Readers of the business pages in recent months could have been forgiven for thinking Tesco was about to go bust
The UK’s largest retailer, with sales of £43.6bn a year in the UK alone, seemed to attract universally positive press in the days of Sir Terry Leahy. Since he retired in 2011, however, his legacy has been questioned as the shine has come off his global creation.
Present chief executive Philip Clarke has had a series of challenges to address, such as the costly failure of the Fresh & Easy supermarket adventure in the US, which is reckoned to have cost more than £600m for its six-year life. Drapers readers, however, are more interested in what Tesco is doing with clothes and footwear and I think it is rash to suggest the wheels have come off the Cheshunt-based phenomenon.
I recall writing about Tesco’s early ventures away from food in the early 1980s when its offer was presented as Home ‘n’ Wear. Impressed as I’ve been by its colossal growth since, especially in the past 15 years, it has never won prizes for picking names and its current F&F moniker is not the most effective.
While Tesco and its most obvious rival George at Asda might not be the runaway market leaders they were a few years back -
we probably can thank or blame Primark for stealing their market share - these food-based retailers, not forgetting Sainsbury’s Tu here either, are still hugely significant players in UK retail and by extension fashion retail.
I was very interested last weekend to read of a report by property agent CBRE revealing the acreage of new supermarket space due to open in the UK has overtaken the number of proposed shopping centres for the first time. CBRE’s research on the pipeline of grocery stores shows that since the credit crunch hit in 2007, the proposed openings have grown a whopping 67% to more than 48 million sq ft.
The amazing figure includes sites for urban convenience stores and for supermarkets that might never be built. The major players in the new race for space include Aldi, Lidl and Waitrose, all of which sell little or no fashion, plus Marks & Spencer, which never merchandises fashion with food. The most interesting point for me of all this is that most of the square footage - almost 40 million sq ft - is earmarked for out-of-town developments.
While valiant efforts are being made by any number of agencies to revive ‘the traditional high street’, there is no doubt that for many consumers out-of-town retail parks are the new high street. Speaking with a property boss recently, I was fascinated to learn just how much time, money and expertise is being put into making the old concept of a retail park, which could crudely be described as a collection of big sheds, into something that is more attractive, more social and more likely to keep more consumers there for longer - the all-important aim of lengthening “the dwell time”. Leisure complexes and food joints, such as cinemas and restaurants, are central planks of this nationwide development.
Champions of the classic high street are no doubt aware that their fight for survival or revival won’t be easy. I would not become complacent because of a few bad headlines about Tesco. I was cheered this week, however, that communities secretary Eric Pickles has ordered a review of local councils’ attitudes to high-street parking.
But it is all too late for me and my argument with Derby council, which I wrote about a few months ago. After my second challenge against an unfair parking ticket was rejected, I admitted defeat and forked out the £50 fine - an outrageous sum to cover the minute or so between the ticket being issued and me returning to the meter with the change I had to go and find.
To end on a happier note, I’d like to remind retailers and brands on both sides of the Irish Sea that the deadline for entries to the Drapers Footwear & Accessories Awards 2014 is January 31. After the success of our separate awards for independents and multiples in November, I am confident our first awards of 2014 will attract a bumper crowd. The prizes will be presented at a black tie dinner at the Hilton London on Park Lane Hotel on May 1, but we need those entries in over the next few weeks. Visit www.drapersfootwearaccessories.com to enter. Good luck!
- Eric Musgrave