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Indie numbers rise but clothing stores slump

Independent retailers fared better than multiples throughout 2013 but clothing shops still bore the brunt of closures, new figures show.

Data published today (March 25) shows that across the UK’s top 500 town centres, 44 independent stores opened each day last year, with net growth of 726 units in 2013 according to the Local Data Company (LDC) and British Independent Retailers Association (Bira). Figures published last week showed that multiples shut on average 16 stores a day.

But womenswear and general fashion shops continued to head the number of stores in decline. Over the year, a net total of 140 womenswear stores shut down, while 49 fashion stores, which comprise both menswear and womenswear, and 48 footwear stores closed.

Leisure, convenience retail such as bakers and butchers, and service retail such as nail salons or pawnbrokers were all in growth.

The Southwest showed the greatest increase in independent retailers, up 2% on 2012, but Greater London recorded the biggest decline.

Barnes in southwest London has the highest proportion of independents – 96.6% of total stores – while Telford in Shropshire has just 18.4%, making it the least independent town in the country.

LDC director Matthew Hopkinson said: “The propensity of independents to survive and thrive varies massively by place as does the churn rate, with more than 31,000 independents opening and closing in 2013 alone. Clearly the appetite is there and increasingly independents are adjusting to the new challenges of the total retail world, online and offline, as well as the competition they face from their big ‘chain’ brothers. Independents are an important part of every town and are the one thing that drives diversity in what has become a homogenous world.”

Michael Weedon, deputy chief executive of Bira, added: “The churn is huge, with more than 15,000 independents closing in 2013 but nearly 16,000 opening their doors for the first time. The real organic fertility of the high street is illuminated by the LDC data. The margin of growth is tantalisingly fine, with net growth in independents of only 762 overall last year. But this was the third year of this kind of growth and this kind of change. It is not a fluke. It is consistent. It is real and it has reduced the LDC shop vacancy rate to below 14% for the first time since 2010.

“Give an entrepreneur a sniff of an opportunity and a chance of a profit and they will create businesses and fill empty units. Government’s role in this is to remove obstacles, dismantle barriers to the profitability of small shops and clear the way for them to lead our towns into a future that incorporates the best of the past.”

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