Fewer stores on our high streets in 2012 means those that remain will have to look better and perform more strongly.
Chatting to one of the friendly types manning the long cash desk on the first floor of HMV on Oxford Street yesterday I was informed that the store had to double its turnover against last year “because the Bond Street store’s closed”. Although this is probably close to being an HMV staff-member urban myth, it will certainly contain a few grains of truth.
The plain fact is that as chains start the painful process of rationalising their store portfolios, it’s a fair bet that boardrooms across the land will be looking for improved performance from the outlets that remain. Or put another way, it’s that old (pre-Christmas) chestnut, sweating the assets.
But will this be possible? The simple answer is, very probably. Visiting Lakeside last week to look at the enlarged Topshop that has been created from cutting in half the Bhs in that location, a similar tale unfolded. The pocket size BHS, now on one floor instead of two, takes the same money as it did in its former incarnation. As the Arcadia design chief who greeted me put it: “We’ve got two stores for the price of one.”
It is possible that this is because sales at that BHS were woefully low and it was therefore overspaced. But it is equally likely that retailers, until very recently, have been of the opinion that a big store will always take more money than a much smaller one. So perhaps the ambition at HMV on Oxford Street is not so outlandish after all.
Consider things another way. HMV is the last major entertainment retailer along this mile-long thoroughfare and has become, almost by default, a destination. It probably always was, but given that all competitors have fallen by the wayside (including its other branch on the street), then perhaps it really might see a radical sales uplift as we head towards December 25.
It was certainly packed and most visitors seemed to be buying. It also looked pretty good and therein lies what seems likely to happen in 2012. As retailers shed stores (where they can), those that remain will become better, because they will have to in order to justify remaining on the books.
The stage seems set for fewer but generally better stores to emerge over the next 12 months, mostly as a result of revamps. This assumes of course that Mr Cameron’s Friday veto doesn’t send us all to the poorhouse, but if anyone can predict what’s happening on that front, they’re better than all 26 + 1 EU members put together.