As Australian stationery retailer Smiggle outlines its UK expansion plans, Retail Week takes a look at why a number of retailers from the country are eyeing opportunities in the UK.

Why are we talking about this now?

Australian kids stationery retailer Smiggle is plotting a 250-store expansion plan across the UK and will debut at London’s Westfield Stratford in February, as revealed by Retail Week today. It plans to open the raft of 1,000 sq ft stores over four to five years.

Which other Australian retailers have plans to launch in the UK?

Several established Aussie retailers have revealed their UK ambitions in recent months. In August, Australian jewellery and accessories retailer Colette, which primarily retails handbags, unveiled the UK as a key target as part of an “aggressive” international growth strategy.

Last month Australian menswear retailer Industrie debuted its offer to UK shoppers in London’s Seven Dials with its first shop outside Australia, on Earlham Street. Plus size retailer Taking Shape has also begun its assault on the UK with the opening of five stores as it eyes 30 UK shops.

Why are Australian retailers eyeing the UK now?

Australian retailers are attempting to fill gaps in the market through a unique offer. “The UK is compelling in terms of the size and market and competition. There isn’t anyone doing quite what we’re doing,” Smiggle group general manager John Cheston says. Cheston adds the British property market has offered Smiggle some enticing deals.

Saturation in their home market – Colette has 78 stores and Taking Shape 130 shops – has also led Aussie retailers to seek international growth. Colette chief executive Mark Hayman said it has built a foundation in its home market to rapidly roll out an overseas franchise arm.

Are there any other Australian retailers who may look to expand into the UK?

It is surprising that no Australian grocers have expanded internationally, according to Planet Retail senior research analyst Louise Howarth. “There are several highly successful and profitable retailers with little room to expand,” she says. “There may also be opportunity for [consumer electronics retailer] Harvey Norman which has operations in Ireland, however that isn’t profitable.”

Smiggle is part of the Just Group which operates 1,000 stores across seven brands in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Singapore and, although the group has no immediate plans to bring its other brands to British shores, Smiggle may prove a test case.

Moreover, with Australian shopping centre giant Westfield growing its UK presence, there may also be opportunity for retailers it has a relationship with Down Under to enter its British centres.