LDC/bira: ‘High street is alive and well with independents’

Traditional independent retailers opened slightly more shops than were closed in the first half of 2016 in Britain’s town centres, while national chains continued to see a fall.

Data released today (Tuesday, November 1) by LDC (Local Data Company) and bira (British Independent Retailers Association) shows that independent shops saw an increase of +4 shops. This is a reversal from the net decline of -194 shops in the year-ago period.

A net growth of +200 units on the high streets was one of the main drivers in the growth of independent retailing in the first half of 2016.

A total of 31,216 independents either opened (15,610) or closed (15,606), down on the year-ago period where a total of 33,262 opened (16,534) or closed (16,728).

The chain retailers remained in decline with a net loss of -2,001 shops, compared with -828 shops in the first half of 2015.

Key growth sectors for indies are barbers, tobacconists/e-cigarette shops, and hair & beauty salons. Sectors in decline include pubs, womenswear shops, newsagents and Indian restaurants.

The West Midlands showed the greatest increase of independents at +159 units in the first half of 2016 versus -22 units in the year-ago period.

Greater London showed the greatest decline of independents at -288 units but at a slower rate than in the first half of 2015.

Scotland also saw a change in fortunes, reversing a net decrease of -42 units into a modest increase of +63 units.

Sparkhill in Birminghamham boasts the highest percentage of independents at 95.0% (based on locations with 50+ units) while Telford is the town with the lowest percentage of independents at only 18.1%, against a GB average of 65% (based on locations with 50+ units).

Wider analysis shows high streets saw dramatic improvement from a net decline of -25 units, to a net increase of 200 units. This represents a +0.12% net increase: a 225 unit swing from the -0.02% net decline in the first half of 2015.

Other locations saw less of an overall change. Shopping centres still recorded a net decline of -0.61% (versus -0.44%) and retail parks edged up by +0.63% (versus no change).

Independents account for 65% of all retail and leisure units in Great Britain: the same as in the first half of 2015.

LDC director Matthew Hopkinson commented: “It’s encouraging to see a reversal in fortunes of independent shops from a year ago with positive change – albeit minute – yielding a net gain of just four shops across the country! Independents are a sensitive barometer of business confidence and thus their fortunes are worth tracking closely.

“The good news is not limited to just one sub-sector. Of note is that the increases come from within the convenience sector and specialist food retailing in particular, along with the continued growth of health and beauty outlets for both men and women

“As ever, the devil is in the detail, and regional variations abound, with decline visible in London but with increases evident in the West Midlands and a reversal of fortunes for independent ‘shops’ in Scotland.

“Contrary to popular belief, the high street is alive and well with independents, and the first half of 2016 saw a tenfold increase in net openings from a year ago. This sector continues to provide a key element of stability to our towns in particular.

“While strong headwinds exist for all retailers, it’s clear that given the right opportunity, in the right location, then independents not only survive but thrive.

“In the first six months of 2016, over 31,000 independent shops either opened and or closed – so this sector is a significant bellwether for the state of the British high street.”

Bira ceo Alan Hawkins said: I’m pleased we can see in our results a glimmer of growth in independents on our high streets – and equally that progress is reflected across a range of sectors.

“It’s encouraging to see a growing vigour in independent retailers across the UK. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the customer both needs, and wants, to be present when shopping for some items – as well as having online options – and this will hopefully have a positive impact on independent shops.

“I’m worried about the Greater London region, which has seen the worst regional fall in openings in the first half of 201 –  coupled with the recent news about higher business rate hits and rental values increasing. It’s certainly a tough time for independent retailers in Greater London as well as some other parts of the country.

“These results do, however, give us a few good examples of how independent retailers are thriving – particularly in the West Midlands region. This is a growing industrial powerhouse where people have more money to spend, which in turn is resulting in more independent shops thriving.”

The total number of independent businesses covered in this research across GB was 272,222 (+0.78% increase from the first half of 2015)

LDC visits over 3,000 towns and cities (retail centres & Government defined retail core), retail parks and shopping centres. Each premises is visited and its occupancy status recorded as occupied, vacant or demolished. Vacant units are those which did not possess a trading business on the day visited.

Bira is a trade body for independent retailers. Membership is open to independent retailers across the UK from single retail outlets to small chains, department stores, dealers and merchants, as well as associate membership for organisations servicing or allied to the independent retail sector.

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