LDC: growth in shop numbers falls, as retail market slows

Independent stores recorded an eighth straight month of net growth in numbers in April, while multiples plunged -200, according to the latest figures from the Local Data Company (LDC).

The research firm said: ‘The eight-month run of gains by independents, bumping up shop numbers by more than 2,000, continues. Multiples are back on a general reduction path – although the last six months have seen some positive results.

‘In an interesting coincidence, independents gained +289, multiples shuttered -200 net and towns gained +89. Independents continue to favour opening in towns, whilst chains are more likely to close in town high streets.’

But overall, activity levels for both are slowing. LDC commented: “Seven months of net growth in shop numbers has been welcome, but activity levels have dropped back to mid-2016 figures. The net gain for April was the lowest for more than half a year.’

LDC defines shops as comparison goods (non-food goods), convenience, and service retail uses. It says: ‘Comparison goods shops are still opening, but they are consistently outweighed by closures, and over five years, numbers have dropped by nearly -10,000 net.

‘Convenience shops provide sporadic periods of growth, and as our forthcoming report on supermarkets, discounters and convenience stores will show, growth profiles in all three subsectors changed in 2016 – with supermarkets beginning to fall in number.

‘Service (and leisure) continue to show net growth in numbers, although the gains are becoming smaller month by month. Leisure, in particular, has maintained a positive performance, benefitting from openings by both chains and independents, as coffee shops help to give high streets a caffeine boost.

‘Service is being driven by independents, with barbers at the cutting edge of expansion. This market segment is ahead of the leisure segment in terms of growth – a performance which is all the more impressive against the background of the consistent loss of financial services outlets such as bank branches, for which more closures are pending.

‘Town centres, shopping centres and retail parks were all only just on the right side of net growth, as overall net openings have moderated. As the average out-of-town retail park contains roughly 10 units, the April result was the equivalent of about one new park opening.

‘However, as stores in these locations are on average 13 times bigger than town centre shops, the April gain of +8 units equalled or exceeded the space occupied by the +89 shops added in town locations.’

Retail vacancy held steady at the new post-2012 low of 12% that it reached in March

LDC director Matthew Hopkinson commented: “Contrary to popular belief, the high street is alive and well. But with such a large number of high streets that LDC tracks, the variance in performance can be significant.

“There continues to be good news in terms of net growth in shop numbers. It takes some time for day-to-day consumer spending to affect shop numbers and the figures for cash spent within retail have been quite strong.

“But official statistics for sales volumes suggest that the balance between inflation and earnings growth may cause clouds to appear on the horizon and thus, bring further stress for retailers and leisure operators. Marginal businesses could be forced to close which will drive up the vacancy rates.

“A slowing retail economy makes it more likely that the improvement in vacancy since 2012 could come to a halt – and even begin to worsen once more.”

He concluded: “With Aldi reporting to be considering opening more than 1,000 new stores across the country, on top of the 683 in place at the moment, competition in the high street continues to increase.”

LDC visits over 2,700 towns and cities, retail parks and shopping centres. Each premise is visited and its occupancy status recorded as occupied, vacant or demolished. Vacant units are units which did not possess a trading business at that location on the day visited.

The shop vacancy index is based on the shop vacancy rates of the top 650 town centres (based on CLG retail core).

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