While the challenges many brands are facing on the high streets of the UK are well known, the rapidly changing nature of retail provides a number of opportunities for innovative brands to turn the current world to their advantage.
The catalogue of retailers that have sadly collapsed or shrunk their store footprint significantly in the last few years represents the entire range of retail properties you could possibly imagine; big Tesco superstores mothballed, boutique stores like those run by Orla Kierly; out of town warehouse juggernauts that used to be Toys R Us, or premium high street locations like Coast – they all now have one thing in common… They’re all empty. And costing their landlords a small fortune in the mean time.
Most retail commentators are telling us that bricks and mortar stores are ‘dead’ – and the A-word (that’s Amazon) is usually the ‘thing responsible.’
Quite the opposite is true. Innovative and progressive retail brands – of all sizes – have a golden opportunity to re-shape or re-think the entire proposition behind a ‘store.’
Landlords, local councils and estate agents are all desperate to increase occupancy; and with so many vacant units out there at the moment, it’s a buyer’s market.
The retailer can (for the first time ever) dictate the terms; and in so doing, can also dictate the type of store experience it wants to build.
Go back five years, and if you wanted a store in Central London a few things were an absolute given; you had to have a tonne of money, you had to curry favour with that particular landlord to make sure your brand ‘fit’ with them, and you had to sign at least a 10 year lease.
None of those things are true any more – and its amazing how many retail businesses have been slow on the uptake.
A land of opportunity awaits – for online or concession-only businesses, the commercials of a physical store may well actually stack up for the first time. For current high street retailers, now is a chance to get into the right locations, at the right price, in front of the right consumers.
I spent a long time working with retailers who appraised store investments over a 20 or more year period; over the last few years I’ve exclusively worked with brands appraising over that many weeks instead.
Whether it’s called a ‘pop up’ or not, retailers now have the opportunity to inexpensively experiment in a space. Take a lease for a few months, pay very little to fit out, and test whether a concept or location works. The commercials are unfathomably compelling, especially when compared to the same critique just a few short years ago.
Two other small words of advice; firstly, landlords and estate agents haven’t all caught on; they might well take some persuading (some would say reality check!) so don’t be deterred if at first they don’t ‘play ball.’
The second, having opened many such new retail experiences of late: Customers love a resurgent high street – you may well be in the perfect moment for the best results.
The physical retail store is far from ‘dead’ – it’s just changing.