Whatever you thought of it as a business, Habitat’s decline and fall is very sad news indeed. We all have loads of Habitat in our homes, and its loss means more dreaded visits to IKEA (don’t ask me about my personal experience of buying a bed for my younger son. Or how long it took to make!). Or risking buying online - things never look quite the same, do they? And I’m not sure I want it that cheaply from China.
But what is happening? Woolworths, Habitat, Thorntons, HMV, Oddbins…what next? Mary ‘Queen of Shops’ Portas is meant to be sorting it for the government – I wait with baited breath.
Meanwhile, Fiona Hamilton, retail partner at agents King Sturge is less pessimistic. Looking to the USA, source of all retail trends, they are forecasting a 5.1% annual increase in retail sales. In her recent Property Week article (6 May 11) she looks at social media and the role that now plays in marketing. Sites like Groupon and price comparison apps on your phone are big news. Both the luxury and the budget ends of the spectrum are thriving stateside and ‘stores within stores’ are big (“brand butlering” it’s called- keep up!). The big boys such as Walmart are looking at smaller stores, so will we see mini-ASDA’s competing with the ubiquitous Tesco? (I have 5 Tesco stores within 1 mile of my house).
But 4th July is Independent Retailers day. And all over the country we are being urged to buy at least one thing from an independent shop. This has to be an alternative, parallel route to bringing back our high streets. Here in Brighton we have the unique North Laine area, loads of small interesting shops, cafes and bars. It’s where the Body Shop started! Have a look at www.uniquebrighton.com or better still come here and spend some money.
Maybe the high street has a future after all.
Paul Zara, Director at Conran & Partners, Brighton office.