Independents leading UK store openings

Independent retailers led the pack in town-centre store openings in the first half of 2016, new figures have shown.

Research from the London Data Company (LDC) and British Independent Retailers Association (Bira) has revealed that four more independent shops opened (15,610) than closed (15,606) in the first half of the year. This reversed last year’s decline, when 194 more closed (16,728) than opened (16,534).

Chain retailers, meanwhile, remained in decline, with a net loss of 2,001 shops across the UK, compared with 828 shops last year.

‘Comparison goods’ shops, which include electrical retailers, saw an improvement from 712 closures in H1 2015 to 698 this year.

Regionally, the West Midlands saw the greatest increase of independents with an additional 159 units, compared with the loss of 22 units in the same period last year.

Whereas, Greater London continued to show the greatest decline in independents, with the loss of 288 units (0.42 per cent), this was a slight improvement over 2015 (0.46 per cent).

Scotland also saw a ‘change in fortunes’, reversing a net decline of 42 units last year into an increase of 63 this year.

Shopping centres declined further, reporting a net decline of 0.61 per cent, compared with 0.44 per cent in H1 2015. And retail parks crept up to 0.63 per cent versus no change last year.

Independents accounted for 65 per cent of all retail and leisure units in the UK, which is unchanged from H1 2015.

Matthew Hopkinson, director at the LDC, commented: “It is 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.

“As ever, the devil is in the detail, and regional variations abound, with decline visible in London, but 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 H1 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.

Alan Hawkins, Bira chief executive, said: “I am 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 that this will hopefully have a positive impact on independent shops.

“I am worried about the Greater London region, which has seen the worst regional fall in openings in the first half of 2016, coupled with the recent news about higher business rate hits and rental values increasing. It is 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, which is a growing industrial powerhouse where people have more money to spend, which in turn is resulting in more independent shops thriving.”