So far this year there have been 11 private equity-backed retail deals, representing more than 10% of all private equity transactions in 2010 and the third biggest sector focus after computer services and support services.

Retail has traditionally, and unfoundedly, been perceived as difficult for many in the private equity industry.

People are quick to draw attention to the past restructuring problems of well-known high street names such as Fat Face, Faith and Borders.

The theory is that private equity struggles with the intricacy of valuations for retail businesses - customer aspirations and fashion’s fickle nature are hard to sensitise in a spreadsheet.

In reality, retail businesses have many characteristics that are attractive to private equity: highly cash generative, favourable working capital models, strong asset bases and often with international growth opportunities. And, from a personal perspective, the people are interesting and exciting to work with.

The rise of multichannel retailing has helped transform private equity’s view on retail and the recent decline in debt multiples makes the operational leverage of retail particularly attractive, as good returns are still achievable in depressed debt markets.

So far this year there have been 11 private equity-backed retail deals, representing more than 10% of all private equity transactions in 2010 and the third biggest sector focus after computer services and support services.

At the peak of the buyout market in 2007 it was the largest sector of private equity interest. Notable deals in 2010 have included Mountain Warehouse, Cath Kidston, Hobbycraft and Pets at Home, and the list of currently or previously backed private equity retailers reads like a Westfield mall map: Jimmy Choo, Phase Eight, La Senza, Kurt Geiger, Debenhams and New Look, to name but a few.

Much of the interest in private equity deals comes at the buy-in and at the exit. But the really interesting work is done in the middle, away from the spotlight.

Developing a true partnership with retail management teams, providing friendly and supportive capital to assist expansion, sharing insight, developing strategy, laying the foundations for long-term, sustainable growth and creating a structure that incentivises the key management and the creative masterminds: these are the real characteristics of a private equity partnership and the bits you rarely see between the buy-in and the exit.

In the context of headlines on the UK’s post-recession austerity and the uncertainty surrounding incomes, one might expect investors to shy away from sectors reliant on consumer spending.

However, many in private equity believe this is the dawning of a new age for retail. Businesses that have come out of the recession relatively unscathed survived for good reason and are likely to be protected by a niche positioning.

As Warren Buffett said: “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked.” And only now are we seeing those who stocked up on their winter woollies to weather the economic change of season emerging victorious.

I predict exciting times ahead for retail and feel that private equity is ready to go shopping.

Simon Turner is managing partner of Inflexion private equity and non-executive director of Jack Wills.