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Published on November 2nd, 2016 | by The GC Team

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New research shows high street indies thriving

Data released by the Local Data Company (LDC) and the British Independent Retailers Association (bira) shows that traditional independents opened slightly more shops than were closed in Britain’s town centres in the first half of 2016, while the national chains continued to see a fall.

Independents saw an increase of four shops in the six-month period, and small as the number may be, it is a reversal from the net decline of 194 shops in the same period last year.

Net growth of +200 units on high streets was one of the main drivers in the growth of independent retailing in H1 2016.

The chain retailers remained in decline, however, with a net loss of 2,001 shops across Great Britain, compared to -828 shops in the first half of 2015.

Regional data showed:

  • The West Midlands had the greatest increase of independents at +159 units, versus -22 units in H1 2015.
  • Greater London continues to show the greatest decline of independents at -288 units, but at a slower rate than in H1 2015.
  • Scotland has also seen a change in fortunes, reversing a net decrease of -42 units in H1 2015 to a modest increase of +63 units in H1 2016.
  • Sparkhill, Birmingham has the highest percentage of independents at 95% (based on locations with 50+ units).
  • Telford is the town with the lowest percentage of independents at only 18.1%, against a GB average of 65% (based on locations with 50+ units).
  • Wider analysis of in and out of town locations shows that High Streets saw dramatic improvement from a net decline of -25 units, to a net increase of 200 units in H1 2016.
  • Independents now account for 65% of all retail and leisure units in Great Britain, the same as in H1 2015.
  • Other shopping destination types saw Shopping Centres recording a net decline of -0.61% (versus -0.44% in H1 2015) and Retail Parks edging up by +0.63% (versus no change in H1 2015).

Matthew Hopkinson, Director at the Local Data Company, commented: “It is encouraging to see a reversal in fortunes of independent shops from a year ago with positive change, albeit minute, yielding a net gain of just four shops across the country.

“Independents are a sensitive barometer of business confidence and thus their fortunes are worth tracking closely.

“As ever, the devil is in the detail and regional variations abound, with decline visible in London but with increases evident in the West Midlands and a reversal of fortunes for independent shops in Scotland.

“Contrary to popular belief, the high street is alive and well with independents, and H1 2016 saw a tenfold increase in net openings from a year ago. This sector continues to provide a key element of stability to our towns in particular.”

Alan Hawkins, CEO of the British Independent Retailers Association (bira), said: “It’s encouraging to see a growing vigour in independent retailers across the UK. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the customer both needs and wants to be present when shopping for some items, as well as having online options, and that this will hopefully have a positive impact on independent shops.

“I am worried about the Greater London region, which has seen the worst regional fall in openings in the first half of 2016, coupled with the recent news about higher business rate hits and rental values increasing. It is certainly a tough time for independent retailers in Greater London as well as some other parts of the country.

“These results do, however, give us a few good examples of how independent retailers are thriving. Particularly in the West Midlands region, which is a growing industrial powerhouse where people have more money to spend which in turn is resulting in more independent shops thriving.”

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