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Retail expansion is good news for the eurozone

The shortlist of candidates for the Wolfson Prize has just been published.

The competition, set up by Lord Wolfson, chief executive of Next, aims to find the least disruptive way to organise a breakup of the long-suffering euro.

Although the winner won’t be announced until July, all five contenders apparently provided ‘valuable ideas’ about how a country could safely exit the euro. But for many, this is clearly a defeatist way of thinking. Instead of worrying about how to manage the break-up of the euro, Wolfson should be using his experience in the retail sector to encourage greater European co-operation, not less.

For example, even the most serious doom merchants should be encouraged by the fact the high street food retailer Pret A Manger plans to open 44 new stores this year, 20 of which will be overseas, following news that the company’s sales rose 15% last year to nearly £400m.

And Pret isn’t alone: Russian retail group Bosco is clearly feeling the love for Europe too. Bosco, which owns Moscow’s famous GUM department store, has opened a store just a stone’s throw from London’s Olympic Stadium, marking its first venture into western Europe. Not only has the company taken a 10-year lease on the store, but it has also announced plans to expand into Madrid and Barcelona, as well as some of Europe’s most affluent ski resorts.

Not to be outdone, Swedish fashion giant H&M will soon be launching its own premium concept, a project that will include the opening of 10 new stores in Europe. The UK is already one of H&M’s fastest-growing markets, with its total UK sales up more than 22% in the first quarter to February 29.

Even though success stories like these may be few and far between at the moment, they should remind us that it’s not time to wave the white flag quite yet - not for the eurozone, and not for retail. Despite the tough road ahead, retailers who are able to combine high-quality stakeholder management with good commercial sense can still build a profitable business, both at home and abroad.

  • Dan Coen, Head of retail, corporate advisory firm Zolfo Cooper.

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