High Street vacancy rates static, multiples are leaving = #indieretail growing in number…

I am very cross this morning, my tweets probably show this only too well. I’ve had 2 radio interviews to discuss recent findings from Local Data Company and PwC regarding the level of openings and closures for high street chains (in this case those retailers with more than 6 stores). BBC Radio Sheffield were charming, listened to my thoughts, asked intelligent questions. London’s LBC were really challenging, apparently hoping I’d be full of doom and gloom… let me explain what happened!

Opening Statement: More high street stores are closing than opening…

I was listening to the preview before the conversation and the presenter, Nick Ferrari, said “the report says more stores are opening than closing” – here the age-old problem of lies, damn lies and statistics was happening… The report says that “An average of 14 town centre shops a day were shut by store chains last year as shoppers increasingly desert high streets for online and out-of-town retailers. Multiple retailers with six or more shops failed to open as many stores as they closed last year for the first time since 2008, according to a study of the 500 biggest town centres in theUKby PwC and Local Data Company.”

However, only last week Local Data Company reported that the average shop vacancy rate in the UK was STATIC at 14.3% – well unless something is opening to match the closures then that would not have been the case… and, according to BIRA (British Independent Retailers Association) something is opening, that something is Independent Retail shops.

I started by making this correction and went on to say that the future of our high street would depend on new, entrepreneurial retailers filling the void.

Next provocative statement:  Let’s get real, an art shop would never open in Hackney!

Well possibly not if the media keep telling them it’s an impossibility! At this point I was getting quite irritated by the interviewer – now I know he is supposed to be challenging and push on the buttons to get the points of view raised etc… but I was not impressed. I am determined to champion retailers and this really irritated me! After the riots I went to Hackney with Retail Trust and I know it’s a vibrant, lively community. Yes they have some issues, no one would ignore that, but there is no reason to be dismissive! Independent retailers don’t have to be expensive! What if a young creative person in Hackney got a chance with a special rental deal to open a shop to showcase their work? As a person in the local community they’d know what an acceptable price would be, they’d deeply understand their customer… Furthermore I completely believe that communities are very supportive of their local talent, they know that those who take a few risks and stick their neck out can bring a bit of prosperity back to an area. I felt furious on behalf of anyone in Hackney with a glimmer of an entrepreneurial dream as the interview had just mocked the possibility of such a business ever being a success.

His perspective was people don’t have the money, they need food, shoes etc… Indeed, and that’s why supermarkets, out of town and internet will always be with us – providing the “boring basics”. Our high streets may become the breeding ground for new businesses offering unique products for the local community – there is a place for both!

Market forces are turning homogenised high streets back into local, social, community places

Portas review and many others before her identified issues with UK towns (and Cities) becoming “clone towns” – each like the next, nothing special, nothing different. This means there is no real reason to go to a town, battle the British weather, pay for parking, carry the shopping because if there is nothing different then a shopping centre or online is easier and a more “controlled” environment.

It’s also well known that markets increase footfall to towns – whether they are regular weekly markets or speciality markets, ALL the retailers see an increase in footfall on market days. Why? Because consumers are interested in the diverse products and unique items that they can find on a market. The shopping experience is a delight to the senses and it’s friendly, fun and experiential.

That’s the clue… people ARE voting with their feet and retail is being forced to respond. As I said to BBC radio Sheffield – “This the natural evolution of our retail model to meet the demands of a changing consumer, the changes are the natural ebbs and flows of the industry as it repositions”. Towns with a vibrant, relevant, unique offer that attracts their local consumers are doing well. Towns without that are not BUT as the multiples migrate away from failing towns they leave gaps that new, risk-taking, fresh businesses may fill and in so doing the high street becomes less homogenised and returns to being more at the heart of the local community once more. Over time I really believe our high streets will revert to the mix of businesses consumers wants – and that won’t be exclusively retail – it will include leisure, services and things to do e.g. Kids play centres, cinemas, cafes and galleries. Each town will regain it’s personality… but it won’t happen overnight!

This isn’t nostalgia, this is facing up to permanent change in the way we shop that has been driven by the internet

This week, at the launch of the Rochdale High Street Foundation, I talked about how the internet has only been “transactional” for 18 years (in 1994 Pizza Hut launched online ordering and it was the first consumer proposition to offer that). The fact is that there has been a consumer revolution! The NEW consumer has access to the internet any time, any place, any where (thanks to mobile) and social media is part of their normal mode of communication. Retailers could consider that a threat, or they can embrace the opportunity. A friend of mine, Thomas Power, forecasts that in 10 years we’ll have Amazon or Independent retailers and that’s all… perhaps a bit overstated, but his point is chains will consolidate to a few mega brands and then the only place for choice and diversity will be independents. I don’t know if it will come to that, what I do know is that the internet drives transactional behaviours – consumers check prices and compare products for the lowest price deal. They’re not loyal to big retailers, they just want value. Independents on the other hand can drive loyalty through being 100% in tune with their local customer. Loyalty  is based on trust. Thomas’ wife, Penny Power, says that in this new economy businesses must win share of heart before they can win share of wallet. She is right. And people don’t usually “love” chains the way that they do their “friendly, local independent”.

So, the consumer revolution leads to a high street evolution – one which is local, is social, and embraces mobile (Lo-So-Mo) as it is called – this is the future of the high street; it’s just going to be a slow and probably painful process to arrive there!

Finally: Don’t let the media gloom-mongers drag your spirits down!

Before I finish I wanted to share that the interviewer said to me “I thought you’d be sharing a really gloomy outlook” – and I did reply something about “bad news sells”! Frankly we can’t ignore the pain of the shake-up of the retail sector and the ripple effect it will have on the economy BUT if all we do is focus on gloom no one will stand up to initiate the changes required. I want everyone to be bold, brave and to take (calculated / planned / considered) risks. If you see an opportunity in your town where a retailer has closed down, explore it. Landlords do not want empty premises and it is the next generation of businesses, young start-ups, who will turn the economy around. If you think you can do it then find out more. You may be pleasantly surprised

It is proven that consumers WILL buy themselves treats in times of austerity – to bring a little JOY into their lives. They have less to spend but there is still money being spent. Make sure it is with you!


About Clare Bailey

Clare Bailey, The Retail Champion (formerly Clare Rayner), is one of the most well-known and respected retail experts in the UK. With unrivalled knowledge in retail, high streets and consumer matters, she offers unbiased, independent content – whether engaged as a professional speaker, for broadcast media, or for a written feature. Clare is a business woman, entrepreneur and founder of several small businesses. Having been born into a family of successful business owners, it was inevitable that she’d eventually jump off the corporate treadmill and step out on her own! Today her brand portfolio includes The Retail Champion, The Retail Conference, the Future High Street Summit and the Support for Independent Retail campaign. In addition, she is co-founder of Mobaro Retail UK and a non-exec director of Beed Virtual Assistant Services. Having started her career as a fast-track store management trainee for McDonalds, she went on to work with leading retailers such as M&S, Dixons and Argos. She moved swiftly into management roles before being headhunted into senior consulting roles with global software giant SAP, and international management consulting brand, Accenture. Her corporate background in senior retail, consulting and technology roles, coupled with her experience of creating and running her own business, has enabled her to be equally capable whether consulting to global brands or micro businesses. This unique blend has not only positioned her as a leading expert in all things retail, but has enabled her to add meaningful commentary and insight to the debate around the future of the high street, and, how technology is driving fundamental change in the way consumers, and businesses, interact. Clare has become an influential voice in her field, which has resulted in her becoming a regular media contributor and sought-after conference speaker. Often seen on Good Morning Britain, BBC Breakfast, Sky News, and Chanel 5 (to name a few), Clare speaks on a myriad of retail, high street and consumer issues – but is particular adept when it comes to explaining the context behind retail trading results, newly released data, and government stats, in a palatable and informative manner. In addition to broadcast and conference speaking, Clare is the proud author of two best-selling business books published by Kogan Page - The Retail Champion: 10 Steps to Retail Success, published July 2012 and How to Sell to Retail: The Secrets of Getting Your Product to Market, published February 2013. She has provided contributions to various academic texts, including Retail Marketing Management (published by Pearson). With an engaging, conversational yet informative style, Clare writes for press and content agencies, providing features, articles, blogs and opinion pieces as well as contributions to white papers and reports. However, when the situation demands a more serious style, Clare can deliver - In 2016 she wrote an extensive report for a major insurance and risk law firm, as a retail expert witness, to support a public liability suit. She found that project particularly enjoyable as it played well to her strengths – assimilating large amounts of data and information, identifying the key points and articulating that in an understandable manner. When not on TV or speaking at conferences, Clare’s “day job” sees her supporting consumer-facing businesses through her consultancy services. When asked to describe what she most loves about retail consulting it is typically the opportunity to “dig deep”, getting “under the bonnet”, in order to leverage the business data to uncover the insights that lead to “lightbulb moments”. She also loves working on business change programmes that centre on improving the processes and systems to increase profitability by supporting more rapid, better informed decision making, improving the customer experience, or simply by become more efficient and streamlined. In this respect she considers herself a “business engineer” with a brain that works like a relational database! Due to her years of experience, her logical, objective approach, her quick, rational thinking, she is known for being able to cut through complexity, seeing right through to the crux of issues, finding creative solutions that others may have overlooked. As if all that wasn’t enough, Clare is a working mum, juggling a home life in rural Lincolnshire with her partner, their 5 kids, 4 cats, and geriatric Labrador! For all enquiries, contact Clare directly on 01727 238890 or email champion@retailchampion.co.uk.
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8 Responses to High Street vacancy rates static, multiples are leaving = #indieretail growing in number…

  1. Rosekate says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Every day i get asked the same question as an independent retailer “how are you surviving in these gloomy time?”. And sometimes i get so frustrated because in as much as times are tough, the fact is life has to go on. We sell occasion wear and people are still having birthdays and anniversaries. We have to be positive and deliver quality and value to the customer and they will keep coming back and telling their friends.I love your closing statement “They have less to spend but there is still money being spent. Make sure it is with you!”

  2. Charlotte says:

    Hi Clare,
    My husband and I opened a small boutique/gallery 18 months ago. Apparently it was the worst year in 50 years to start a retail. We are quite unique in our part of the world, selling my husband awesome art and ethical and eco friendly clothing and gifts. It’s pretty much 24/7 and challenging but loads of fun. Our shop is friendly with a great atmosphere and socialising. We have an online presence as well but there are still a lot of people out there who love the interaction and fun in visiting a real brick and mortar shop with old fashioned customer service.

    • Clare Rayner says:

      I quite agree, and it sounds like you are the kind of business setting the new standard which is what consumers want. You need to be omni-channel (a new buzz phrase!) AND you need to also get on board with the other new trend LoSoMo as they call it! (Local, social, mobile!) It’s not rocket science… although I did say in Rochdale that the old saying for business was “Do what you always did and you’ll get what you always got” is not true any more… in fact it’s more like “Do what you always did and yo’ll rapidly go the way of the dinosaurs” – times have changed, people have changed, demands have changed and now retail is changing – slowly, for many quite painfully, but it’s necessary. Glad to hear from someone facing similar challenges and enjoying opportunities on the other side of the planet!

  3. Pingback: It’s official: 2011 was a year of growth for Independents #indieretail @IndieRetailUK | CTS Blog

  4. Pingback: It’s official: 2011 was a year of growth for Independents #indieretail : UKStartUp

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