New formats may be thin on the ground, but that isn’t stopping retailers polishing up pre-existing stores.

Cycling around London this time last year, it was amazing how easy it was to happen upon new stores without any prior knowledge of their existence. The hoardings would be up, the shopfitters would be in and a new format, or indeed retailer, would take its opening night shortly afterwards.

A year on and this particular form of investigative journalism is pretty much dead in the water and if shops have hoardings on them, it’s usually an advert by an estate agent. Yet things are happening, it’s just that they are not quite as visible. Paperchase on Tottenham Court Road stands as a case in point. Presently, the multi-floor stationery and art-related materials flagship has the builders in and although chief executive Timothy Melgund says that this is “not a full refurbishment”, it does involve resurfacing all of the floors and minor alterations to some of the in-store equipment. It may not be a full refurbishment, but it is reasonably typical of what the big retailers are doing to keep their estates up to scratch.

There are, of course, still a few bigger pieces of store design work knocking around and this week the relocation of the Lakeland store in Stratford-upon-Avon stands as a case in point. It opened this morning in a former branch of Argos and at 6,240 sq ft this is a big shop and one that boasts an update of a format first unveiled in Durham in April.

That this is a homewares retailer, a sector that has come under significant pressure this year, must mean there is still money to be made through careful property decisions, merchandise buying and an appropriate level of service. Lakeland’s a bit like John Lewis: it’s an essentially middle class institution and one that you might think would be feeling the breeze as that demographic struggles with school fees, mortgages, etc.

Not a bit of it. The stores look good and the product range is entirely right for the market it addresses – little wonder that it continues to thrive. However, it is fair to say that this new store is the exception. Refurbishment rather than new store activity remains on the cards for some time to come.

This may, ultimately, prove to be rather a good thing. Concentrating on an existing estate is likely to mean better stores across the board. It will also serve as a contrast to the pre-recession tendency to keep opening new branches regardless of the fact that there were plenty of indifferent stores that would have benefited from a little capital expenditure.