Retail zombies in a clone town

Jan Merriott
By Jan Merriott

September 2020

Commercial Manager Jan Merriott welcomes the 'new' high street, where retailers have adapted their businesses in order to succeed

Retail zombies in a clone town

Image - 98 St Mary Street, Weymouth.  A prominent retail premises with upper floors  

Jan Merriott, Commercial Manager at Symonds & Sampson despairs of media reports that ‘the high street it dead’. Far from being ‘doomed’, he sees certain key areas the retail sector evolving to a change in consumer habits and demands, and accordingly booming retail has shown up on the firm’s industrial take-up!

The high street started to change long before COVID-19, when the high costs of rent and rates started to bite.  Lockdown further changed consumer habits, further driving a shift to internet retail, supermarket trade, and warehousing – where retailers hold store inventories to be able to compete with others for next day deliveries.  As our homes became more important, a key decision taken by many households was whether to move or improve.  Stamp Duty holidays have not only injected a burst of energy into an already fizzing residential market, but also created a bonus for the domestic improvement sector.  B&Q have paid their furlough money back, builders are busy installing new kitchens, building extensions – essentially ensuring that if we are going to be at home, we might as well be as comfortable as we possibly can.

In the run up to Brexit, many national retailers struggled, and the retail market place was rife with CVA’s (Company Voluntary Arrangements).  Legislation was changed to enable retailers to close less profitable branches whilst retaining the better performing ones, and in some towns and regions this resulted in a significant loss almost over-night.  Fortunately, in this part of the world, we have escaped the worst effects of this within our local towns, but it is still apparent

The retail industry might have been a ‘Golden Goose’ for years, but it must continually adapt to succeed.  At one end, the high rents and rate levies underpinned pension fund investments and governmental budgets.  At the other end, to make more money retailers simply expanded a successful business model nationally – the term “multiple” and “clone town” were born.

But in recent years the result of over expansion or too much profit taking, against hefty rates and rents and a slight wobble in sales and the stale brands started failing. The goose stopped laying.  These retailers had simply worn their 1980s formula for retail out. Some very well-known brands had become retail Zombies (and were still wearing the same Thriller fashions of 1982).

However, we are a nation of shop keepers and it’s an instinctive desire to ‘go shopping’ that keeps Jan’s encouraging outlook for the high street.  We look for a “vibe” now, cafes and restaurants, museums, tourism, street markets, unique shops, and the opportunity to meet people.  Planning has been recently changed to allow for a more flexible approach to the high street and whilst this has received negative press in terms of how it deals with surplus tertiary property, it does recognise we are no longer in the 1980’s.  There should be no difference between a shop and a café in planning terms, with the exception of bars and takeaways where tough planning controls will continue to exist.

High Street retail is finally evolving. It is going to be smaller and we will lose the fringes but it is certainly not doomed and Symonds & Sampson are still doing “retail” deals. High streets will take time to recover, and they will start to look different as they evolve. Further rates reliefs into 2020/21 and assistance for staff wages if shops and restaurants can only operate at reduced capacity is vital in the interim. High Street retail is too important to be allowed to fail.

Symonds & Sampson’s commercial department offer a broad range of services across all commercial sectors contact Jan Merriott on 01305 261008 to discuss your requirements Take a look at the Commercial opportunities to buy  or to rent through Symonds & Sampson.

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