What's next for the high street following name brands like Wilkos departing?
"The news of Wilko's closures is of course very sad for the high street, but in just six days in some cases the stores were re-occupied and transformed into Poundland stores. There are reasonable levels of demand from large space retailers, particularly value orientated, in the estate who can reuse much of the existing shopfit. We also witnessed higher than anticipated levels of demand for former M&Co units following their administration which demonstrates that demand remains for shopping on the high street. It's positive to see that many of these stores will not be left empty, and in many instances, will be reoccupied."
What comes next for all the empty department stores up and down the country?
“Simply put, in many cases, they need to be repurposed to non-retail uses because there just isn’t the demand for such big spaces within the retail sector. They are generally multiple floor buildings where there is limited retail demand. Whilst the value retail sector is an option many of these retailers are usually represented in the town. There are some exciting large footplate leisure concepts which can be combined with complementary food and beverage whilst other options include residential, medical, educational, offices, markets and even creative trades and maker space.
“Many of the buildings can be quite impressive-looking and aesthetically pleasing that deserve a new lease of life. What form this takes very much depends on the local area and demographics – but first and foremost, they should serve the needs of the community.
“However, the problem extends beyond just the department stores to high street shops in general – there’s a lot of empty retail units out there. The Government is considering various measures to tackle the issue. One of these includes the high street Rental Auction Process, which is currently in the consultation phase before Parliament. If passed, this legislation will specifically target persistently vacant high street units by allowing local authorities to enforce an auction process to find a tenant for the property.
“I have reservations about how this would work in practice and believe that no landlord actively wants to have vacant units, not least because it costs them money in void rates and other holding costs. There are generally good reasons why a unit is empty, with the landlord facing increasing challenges in letting it.
“All that being said, it’s encouraging to see the Government take the problem of persistently vacant units seriously and propose initiatives to tackle the blight of empty department stores and persistent vacant properties on our high streets.”
Avison Young recently partnered with Sue Ryder – they have over 400 high street shops. How do you see the role of charity shops adapting to the high street?
“Charity shops had some bad press in the past because people generally associated them with a declining high street. However, we can see a rapidly emerging trend towards upcycling and reusing items – people are growing ever more mindful of waste and increasingly turning their back on throwaway culture.
“And the fact is that charity shops are good tenants: they pay market rents, deliver a service whereby people can upcycle their garments and other belongings and contribute to the financial health of the charity sector. That’s not to mention the strong community-building aspect of charity shops, bringing together volunteers and often serving as a social hub.
“There’s some great innovation going on here too, and we are already seeing some exciting new developments. One prime example is Charity Super.Mkt, the UK’s first charity department store in Brent Cross, which brings together ten different charity stores under one roof and offers shoppers the familiar experience of department-store shopping, but at charity-shop prices. What a brilliant idea.”
We will also be releasing a longer interview with Richard, where he talks more about the current market and shares his opinions on the future of retail.