The Haslemere Business Barometer – Q2 2019

Forward – Craig McGowan

Welcome to the first report of the Haslemere Business Barometer, a new quarterly survey to assess the confidence of Haslemere’s local business community.

As the membership organisation for local business, the Haslemere & District Chamber of Trade & Commerce has an important role to play in understanding and representing the  views and opinions of the local business community, liaising with local authorities, politicians and interest groups to make sure that the voices of Haslemere businesses are heard at a local and national level. The insights provided by the Business Barometer will add weight to this work, ensuring that we have the data to bring the story of our local business community to life.

This report highlights the local views of an important sector of the British economy – small and medium-sized enterprises (SME). The national press closely follows the bigger companies and, in particular, those with a large proportion of the business dependent on the import and export market.  However, it is important to understand what is happening in the local SME markets and this report gives voice to those who are often overlooked.

In a time of political and economic uncertainty, it is heartening to see the positive outlook of our local businesses. Haslemere has a wonderful variety of independent shops combined with an extensive commercial sector providing a full range of professional and contracting services, all of which make an important contribution to the continued economic and community wellbeing of our beautiful country market town. In-depth understanding is vital if we are to better understand the needs and anxieties of local business and develop initiatives and solutions that will enable businesses in Haslemere to thrive and adapt.

Craig McGowan, President of the Haslemere & District Chamber of Trade & Commerce

Summary

Haslemere Business Barometer for Q2 2019

The first Haslemere Business Barometer – a quarterly survey of business confidence – shows that despite ongoing national political uncertainty, Haslemere businesses take a generally positive attitude to growth in the next quarter. The result is in contrast to a more negative outlook portrayed by the Federation of Small Businesses Q2 Index which suggests confidence is on the slide and that the South East has been particularly hard hit.

While Brexit and the associated political and economic uncertainty and fall-out is the dominant concern, some Haslemere businesses also cite worries relating to staffing, footfall and the need to attract new customers.

46 businesses operating within five miles of Haslemere centre responded to the online Business Barometer survey run by the Haslemere & District Chamber of Trade and Commerce between 1 and 30 June 2019. These covered a wide range of sectors, with retail being the largest (1/3rd of respondents). The majority are micro businesses with less than 10 staff, although three companies with over 50 employees are included.

A generally positive outlook

The responses show that:

Growth – On average, and ignoring seasonal factors, Haslemere businesses expect some small growth over the next three months. However, the situation is more dynamic than this might imply with 30% expecting to grow somewhat or a lot and contrasting with only 10% who are expecting to shrink. Overall, some change should be considered a good thing, as the mix of businesses adjust to customer needs.  However, this does not detract from the pain felt by individual businesses in decline nor the implications for the ‘high street’ and local employment generally if important sectors are badly hit. The number of responses to this first survey is not big enough to tell if particular sectors are likely to be winners or losers.

Confidence – On average Haslemere businesses are slightly more optimistic about their prospects than they were three months ago. Again, the situation is more dynamic than this might imply with 38% being more optimistic and 16% less optimistic. There are no clear sector winners or losers, for example while retail businesses are a majority of those that are less optimistic (5/8), there are as many retailers (5) that are more optimistic than three months ago.

 Business concerns – The single biggest area of concern is Brexit and the associated political and economic uncertainty and fall-out; this was mentioned by about 40% of respondents. Other areas highlighted are staffing and capacity (17%), footfall (a retail-specific issue) (19%) and the need to attract new customers and develop new revenue streams (15%). Few cite cost pressures as their biggest concern. For some, staffing issues are linked to the UK’s exit from the European Union. Anecdotal evidence from local businesses suggests this may be a more general problem with recruitment and retention in an area of high employment and we will explore this issue further in future research and surveys. Concerns about footfall may reflect the structural changes taking place in retail, with shopping continuing to move online and this is an area that we intend to explore with the local business community in the future.

The Survey participants

There were a total of 46 responses to our survey with 43 of them being independents and only three being part of a bigger group. The distribution of respondents by number of staff is broadly in line with the population of businesses within Haslemere and its surroundings.

However, the distribution of respondents by industry sector is skewed towards retail. The generally positive outlook of our respondents is more surprising given that retail is often to be considered to be a distressed sector.

33 of our respondents are based in Haslemere with a further five from Weyhill / Shottermill and finally eight who are based within five miles of the town centre.

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