Other than retailer updates, what is it that can provide a good indication of UK retail’s health? How about the Hoarding Index.

Back in the day, if you wanted to know how well a city was doing, there was a thing called the Crane Index (CI).

It was simple. If you could see more cranes on the skyline than a few weeks previously then you could safely say that the economy was booming, retailers were enjoying high footfall, rather than moaning about it, and shoppers had money in their wallets.

It was actually a fairly crude indication of the nation’s (and particularly London’s) health, but it did seem to work.

Here is a refinement to this that can be used along with the CI and which is probably just as accurate a predictor of how things are going.

Call it the Hoarding Index (HI) – being the number of hoardings that have appeared on a major shopping street or in a mall and how long they have been there for.

HI ranking

There is a caveat to this. When a new hoarding is spotted, it is the length of time that it remains in place that determines its HI ranking.

If the hoarding goes up and comes down fairly quickly, this may actually be an indication of wellbeing, as no sooner has one tenant left than another is busy reconfiguring a unit’s interior ready to begin trading from it.

It is when multiple hoardings appear that, unlike the CI, alarm bells should begin to sound. At this point, it is worth ringing up the landlord, or the body working on behalf of the owner, and enquiring about the status of the units that appear to be taking a breather.

”Hoardings are going up and coming down (which is a good thing), but there does seem to be a fair few more of them than usual”

Retail, of course, abhors a vacuum and the reply given will normally be something along the lines of: ‘Every unit is spoken for, it’s just that the fit-out does take a while.’

Maybe so, but when the words ‘Another new exciting, world class retailer coming soon’ hang around for more than a few weeks, it’s a fair bet that times are tough.

So what can the HI tell us about where we are currently? Many retailers, particularly those involved in fashion, have been relating that business is not what it should be, and the HI confirms this.

Hoardings are going up and coming down (which is a good thing), but there does seem to be a fair few more of them than usual.

Like the Crane Index, this is an imperfect tool, but it does seem pretty accurate at providing a snapshot of the retail state of play. Go take a look.