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Shattered retailers pick up the pieces

Last week the country was subject to some of the most destructive rioting for decades. Many stood shocked at the scenes unfolding on television screens of hundreds of youths trashing shops and stealing goods, some with outrageous boldness. Some looters were even filmed trying shoes on for size before stealing them.

More than a week on, multiples and indies alike are assessing the damage as the already beleaguered high street gets back on its feet.

The rioting, which began in Tottenham, north London, on Saturday August 6, rapidly spread to other areas of the capital including Hackney, Croydon, Clapham Junction, Ealing and Lewisham.

But it was not restricted to London. Riots extended to cities such as Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool and Bristol. Retailers including womenswear chain Miss Selfridge, department store chain Debenhams and denim retailer Diesel are faced with a huge clean-up operation.

Sportswear giant JD Sports Fashion was one of the hardest hit retailers during last week’s riots, with up to 30 of its stores affected. But its chairman Peter Cowgill says it’s now “back to business as usual”.

“The majority of stores are up and running again though a few have more permanent damage and need a full refit. They may not open this week.” Stocking levels will not get back to normal for some time, he adds.

The JD Sports Fashion boss, who is still trying to quantify the damage, which he predicts will run to several million pounds, was reassured by the public reaction and the offers of help cleaning up its ransacked stores. “There’s been a very good community spirit, for our brand in particular,” he says. “It shows these people are in the minority.”

Insurance worries

Trading was affected across the retailer’s portfolio last week. Cowgill says: “There was an overall footfall decline in all major centres. Hopefully now law and order has been reinstated things will get back to normal.”

He is less optimistic about compensation. Although he had received a call from Downing Street, he does not expect any help from government and fears the insurance claim process will be drawn out. “When are insurance claims ever easy?” he says.

Wolverhampton felt the brunt of the riots early last week with looters inflicting thousands of pounds of damage on retailers including Marks & Spencer and Next.

Wolverhampton premium menswear indie Le Monde was besieged by looters on Tuesday night while staff were trying to board it up. Windows and shutters were broken, with the shop contents raided.

Owner Jason Ody expects the losses to run into six figures. “I’m at £27,000 and I don’t think I’m halfway through,” he says. The shop was still closed as Drapers went to press and so losses are set to escalate.

“We’re not going to be open for a couple of weeks. We’re trying to get some stock in but we’ve got no shopfront at the moment. My main concern is getting back open and quickly getting it back to the way it was,” says Ody.

Though the community spirit had been “great”, the town was already under pressure, he says.

“We were struggling along, limping. Speaking to retailers last week, trade was awful. It’s going to take a while for the town to get back to what it was, and what it was wasn’t great.”

With London central to much of the rioting, Peckham made-to-measure womenswear boutique Gisella was also ransacked.

The store was totally stripped of stock, with fabrics also stolen and burnt on the streets and the shopfront smashed.

Co-owner Jan Asante said it was too early to put an exact figure on the cost of the damage but it would be “thousands and thousands” of pounds. She adds: “We are going to struggle with the insurance because we don’t have an invoice [for the hours we spend making the clothes].”

Immediate relief

She says so far she has received no government help. For the shop to get back on its feet it will need an influx of money as the store makes all the garments itself. Asante adds that it will be at least a month before the shop can reopen. The delay is “devastating” because it is peak season for the store, due to the high number of summer weddings. “It will take a long time until we are as we were or even a semblance of that.”

Asante fears for what the violence has done to the local community: “I think people will be put off going into their local shopping areas full stop unless we can get some reassurance that we are protected.”

Retail Trust is one organisation that has stepped in with assistance. Last week it said it would donate £50,000 to support retailers affected by the rioting as part of its campaign launched on Twitter called #highstheroes. The charity will give grants of £250 to those in need of immediate relief and is offering 24-hour advice on its helpline.

Michael Weedon, deputy chief executive and communications director of the British Independent Retailers Association (BIRA), says there will be a long-term impact on high streets with burnt-out shops looking unsightly: “The damaged ones are going to have a much lower chance of appealing to consumers and that will lurk around for a while.”

Trading impact

Weedon says the immediate impact of the rioting will also be on trade. “There was a concern last weekend that everyone would avoid the high street – everyone is looking over their shoulder.”

Richard Dodd, head of media and campaigns for the British Retail Consortium (BRC), says it is important to realise that the high streets were already facing difficulties. “It is particularly tough for those smaller indie retailers who haven’t got the resources to get back into business,” he says. “There will be some that won’t be able to trade again and that will be a loss to that high street and community.”

He adds: “There is also the harm to the UK’s reputation overall, particularly London. London benefits disproportionately well from visitors both from outside and inside the UK and some will have been put off.”

He says shopper and staff confidence will now need rebuilding. “Many high streets were in trouble already, something we had been focusing on for a couple of years and the Government had started to focus on with Mary Portas. This has pushed it right up the agenda in a dramatic and disturbing way.”

Dodd emphasises the need for the Government to invest in making town centres attractive places where people want to go, and where they can feel safe and comfortable.

Brand identity could now be a cause for concern for some brands, with many looters pictured in sportswear brands including Adidas and Nike. Neither brand could be reached for comment.

Maureen Hinton, analyst at retail consultancy Verdict, says: “I think it does have an impact on perception, but whether it makes it more desirable to their target is up for debate.”

She says looters opting to wear sportswear brands and steal from JD proves the brands are appealing to their target age group. But for those outside the target audience it will be a turn-off. “It’s a bit of a marketing dilemma,” she adds. “They will have to be very careful with their strategy because you can damage it via association.”

Hinton says some brands might try to move away from this link. Brands associated with the looting might look at raising prices and shifting in a premium direction, especially with rising input costs.

Pan Philippou, group chief executive at young fashion brand Ben Sherman, says in the past it had a “chav” image which it was trying to shake off as it moved into a more premium position.

The impact of looters wearing labels such as Ben Sherman will not affect the brand image because it is not as “hot” as other brands, he says. “I think at the moment we’re not as aspirational as other brands so it didn’t affect us as much.”

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