the baloney that can be found in the worlds of marketing and advertising Waitrose must be a great case study on how to manage a brand from the top down. Working on Morrisons some years ago one bit of helpful research clearly stated that the experience of our local store defines what we think about the brand, not much else in truth. Advertising, for example, can’t sustain a perception that isn’t true in the store experience, one of my hobby horses with M&S.

Robert Peston currently has a three part series on BBC TV about shopping and the high street and one of his conclusions is that the role of the high street needs to change to a ‘service’ driven approach, as an antidote to the impact of online and out of town options, i.e. impersonal shopping. His intelligent analysis is about inevitable trend, whereas the PR savvy Mary Portas spends time trying to jolly up existing high streets without any material change.

Also, with due respect to small local retailers, they simply do not have the requisite grey matter to take on the big brand movers and shakers; it isn’t a comment on their intelligence as individuals but much more about macro trends that require macro answers.

The point is about which brands are influencing and driving public opinion and behaviour? As the population progresses today’s 20-somethings will view Google or Amazon or Facebook or Twitter, or name any growing online name, as their brand of choice; this means traditional names will slowly wither or re-invent themselves which in turn will impact the high street.

So whilst Waitrose today is blazing a trail across the nation’s better-off areas maybe tomorrow it will be the turn of ‘Amazon Local’ or ‘ASOS pick-up’. One thing is certain, in ten years our high streets will be very different.

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About Paul Simons

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Paul joined Cadbury-Schweppes in brand management and then moved to United Biscuits. He switched to advertising in his late 20s, at Cogent Elliott and then Gold Greenlees Trott. He founded Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow & Johnson in the late 80s, one of the leading creative agencies of the 90s. Simons Palmer then merged with TBWA to create a top ten agency. Paul then joined O&M as chairman & CEO of the UK group. After three years he left to create a new AIM-quoted advertising group Cagney Plc. He is now a consultant to a number of client companies. Paul also shares his thoughts on his blog. Visit Paul Simons Blog.