The Local Data Company [LDC] is predicting that the number of empty shops on UK High Streets will increase markedly because of weak consumer confidence, rising unemployment and growing online sales.
LDC, which specialises in retail location data, says that vacancy stabilised in 2011 at 14.35% overall [1 in every 7 shops] but with big regional differences especially between the north and the south.
Stockport had the highest vacancy rate of large centres with over 30% [1 in every 3 shops], while St Albans had the lowest with 8.2%. Brighton’s vacancy rate was 8.8% and Hove’s was even lower, however this also masks variations across the city with Preston Street showing a vacancy rate of 17% in the last survey in September 2011 [although down from 19% in the same month in the previous year].
The report listed a slew of big name stores that went into administration last year including Barratts, Focus DIY, Best Buy, Habitat and Lombok.
In a separate report Jones lang Lasalle predicted that vacancy rates on the worst British High Streets could hit 50% within three years, as half of all high street leases are due to expire by 2015.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) described vacancy rates as "worryingly high" in many parts of the country and called on the government to reduce business rates, which are set to rise by 5.6% in April.
On Saturday, the government announced that it was looking for 12 run-down High Streets in England to compete for a £1m prize as part of plans proposed by retail consultant Mary Portas [see earlier story].
In his presentation on the UK economy to the Brighton & Hove Economic Partnership last week, Nick Parsons – Head of UK & European Research for National Australia Bank [NAB] Group - said the lack of consumer spending leading to the pain on the High Street is likely to continue for five to seven years [see earlier story].
BUSINESS FORUM COMMENT
There seems little doubt that tough times in retail are here to stay for some time. Ironically it is the larger players that seem to be suffering the most but independents are not immune and in Brighton & Hove we have literally hundreds of owner managed small shops.
The local authority’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee is taking evidence in February and March on what can be done to promote small retail in the city but here are five things that retailers can do to help themselves:
- If you have a rent review in the near future, get professional representation. Under the current economic conditions overheads must be stabilised for as long as possible. It will cost you a few hundred pounds but could save thousands.
- Ask your landlord for a personal concession to reduce the rent and ask to pay in monthly installments rather than quarterly.
- Shop around for better deals on utilities. If you are a member of the Brighton Business Improvement District take advantage of their bulk purchasing procurement scheme; it is a free service included in the BID levy.
- Ask the local authority if you can pay your Uniform Business Rates over 12 months instead of 10; every little helps with cash flow.
- If you don't have a website with an e-commerce facility, investigate getting one as a matter of urgency. This will cost you money but could make you a millionaire.
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British Retail Consortium
National Australia Bank
The Local Data Company