Some of you may have noticed the following article in the Birmingham Mail recently, essentially saying that the Custard Factory is going down the pan:
Rents have become unaffordable because not enough people are visiting the area”
But if you read the article, and not just the headline, you’ll find that it is just two businesses leaving at the end of August: rare record shop Milque & Muhle, and vintage clothing retailers Gingermegs. Although it is sad to see them go, this certainly isn’t the end for the Custard Factory, or Digbeth for that matter.
Let’s look at this objectively: Record shops are a very rare breed indeed, simply because they are niche and require a high sales volume to remain viable. Those that have longevity tend to only be open a couple of days a week.
In terms of vintage shops, although there are a lot of them, there is still definitely a growing or at least stable customer base. I would presume Gingermegs suffered when Urban Village left the Custard Factory in 2014 to test a new business model, as this meant there was no longer a critical mass of this particular type of shop to draw people in.
That said, it’s not unknown for shops at the Custard Factory to change; in the seven years I’ve lived here, there has been a regular refresh in the retail offering. However, Urban Village has recently returned to Bowyer Street in Digbeth, which highlights just how much history likes to repeat itself…
“The reason people don’t shop at the Custard Factory is because there aren’t any shops. And the reason there aren’t any shops is because there isn’t any footfall. It’s a vicious circle.”
I really have to disagree with the above statement: there are shops and although I would readily admit that the Custard Factory perhaps needs to do a little more to promote itself as a destination, the retailers themselves also need to take responsibility for marketing. The article, in my opinion, fails to show balance: The Framers, for example, have been based at the Custard Factory for almost 20 years, and Yumm Cafe are also an established and well-respected business.
Maybe one of the reasons for the lull at the Custard Factory is the well-documented disagreement between the two owners: father Benny Gray owns the Zellig/Devonshire Works portion (the red brick building on Digbeth High Street) while son Lucan owns the Custard Factory and Fazeley Studios. I would wager that more could be done for the Custard Factory as a whole through collaboration rather than competition, but I don’t know the full details…
According to a press release on the Custard Factory’s website, Lucan Gray is taking a more involved role and the Sales and Marketing team has received a boost too. With some huge-name occupiers such as Gensler and ASOS on board, here’s hoping that the Custard Factory continues to go from strength to strength, and that a new generation of retailers are found, all in time for when our new neighbours at Connaught Square and St Anne’s Court move in!