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Life out of London is hard for foreign retailers

David Kenningham, Consultant at property firm Kenningham Retail.

As the fuss dies down over another great retail store opening and J Crew turns its attention to the important issue of Christmas trade and delivering on the numbers, the retail property world turns its attention to the question of who will be next to try and crack the UK.

It is a question that occupies the thinking of many as the industry seeks to replace those brands and fascias lost in the economic downturn. Are the international retailers really a cure for some of our high street woes?

New names attract great press and footfall when they open, but history shows that the UK is not an easy win.

For every J Crew coming in there is normally a Gilly Hicks reversing out.

It is fair to assume that the luxury brands will continue to focus primarily on London and the major department
stores. Standalone stores outside the capital will still be few and far between for upmarket businesses.

However, it is the mid-market retailers that tend to generate the most excitement in the property world, where there is the hope that they might take 20 or 30, or possibly even more, stores around the country.

Yet it is this market segment that is probably more competitive in the UK than anywhere in the world, and international retailers have found to their cost that what works well in London does not necessarily work elsewhere
in the country.

Some of the biggest international names (for example Gap and H&M) struggled to crack the UK nationwide and have at one time or another since their arrival on these shores reduced their store portfolio, often retreating back
to London.

With major changes in the retail marketplace since some of these great businesses first opened stores in the UK, one wonders whether expansion outside the capital has any merit.

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