Carpetright, the UK’s largest flooring retailer, is shifting its focus from out-of-town back to the high street to take advantage of falling rents, which have plunged by as much as 50 per cent.

Carpetright plans to double its high street footprint and has snapped up 14 former Woolworths stores, plus one former MFI shop.
It has around 20 high street shops at present and wants at least a further 20 in the near future.

Group commercial director Martin Harris said: “The high streets haven’t died – there’s still life left in them.” He said it is difficult to get stores in certain locations so Carpetright has grasped opportunities “when a big boy like Woolies sadly meets its demise”.

Harris said the former Woolworths stores are about 3,000 to 5,000 sq ft, which enables Carpetright to have a “good product offering”. He added: “We’re fairly well covered on retail parks. There comes a point when you don’t need any more 10,000 sq ft stores.”

The 564-shop retailer has always had a greater presence in out-of-town locations, where rents are usually much cheaper. However, the demise of retailers such as Woolworths have left gaps on the high street, slashing rents in some locations by 50 per cent. In out-of-town locations, Carpetright said prices have only dropped 30 per cent.

Harris said the retailer would still be opening on retail parks, but that high street stores enabled Carpetright to get into desirable locations quicker. He said the retailer wants to focus on London and market towns “where you’ll never get a shed built”. He said: “If stores are going begging, someone should take them or the high street will die.”

Numis analyst Andy Wade said: “Carpetright is taking space where it can get it. It’s a change in emphasis. Last year I wouldn’t have expected it to do it but things change.”

Locations targeted include Epsom in Surrey, and Richmond and Putney in London. The shops already bought will open in about eight to 10 weeks, after Carpetright has safely disposed of the “tonnes” of asbestos found within the stores.

Harris does not believe high street shops will attract a different type of customer but said he had noticed more upmarket shoppers trading down in general. He said Carpetright is now “more mass
market than ever”.

Investec analyst Natalia Marisova said Carpetright is seeking additional revenue streams and is aiming to benefit from capacity withdrawal. She said: “Most Woolworths stores were well located and will help raise awareness of the
Carpetright brand.”