As 2024 gets off to an incredibly busy start of viewings and offers here at Bruce Gillingham Pollard, Rob Barnes argues that there is great cause for positivity ahead – for those businesses willing to diversify
As we consider the outlook for the year ahead, a key question dominates. Are we being too negative?
A glance through 2023’s business headlines may have lead us to believe that the high street is in its death throes, with the demise of Paperchase and Wilko cited as an example of widespread decline.
However, one month in to 2024 and already a different picture is starting to emerge. Here at Bruce Gillingham Pollard – where we have a particularly diverse range of instructions – it has been an incredibly busy start to the year, with a large number of viewings and offers.
We don’t have to look far to find specific reasons for positivity. Discount retailer B&M – incidentally, Wilko’s rival – is planning a 45-store expansion, while department store group Frasers has stated an ambitious aim of 100 new locations. While from an F&B perspective, casual bar and restaurant chain Loungers is in rude health, having just celebrated it’s 250th opening.
So what’s their secret? In short, with speed and agility – and the help of landlords – they have adapted to a new retail landscape by diversifying their offering.
Recognising the need for change, landlords are offering flexible arrangements that attract innovative players. Lets take Frasers as an example. The retailer has dramatically revamped its proposition, with a new flagship Everlast Gyms at the Metrocentre in Gateshead sitting in a 37,000 sq ft facility located in the former Debenhams, alongside sister brand Sports Direct. On the ground floor is Flannels – further diversifying their offering, while bringing the total Fraser’s Group footprint to 130,000 sq ft.
Loungers have also taken a proactive approach to diversification. Primarily situated in suburban high streets and small town centres, each uniquely designed (and named) outpost combines features varying elements of a restaurant, pub and coffee shop. The overall focus on community is one that has certainly resonated well with their customers across the UK.
While it is clear that retail faces big challenges, evidence from the bigger picture suggests resilience. According to Savills, total retail demand in 2023 increased by 5.5% compared to the previous year, following another 3% increase in 2022.
So perhaps the conclusion is that rather than justification of ongoing retail landscape pessimism, the closure of a few well loved brands in 2023 was simply the weeding out of unsustainable business models – while the future belongs to those willing, and able, to diversify.