Value fashion chain Ethel Austin has plunged into administration, while Ossian Retail, which owns fashion chain Internacionale and homewares outfit Au Naturale, is teetering on the brink.
The high street is experiencing the toughest trading conditions since the early 1990s and retailers expect things to get worse. Icelandic investor Baugur has also hoisted a for-sale sign over MK One after it made a loss last year, which is a further indication of how difficult retailing has become.
Nearly a dozen retailers have collapsed since the start of the year following the slump on the high street, including Dolcis, Stead & Simpson, Sleep Depot and Toyzone. National Schoolwear Centres, the school uniform chain, also fell into administration last week.
There will undoubtedly be further victims as trade continues to toughen. There are big holes on high streets, mainly in secondary locations, and this will worsen.
But the high street should not be our only concern. All the talk is of the gaps on the high street, but out-of-town retailing will also suffer. Retail parks have had many casualties in the bulky goods sector over the past three to four years, such as Courts and Furniture Land. This has led to a slowdown in bulky goods and many of the remaining retailers are cutting expansion plans or downsizing.
Yet fashion parks have always held up the out-of-town sector. Rents on many flagship parks, such as Leicester’s Fosse Park, have continued to soar and all the top fashion names compete to take space.
However, this is likely to change. Some fashion players have said they can’t remember trade being as bad as it is now and see no let up. And this means that sooner or later those fashion players’ out-of-town operations will also suffer.
If gaps start appearing in fashion parks, the out-of-town sector could be in trouble. The bulky goods sector has not yet recovered from the fallout of many players and a lag in fashion is the last thing they need. While it may mean some rents will fall, neither retailers nor landlords want to see further holes appear.