I went to secondary school in Slough in the sixties and was introduced to a wide variety of cultures that then made up the population of the town.
My memory is that there was only one language spoken at the school, English. English was also the language spoken by almost everyone in that I heard during the 5 years that I worked in Slough High Street.
40 years on, if you take a trip to Slough on any day of the week you will hear a vast range of languages being used by shoppers. It’s clear that the opening up of free movement for people from Eastern Europe has had a dramatic effect on the town, and of course on many other parts of the country.
When I attended the opening of Mo’s Family Shopper store in Blantyre last November I met his son, Mohsen, and was very impressed to hear that he can speak four languages. Of course, the independent convenience store channel has had bilingual speakers for decades with many retailers either coming from South Asia or being second-generation children. Making the best of the opportunities the UK had to offer in the 1960s meant that learning and speaking English was a necessity. Today, people seem much more confident to use their first language in public.
The need for retailers to speak, or have employees who can speak the first language of your customers is becoming very important. Making your store comfortable for all your potential customers will be one of the success drivers in the future.
Do you know how many different languages are spoken by the people who live in your catchment area?
Are you already meeting this challenge? If you are please let us know how it’s changed your business.