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The retail environment is often reported on – and we see it once again this month, with the release of the latest retail outlook study from the Local Data Company (LDC). Our in house retail specialist, Phil Cottingham, takes a look at the report findings and explores the synergies with the local outlook in St Neots.

The High Street has been a staple part of the retail environment in towns and cities across the country for many years – it’s the real heart of an area. So, I was pleased to see that the recent LDC report shows only a very marginal rise (0.2%) in retail unit vacancies in 2017. In St Neots, we are seeing a particularly buoyant market - with there being less empty retail units than the national average.

The emergence of service based businesses

It's no secret that the High Street has changed over the years, a true example of an entity that adapts and changes to its environment. The LDC report identifies a ‘barbershop boom’; with barbers and beauty salons seeing the biggest openings by sector across the UK in the last year – with 624 new outlets opening in 2017. Looking locally, this growth in barbershops is something we see in and around the St Neots High Street too. The town has seen an increased number of barber shops open in the last year; each of them building up trade alongside each other. St Neots continues to see interest from vaping shops, gyms and hairdressers – showing how wider service based outlets are experiencing the boom. 

The rise of the independents

The growth of independent outlets across the country is certainly the most positive element of the national LDC report, with small business owners now able to consider the High Street and see a place for them in it.In the last year alone, we’ve helped bring new independents to the St Neots shopping environment – including K&M Specs on the market square and the bottle emporium Shumë in Cross Keys (selling craft beers, spirits and liqueurs and a range of cheeses. We’ve also seen Bohemia, the relatively recent young independent brasserie in Cross Keys, extend its space this summer due to its continuing success.

We have lost some big brands, but what we are starting to see is the emergence of a new framework; one that tells a story about our entrepreneurial nature, a renewed commitment to buying local and supporting independent trade. Property owners are becoming more pragmatic in terms of the levels of rent and nature of occupiers.

We know many long established brands have left the High Street and we continue to hear of rescue plans for big chains across the country. However, certain brands continue to grow in many areas – and we see this for ourselves in St Neots with the recent opening of PoundStretcher in Moores Walk, which we were pleased to play a part in as joint agent.

Where do we go from here?

The High Street is a prime example of an environment prepared to adapt and change – and there’s no doubt that it will continue to do so. We know that this doesn’t just happen by accident. The health and wealth of a town or city centre is clearly linked to the support and activity of its local authority in encouraging regeneration and ‘desirability’ - and by engaging stakeholders with well thought out offers and opportunities.

In a ‘online world’, the success of independent outlets and service based businesses on the High Street perhaps shows that building customer relationships and supporting local traders is key to customers once again. Here at Brown & Co Barfords, we’re proud to be helping facilitate that – helping retail businesses find the perfect place for their business, in a highly desirable Cambridgeshire town.

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