Sector Focus The future of retail is optimistic

It feels like an exciting time right now. As I write this, along with 25 per cent of the UK population, I have had the vaccine, the kids have gone back to school, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has shared his recovery Budget and we’ve started our journey through the Government’s Covid roadmap exit plan. I’m approaching the next few

months with cautious optimism. Could this really be the last lockdown? I think it could and that gives real hope for the future. Touchwood is not emerging

from this latest lockdown unscathed but we’re still in pretty good shape. We have lost ten stores and restaurants but gained three in this time. We have signed terms with five

more in as many weeks and have several projects in negotiation. We will have certainly signed some more by the time you read this. We’ve had great success

agreeing deals with independent hospitality venues to replace outgoing, overstretched casual dining chains. This is in line with our strategy, to give people more reasons to visit Touchwood than anywhere else. With Cineworld looking to reopen

in the coming weeks, a raft of new dining options and hopes of our four lane bowling centre and cocktail bar coming back on stream, we have much to look forward to.

‘It does appear that the Government have started to listen to the needs of hospitality and retail’

We are seeing huge demand for

smaller, more affordable properties and so far, less demand for the larger stores. Tesla and Topshop will be tougher gaps to fill but I am confident that we will find exciting replacements in due course if we can now embark on a period of sustained recovery. Key to that recovery are the

measures put in place by Rishi in his latest Budget so let’s take a look at that. It does appear that the

Government have started to listen to the needs of hospitality and retail businesses, as such initial feedback on the latest budget is largely positive. The calls for much needed extensions to current

Thousands of chain stores disappear – report

Almost 10,000 chain stores disappeared from Britain’s retail landscape in 2020, according to a new report by PwC. In total, 7,655 shops opened,

compared to 17,532 closures, a net decline of 9,877. In the West Midlands, 600 shops opened and 1,468 closed, a net decline of 868 – and all of this is before the effects of coronavirus have been felt. PwC said that although a decline was to be expected in a pandemic, the new figures were the worst ever seen since 2015, with an average of 48 chain stores closing every day, and only 21 opening. PwC said that the real impact of

the pandemic was yet to be felt, as some stores ‘temporarily closed’ during lockdowns, and were unlikely to return, such as confectioner Thorntons. Retail parks have seen the

smallest number of net closures of any location (93) in the West Midlands, compared to shopping centres (285) and, faring worst of all, high streets (487).

Meanwhile, the drop off in high-

street footfall has affected those multiple retailers located on high streets, particularly those in large city centres. Small towns, which have long been in decline at the expense of more populous areas and cities, are now also enjoying a mini- renaissance. Consumers now want to shop in these locations, and larger retailers want to be there. Sarah Phillips

(pictured), Midlands

consumer markets lead at PwC, said: “Location is more

important than ever as we see a reversal of historical trends. For years, multiple operators have opened more sites in West Midlands cities and closed units in smaller towns. “As consumer behaviours and

location preferences change, partly as a result of Covid-19, retailers are moving to be where they need to be. Small towns will remain important but we can expect recovery in cities as workers and tourists return, albeit in smaller numbers adopting more flexible working models.”

April 2021 CHAMBERLINK 59

that more will not be needed later this year, especially with the time- bomb of the rent moratorium coming to an end. It is fantastic to see business

Retail Therapy

By Tony Elvin president of Solihull Chamber and general manager of Touchwood

schemes and additional grants have been heeded but with so many otherwise viable businesses lost already over the past 12 months, this remains a perilous time for those still hanging on. The new grants are welcome

but do not go far enough. With up to £18,000 available, Rishi’s stated assumption of average rents sitting between £14,000 and £20,000 per annum is naive. Average rents are actually

double this and far higher still in city centres and shopping centres. With many businesses carrying significant debt it is hard to think

rates waived for the recovery period and reduced for the rest of the year, along with the five per cent VAT rate but there remains a need for an overhaul of the business rates system. Finally, the extension of furlough

until September is vital in preventing further widespread redundancies. Commentators are questioning

why furlough has been extended so far when the exit plan says life should be a lot more ‘normal’ by 21 June. But the extension of the furlough scheme, especially the evolved flexible scheme we have in place now, makes it viable for many businesses to steadily reopen, initially trading the most profitable days of the week and building back to a fully trading business model. This is a positive move by the Government but they must remain on standby to support further if required. Here’s to new beginnings and a better year for all of us.

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