C-stores are facing a growing threat from out-of-town retail parks as the grocery multiples snap up empty units vacated by struggling retailers.
Research from retail consultants Trevor Wood Associates shows that the retail warehousing vacancy rate has fallen to 9.2%, from its mid 2009 peak of 11.8%. It found that many of the stores vacated by retailers which recently entered administration, such as JJB Sports, Land of Leather and Focus DIY, have helped high street multiples such as Tesco and Asda expand.
For example, Marks & Spencer Simply Food now trades from the former JJB Sports in Cambridge and the former Borders in Newbury, Berkshire; Tesco trades from the former Focus in Bromley, Kent, and Crowborough, East Sussex; and Asda has agreed a deal for six former Focus units.
East Anglia retailer Jonathan James said he was wary of who would move into a former Focus store near one of his stores in Norfolk. “I call it the hermit crab syndrome the mults are planting themselves in someone else’s shell,” he added.
Jenny Wynne-Jones of Spar Connah’s Quay, Clwyd, has seen sales slump by up to 30% a week since a nearby out-of-town retail development opened last November. The site includes a Morrisons superstore and smaller shops such as Home Bargains and Greggs.
“Morrisons is only part of the problem. We’re also affected by the other stores such as Home Bargains which sell everything we sell, but often cheaper,” she said. “Our customers are loyal, but are buying a lot less. The impact has been worse than we feared.”
In anticipation of the opening, she implemented a £100,000 store refit. She has also added more services, including a serve-over food-to-go counter and PayPoint, and is spending more on marketing. “You’ve got to make changes and fight it,” she said. “I’m hoping that at the 12-month point we’ll have regained some ground.”
Government policy has to promote retailing in towns and high streets over out-of-town development that is the only sustainable option. Any policy which departs from that is a significant step backwards.”
Shane Brennan, Public affairs director, Association of Convenience Stores
“In a way we’re now the threat to the out-of-town multiples, as we’re getting more business from customers who want to cut down on driving due to rising petrol prices. We’ve been lucky because we’ve got our MP on our side. This means I’m kept up to date on local developments, so I’m in the know before anyone else and that means I can plan ahead. My main threat is the growing number of local independent convenience stores!”
Sunder Sandher, S&S Stores Londis, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire