Repurposing Retail

Towards the end of last year, research showed up to three-quarters of landlords were thinking or undertaking the redevelopment of their retail assets. The industry has been suffering from a drop footfall and consumer confidence with the economic uncertainty around Brexit, store closures and weak in-store sales.

Over the Christmas period, it didn’t get much better with John Lewis reporting a drop of 2% in their stores and Marks and Spencer’s clothing sales dropping by 1.7%. But there was some good news on the food front with a 1.4% rise in sales. The UK’s favourite German discounters bucked the trend, reporting a rise of 11% in sales for Lidl and 7.9% for Aldi in the 4 weeks to Christmas. Lidl were even claiming to have stolen shoppers from its competitor!

However, at Vantage, we always look at the positives and feel there are still lots of opportunities in the sector.

Shopping has often been at the heart of every town. However, with the rise of online and destination shopping, the consequence has been an oversupply of floor space and units left empty.

One of the big challenges for the property industry is how to deal with this space and evolve town centres to stay relevant to the local community. It’s not easy or the likes of Mary Portas would have claimed to have revived the British high street.

The range of uses or amenities required can vary in many ways, with the first thought often to residential which can be lucrative and help with the property shortage. However, the decision should be driven by data, talking to key stakeholders and expert knowledge of the area. By engaging with the local community and authority, the needs of the population can be identified, thus creating new opportunities to consider.

One size doesn’t fit all and it should be approached with an open mind to make sure it stands the test of time.

Working together with the existing business may unveil possibilities and drive footfall to the area, creating a buzz others wanted to join. It’s a changing world with contract lengths shortening and the need for flexibility increasing.

Here are a couple of examples of how some places dealt with the challenge.

Altrincham

9 years ago the town had the highest number of empty shops in the UK and was labelled a ‘ghost town’. High business rates and parking charges had pushed customers to the nearby Trafford centre which offered a one-stop destination.

Fast forward to now; it’s booming with a 25% rise in footfall and shop vacancies down by almost three quarters. The local council spent millions in a transformation project and the local traders worked hard to bring the heart back to the town. The market place was transformed into an award-winning food-hub often packed to the rafters and is definitely a  huge driving force.

High-profile chains such as JD Sports, Paperchase and Bistrot Pierre have all flocked to the town. While independents such as the Con Club, Rankin Styles, Porta, Sugo and Toast have all done their bit to breath new life into it.

Lots of towns in Cheshire are following suit like Stockport, Macclesfield and Northwich, all opening a food hall with the hope of bringing new life to the town. Will this be the solution to revive town centres? Time will tell but it isn’t the solution for every town.

Altrincham Market – Food Hall

Southampton

The challenge; a vacant 13,000 sq ft unit on the second floor of Marlands Shopping Centre, formally part of a department store.

The city is home to two universities and the council wanted to retain the pool of highly skilled graduates within the city. By engaging with the local authority, it was found that there was a need to quality co-working space.

The City council signed a lease and invested £1.5 million to fit out the premises into a high-quality creative hub for young entrepreneurs to share ideas and learn business skills in the heart of the city close to public transport.