Emma McKinney meets a Solihull millionaire entrepreneur with a plan to turn around the region’s ailing high streets

New figures have revealed almost a fifth of Birmingham’s shops are empty as the economy battles to recover from the recession and consumer confidence remains in crisis.

Eighteen per cent of Birmingham’s shops are boarded up, according to a report by The Local Data Company, which has revealed that the city has the 13th highest rate of vacant stores in the country.

The news comes as the Government has tasked retail specialist and TV star Mary Portas with turning around Britain’s ailing high streets, carrying out an independent review looking at how to address the problems of empty shops and “clone towns” by finding new business models that fit with modern needs and increase the number of independent retailers.

But Solihull millionaire entrepreneur Nigel Botterill believes retailers should stop blaming the recession and take responsibilty for their own demise.

“I know Mary and I think she’s got a brilliant business mind but she’s taking on a massive challenge and she can’t do it on her own,” said the 44-year-old.

“The Government could do more to create an environment in which high street businesses can thrive. They can take simple steps such as cheaper and more abundant parking in town centres and greater incentives for landlords to fill shops, even if at a lower rates.

"People like convenience, and if it’s convenient to shop on the high street, they will.

“Everyone’s quick to blame the Government, but the reality is that retailers are 100 per cent responsible for their own success – or failure.

‘‘Yes there’s a recession, but many stores, be it big chains or little independents, are surviving and doing well, there’s no reason others can’t.”

Mr Botterill is talking from experience, having built up six successful businesses in the last 10 years – all turning over more than £1 million a year.

“Despite the economic climate we’ve had the best 12 months ever by some margin,” added Mr Botterill, who has clinched seven business awards and written a best-selling book called The Botty Rules, offering advice to small firms wanting to succeed.

“Consumers may have less to spend but they are still willing to spend what they have, as long as you sell them something they want.”

He praised Birmingham’s independent successes, including fashion store Disorder in Needless Alley off New Street in Birmingham city centre.

It sells one-off bespoke fashion and has scooped several awards and was named by Ms Portas as Birmingham’s Best Independent Retailer in 2007.

“This is an example of offering something unique and forward-thinking,” added Mr Botterill. “There’s no use businesses wailing and whinging, that’s not going to make anything happen, they need to move with the times.”

He said many West Midlands retailers had failed to take advantage of the growing social media phenomenon, missing out valuable business opportunities. There are many firms that haven’t even registered on Google Places, which is free and has been around for three years,” he said.

“If someone searches for the business on the site it comes up as the front page and gives fantastic exposure, yet more than 80 per cent of retailers in the Midlands haven’t even done that.

“There are simple things too that independent shops could adopt from major chains such as Tesco, which is an example of a business flying in the face of the recession.

“They have clubcards which shoppers want as they get special offers but it’s a great way for Tesco to collect a database of information about their customers. They can then use this to get those customers back in the shop spending more money, it’s not rocket science, it’s not difficult or expensive to set up and it’s vital if you want to succeed.”

Mr Botterill has come along way since starting his career aged 16 working for a bank. In 2003 he started his own marketing consultancy business and hasn’t looked back.

“I swallowed a bravery pill, waved goodbye to my secure six-figure salary and re-mortgaged our house,” said the married father-of-four.

This week his business empire expanded with the launch of Peel2Save, a loyalty card scheme for shoppers in Solihull.

“My story shows that success is possible even in today’s economic climate,” added Mr Botterill. “I hope retailers won’t give up and the high streets will be thriving once more.”