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Jun 17, 2018

Reinvention of the high street

by Mike Benns - Managing Director

Reinvention of the high street

First it was Toys R Us and Maplin.. the latest casualties are Poundworld, Bench and Henri Lloyd. The UK High St is undergoing huge change as retailers go into administration so I thought I’d ask what the future holds?

I spoke to a good friend of mine who is senior within a specialist retail property company with over 25 years’ experience. He acts for both Landlords and Tenants, in a variety of locations including high streets, out-of-town retail parks and shopping centres.

Overall, his view is that there has been a rapid change in how we shop.. this is in response to:

  • The rise of regional shopping centres in the late 1980s/1990s and out-of-town retail parks.
  • Increased use of the Internet and online shopping. Many of the new wave of retailers have no physical stores, such as Boohoo and ASOS.
  • Established high street retailers are relying more heavily on internet sales to maintain market share, thus physical stores have a diminishing role.

As a result, there is over-supply of high street retail units, causing an increase in vacancy rates. However, it’s not all bad news and these changes should be seen as evolution, rather than expiry and decline.

Property Week has recently reported on the rebirth of the high street. Certain town centres have been rejuvenated by independent retailers and a focus on culture and leisure. These uses make visiting the high street and town centres more of an ‘experience’.

A good example is Altrincham, which is emerging as a leisure destination. It was described in 2010 as a ‘ghost town’, however vacancy rates have since dropped from over 30% to 7.9% in December 2017 (national average 12.2%), with a 5% increase in footfall. This is primarily due to the success of the refurbishment of Altrincham Market; a focus on local food and drink and investment in public realm.

Some retailers are addressing the oversupply of retail space within their larger units by introducing in-store concessions, providing variety and increasing dwell time. For example, Next in Manchester Arndale now includes a Gino D’Acampo Prosecco Bar, a Costa Coffee, a Paint-a-Pot space and a florist.

To move alongside the transition towards online retailing, Nordstrom, a department store in the US, has opened a unit in California which has no physical stock, but instead the opportunity to pick-up, buy online and try on items. There is also a space for alterations, a coffee shop and a salon.

Similarly, some online retailers have opened physical stores, such as Sofa.com and Missguided. Amazon has opened book stores in the US and of course bought Whole Foods last year as discussed in a recent article.

Voids can also be filled by alternative uses, such as residential. Permitted change from retail to residential simplifies the planning process, requiring prior approval rather than full permission for sites under 150m². This has partly addressed the demand for housing in certain town and city centres and certain Local Authorities have recently invested more in the purchase of town centre properties, in order to gain control to strategically renovate and regenerate their local centres.

So, despite the doom and gloom, there does seem to be some optimisim. With a little imagination and understanding of how to turn shopping into a leisure experience, the future of the High St is not all bad.

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