Harrogate shops' struggles - no nonsense advice by famous name

A voice of experience in the Harrogate retail sector says the town’s shops need to bring back a sense of 'theatre' to their businesses if the town centre is to survive and prosper.

Monday, 18th November 2019, 12:40 pm
Updated Monday, 18th November 2019, 2:14 pm
Flashback - Chris Ramus during his days at the seafood shop he started in 1973. He is pictured, centre, with Jonathan Batchelor (then director) and Tony Rushton (director) in 2003.

Chris Ramus, who set up the town’s famous Ramus seafood shop in the early 1970s, turning it into an award-winning success story, said if retailers did not return to the days of excellent service, losing out to internet competition was inevitable.

Responding to a series of recent articles in the Harrogate Advertiser about the state of the town centre, he sympathised with traders but said they needed to stop blaming outside factors such as rates, rents or parking and focus instead on what they offered to their customers.

Mr Ramus said: “I spent a lifetime in retail but I’m now a shopper myself. I’ve been reading the stories about shops in the town centre for months and I felt I had to say something.

“The basic problem today is that, if you go in a shop and it offers poor service, you might as well buy it on the internet where it’s usually cheaper anyway.

“I go into shops myself in Harrogate where they haven’t seemed to be interested in helping me. Everyone is trying to blame rates and rents and parking but some of it is self-inflicted by traders themselves.

“A good shop should offer a bit of theatre; it should be a pleasant place where customers enjoy being.”

Having launched Ramus with wife Liz Ramus in 1973 in a humble spot in Otley Road, Chris sold the award-winning business in 1999.

By that time, the seafood retailer had become a byword for high quality at its second home on King’s Road, supplying fresh quality fish across Yorkshire and becoming the number one importer of Canadian lobster.

Mr Ramus says he is fully aware of the pressures of rates and rents; he experienced those, too, with his own former business.

He said: “We were based on King’s Road and not the town centre for a good reason - the costs.

“Our approach was straightforward. We offered good service and good products and we didn’t over-charge. It’s not rocket science. We built a successful business on that.

“The real issue no one is facing is that people are blaming someone else rather than look in the mirror at themselves.”

Like many in the Harrogate business world, he believes the future of the town centre lies in the hands of independents, not the multiples.

But, Mr Ramus says, there is already plentiful cheap or free parking in the town centre.

And, when it comes to rents, it’s up to Harrogate businesses to negotiate lower fees from property owners for their own good.

He believes it was a mistake pricing small traders out of the town centre when the town’s old market hall was demolished nearly 30 years ago.

But, this former top independent businessman, says all is still to be fought for in Harrogate town centre.

Mr Ramus said: “We need in future to attract shoppers with good independents, not just shops but restaurants and cafes, too.

“But businesses have to give better service. We have to give people reasons to come into town rather than clicking on the internet.”