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Are multiples’ high street closures an opportunity for indies?

As new figures reveal that branches of high street multiples or being closed at a dramatic rate, Drapers considers whether this might open the door for indies.

YES

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The Local Data Company revealed this week that in the first half of this year, more branches of multiples were closed down than indies. Net figures show the number of multiple stores on the high streets of 500 towns reduced by 265 in six months – seven times the net closures for indies, which was 35.

As Drapers’ editor Caroline Nodder has already pointed out, this appears to be as much the start of a strategic retreat from the high street as closures forced by the recession.

While some may see this as further proof of the demise of the high street, the difference in the final tally between indies and multiples could also give rise to great opportunities.

I am bored of seeing high streets filled with the same big names and so with retailers pulling back from bricks and mortar it gives towns and cities around the country the opportunity to regain their own personal identities.

Landlords will not want to leave properties vacant and so now is the best possible time for smaller retailers to negotiate lower rents. Lower rent is most certainly better than no rent at all in the eyes of a landlord, and if you are a savvy negotiator, you could end up with a good deal on a unit that would have previously been way out of your potential.  

Many multiples have previously occupied stores in prime locations and so space on key streets may previously have been tough to come. Indie owners should capitalise on the vacancies popping up and strike while the iron is hot. Once in, it’s down to you to make a song and dance about the store, raising the profile of the business to match its more prominent location.

As the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining, and this cloud most definitely does.

NO

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Consumers may complain about globalisation, but the fact is most people want to go shopping to somewhere they trust. They want to know that if they spend the money on parking – or the time queuing up to get into the town in the first place – that all their shopping needs will be met.

Multiples are therefore an essential part of the retail ecosystem and, as with the real food chain, their disappearance will have very serious consequences on the rest of the links.

Clearly what we are seeing is the division between secondary and primary town/city centres. The decline has already begun for those secondary towns and this will only hasten it, leaving consumers to travel further afield to make sure they can get everything they want.  

This could leave secondary towns becoming nothing more than a quaint throwback  to a different era.

Rents are clearly still too high for those in non-essential retail businesses to make it work – the figures that come through week after week show that for all but the best (or, more likely, luckiest) the recession is far from over.

And yesterday’s news that the government has delayed its review of the way business rates are decided until 2017 suggests it is unlikely that we will see any let up there for some time.  

Victoria’s optimism is commendable but of course things are never as straightforward as that. Landlords are unlikely to drop rental prices overnight, and even if they eventually concede a reduced rate, the process of taking on a lease, moving in and opening up can take months.

By that point, shoppers will have found an alternative – online, at a different town or city or in an out of town shopping centre.

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