Out-of-town retail bucks the gloomy high street trend

Sheldon Retail Park

Pundits who predict the continued decline of ‘bricks and mortar’ retail should look to the success of out-of-town locations, says a property management specialist from Birmingham-based independent agents KWB.

Judith Williams has spent 30 years in the sector, including almost 15 years with the Newhall Street firm, managing portfolios and individual schemes on behalf of both property companies and private landlords.

Her current projects include providing advisory and management services to two sizeable out-of-town schemes; the Sinclair Retail Park at Evesham, and the Sheldon Retail Park to the east of Birmingham.

She admits she wishes even some of the observers who claim traditional retail models can’t compete with online retail platforms, and the might of Amazon and its e-commerce peers, would take time to visit such locations.

“No-one could deny retailers who operate solely via ‘bricks and mortar’ are facing huge challenges, unless they’re in lucrative niches, or that retailers in all business sectors aren’t under huge pressure from online competitors, but for me, the negativity is way overdone,” says Judith.

“Yes, online retailers have grown their market share significantly in recent years, but the timeless values of consistency of experience, availability of product, and value still hold good, and despite the desire of many younger purchasers to go online, the overwhelming majority of shoppers still buy in-store.”

Judith believes both the Sheldon and Evesham schemes are prospering because the developers took time to research the local market, assess potential competition from nearby sites, and then assemble a range of high-profile brands to attract footfall.

“Getting the right mix of tenants is always crucial, not just at a particular scheme, but in the context of what is available in the immediate area, and always was – long before the arrival of online retail.

“Sheldon has an M&S Foodhall, B&M and The Gym, whilst the park at Evesham has Aldi, TK Maxx and Home Bargains. They’re all powerful brands in themselves, and together they make two very strong offers.

“Equally, the geographical location needs careful research. Sheldon is close to Birmingham Airport, the current West Coast Mainline station, and the proposed HS2 Interchange, whilst the Sinclair scheme is on the outskirts of a historic market town, and not far from Cheltenham, Worcester and Stratford-upon-Avon.”

Judith underpins her views by a look at the latest monthly analysis of the UK’s retail sector from the Office of National Statistics.

“In January, its data for December 2019 showed that 81% of all retail purchases by value, across all sectors, were made in-store, and just 19% were made online. As I said, no-one is diminishing the disruptive impact which e-commerce is having, and will continue to have, on ‘bricks and mortar’ outlets.

“However, I think those who suggest the traditional retail sector is in terminal decline really need to both look away from our High Streets, and always bear the respective market share in mind before making such gloomy forecasts.”