It feels pretty good in Scotland at the moment. Holidays are underway, the weather has been good, tourists are here and Scotland is doing what it does best - providing visitors with unrivalled scenic majesty. On top of all this, Armed Forces Day in Stirling was memorable and received top billing in the news as the Prime Minister and First Minister tried to put it all behind them for a day.
Down the road, Bannockburn Live seems to have received mixed reports but no doubt will be hailed as a success. The likely appearance of Usain Bolt helped ramp up The Commonwealth Games machine and the Ryder Cup train will soon be hurtling down the tracks. Weaving its way through all this is the punch and counterpunch of the referendum debate and I haven't even mentioned events in the wider world such as the World Cup or Wimbledon!
With all this going on, it would be easy to think all this level of excitement is permanent. However, without mentioning the Referendum these are all one offs. Lest we all get sucked into the hullabaloo I thought it would be interesting, now that we're half way through the year, to take the temperature in the gift shops and find out what's going on at the coalface.
Across the country, no one is jumping for joy but cautious optimism seems to be the general theme emerging. In the north of Scotland, Katrina Thomson, Owner of three long established outlets in Ullapool including The Captain's Cabin, reports, "The village has had a good start to the year and since Easter; visitor numbers and the resulting trade have been very positive and much better than 2013."
Ewan Douglas, Owner of five Time & Tide outlets, supports this and has seen a steady increase in trading this year. This is partly due to an upturn in footfall and spend but also as a result of a strategic change to gently move the business in all the shops towards the better end of the market. A move that has made a big difference in spend per head and margin.
In the Borders, Charlotte Newton, Visitor Services Manager for Floors Castle in Kelso, says, "Visitor numbers at the castle and its three retail outlets are slightly down on last year, mainly due to increased local competition, but spend is slightly up. We knew that was likely this year and we're confident that visitor numbers will grow in the second half of the year."
This optimism should continue through the summer and the year should be a better one than last. While the benefit may be regional, the one-off events will have an affect. The one big unknown for the trade this year is how business will be affected in the run up to and aftermath of the Independence Referendum on 18th September. There's no precedent for this but let's hope the tide doesn't go out and take retail spend with it.
For more information, visit www.springboardevents.net or www.scotlandstradefairs.com