DEBENHAMS opening in Elliott’s Field Retail Park could bring a boost to the town centre, according to the new boss of Rugby First.
Aftab Gaffar, who has taken over as managing director of Rugby First after Robin Richter retired at the end of last year, said that he is starting his new role on a positive note.
Mr Gaffar says he has many plans for the town centre, one of which is the make the best of the redevelopment of Elliott’s Field Retail Park in Leicester Road which will have a flagship Debenhams store.
He said: “It is a concern but I have to look at it as a positive. We will have a look at the planning application and see if there is anything in there which can help the town centre. There’s not much we can do about Debenhams going there. There isn’t enough space for them in the town centre and that’s where they’ve decided to go. It’s better than they are in Rugby than not at all.
“At the moment we are losing footfall from people that are going elsewhere to shop. We need to come up with a marketing strategy to get people into the town centre from there. We could put up signs at Elliott’s Field, introduce a shuttle bus to bring people to the town centre. We need to make the most of it.”
Mr Gaffar said he believes that the town isn’t in any danger of losing anymore national retailers at the moment.
He said: “The ones that wanted to go have gone - like Next. The national retailers still in town that I’ve spoken to have no plans to leave. What we are getting is an influx of independents.”
Recent new businesses to the town include the Play Cafe in Church Street and Nail Express in North Street.
Mr Gaffar said there are plans for BrightHouse to move into town and the former Town Fryer has been let to a pizza chain. A upmarket cafe and bar will also be opening in Castle Street shortly.
He said: “Small units that are being taken up by independents. Some landlords are dropping their rents which is helping.”
Rugby has a vacancy rate of six per cent, compared to 14 per cent nationally and Rugby First will be doing all it can to ‘make the most’ of the empty units.
The Retail Start Up Scheme, which offers a £5,000 moving in grant, is also still available.
One the main focuses for Rugby First this year is to improve the footfall and give shoppers a reason to want to come into the town centre.
Mr Gaffar said: “More people are now taking advantage of the convenience of shopping online.
“Although Christmas figures show that a lot of business managed to make about the same as the previous year which is very positive.”
Planned schemes and events include online vouchers through the Smile Loyalty programme, moving St George’s Day celebrations to a Saturday so more people can enjoy them and getting more businesses, pubs and restaurants involved in the third Rugby Festival of Culture.
Mr Gaffar believes that the future of the town centre will be a ‘cafe society’, with a few national retailers and quality independent shops.
Mr Gaffar added: “I want to make sure the town centre remains vibrant and keep customers shopping local. We also want to keep the town clean and safe. That’s so important.
“Compared to others we are doing OK. We have all the core fundamentals and Rugby is clean, safe and friendly.”